Fantasy Football, Thucydides, and Me

I love fantasy football even though it can never love me; not being a person or even Richard Dawkins. I love fantasy football, even though I am not good at it. I have won a league regular season, but never the championship. I do not stink, no Jerry Jones I, but I am no Ted Thompson, more a Bart Starr as GM: a good man out of his depth.

I don’t love Thucydides even though as a soul created in God’s image he might be able to love me. I don’t love his book, even though I have learned and grown as a result of reading it. I am no Victor Davis Hanson, but I can still get lessons from this great, though difficult book.

Fantasy football, like Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, comes hard to me and has taught me several of the same lessons. As a writer Thucydides is as cruel as picking Aaron Rodgers last year: brilliant in places, but an absent genius for long stretches of time. Still when it comes to the fall of Empires and men Thucydides is a great teacher and his messages have been confirmed in the failure of every one of my fantasy teams.

Experts are often wrong. 

Thucydides’ experts keeps expecting the rapid end of Athens, but Athens keeps coming back. In the same way, fantasy football experts tell me that obscure Saints receivers are worth a start. We should listen to experts, but not slavishly obey them, especially when experience shows that we are in a unique situation.

The voice of the people is not the voice of God.

Thucydides was not very religious: he prefered natural explanations to religious ones. Yet the Spartans, the ones who will not attack in a holy month or when an oracle speaks, win the war. The Athenians more consistently treat the voice of the people as the voice of God and the Athenians lose. The “people” decide opening a second front, the equivalent of Princess Bride’s land war in Asia, is a great idea.

It was not.

In the same way in every draft there is some player that everyone decides is the sleeper of the draft, Jay Cutler call your agent, only to make those of us who believe in democracy ashamed. The people often vote for last year’s production forgetting that last year is over: what have you done for me lately Julio Jones?

A good start is not the same as a good finish.

Athens had the war won. Pericles, the Vince Lombardi of democratic Athens, had the right strategy and despite setbacks (including his untimely death!) Athens won the first half. Sadly, there was a second half. Many a fantasy season I have triumphed through the first part of the season only to have injuries, a bye week, or simply forgetting to change my lineup wreck my season. I got nothing for winning my regular season and losing the playoffs.

Sometimes you can control when you quit: see Athens. Sometimes you cannot: see my fantasy season. Quitting while you are ahead is a great idea: ask Nicias or Favre.

The flashy guy with bad character is a bad bet.

What was to be done with Alcibiades, the Athenian with the most talent, but the least character? The Athenians kept trying to make something good of him, but they were burned as fiercely as the fantasy player staking his season on the player most likely to be suspended for violating the league drug policy.

The Persians like the Commissioner of the NFL does not care who wins as long as the game continues.

Both Athens and Sparta made the same mistake in the War: thinking Persia wanted either side to win. The Persians quite sensibly hated all Greeks and were rooting for an endless and bloody draw. In the same way, each year the Commissioner plots to balance competition. The rich are given the lowest draft picks and the poor are rewarded with soft schedules.

And yet . . .

Some teams, the Browns, are like Argos: they cannot fail to fail. 

Every year a new savior arrives in Cleveland, but like the Argives facing a chance to control the Peloponnese opportunity will be lost.

Always control the water just as you should always control the line of scrimmage.

Let someone else pass on running backs: the best back, Adrian Peterson in his prime, is worth the first pick. If you can run in fantasy football, you can play. In the same way, if you can ship your goods, you can win a war. Mitt Romney understood this and our President does not seem to get this, but Mitt Romney forgot another lesson.

You cannot lead if you cannot get popular support. 

Mitt Romney was entirely ready to be an oligarch, a fine leader of an unelected group of wise men. Sadly for him, he forgot he lives in a Republic and needed a few more votes to get to be right. In the same way, good leaders with bad social skills ended up dead or wishing to be dead in the Peloponnesian War, since even defeating the Persians and saving Greece often left people more suspicious than grateful.

Nothing is punished more quickly than success in a dysfunctional state.

And it is here we see how games like fantasy football are not like war or life: winners are rewarded in the NFL and often fail in politics. Just as death in warfare is more final than losing the Super Bowl, there is no next year, so making a mistake in a war against a determined foe can be fatal.

War is really nothing like fantasy football.

Athens lost and a grand experiment that produced the Parthenon, theater, and Plato ended. If the Packers lose, Green Bay will not be sacked by Spartans, not even Bear’s fans are so wicked.

As our global war on terror continues into another decade, this lesson is worth remembering.





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