Now that the preamble is done, allow me kindly to take you back to the salad days of 2012, when I made my trek to Baltimore, Maryland so I could see the New York Football Giants visit the Baltimore Ravens with my friends Lindsay and Chris. This trip was a big one for a few reasons, namely that the Ravens were the only team in the northeast megalopolis apart from the Philadelphia Eagles that I had not yet seen, the Giants were in the thick of a playoff race as they sought to defend their most recent championship and I, for the first time, was in the semifinals of my big keeper fantasy football league. This was a team I had built from nothing through an extensive system of trial and error -- perhaps with more error than not -- but had nursed on the strength of Cam Newton's arm and Giants wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to my league's final four.
As I reached kickoff for the second round of games that chilly December Sunday, the path was clear. A Giants victory would keep the defending champs in control of their own destiny ahead of their season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. For me, a grand total of 13 points between Nicks and Cruz would put me in the championship of my league for the first time. Given the seasons those two had put together, this should not have been too difficult.
The Giants played one of their worst games of the season, taking their fate out of their hands in a season that would end without a postseason berth. Cruz and Nicks combined for virtually nothing. The Ravens won the Super Bowl. My friend Christian, who would advance to the final against me, won our fantasy championship.
These aren't the outcomes I was looking for.
I bring this up because this weekend I have a similar, but more complex scenario at play. For the first time since that season, my fantasy team is in the semifinals. At the same time, the New York Giants are clinging to life support in the dismal NFC East, a division that would not be an achievement to win, but it would still mean a postseason berth and the Giants have shown before that a playoff berth is all you need.
How these things are interconnected, however, is a bit different than it was three years ago. The first time I ran into this scenario, the good guys were the good guys. Rooting for the Giants meant rooting for myself. This time around, however, my fantasy team has once again largely been carried by the arm of Cam Newton, and bolstered by the periodic explosive performance of Panthers wideout Ted Ginn. And those Carolina Panthers just happened to be continuing their pursuit of a perfect season in the Meadowlands this weekend. I would not dare bench Newton, who is having an MVP caliber season and could be in line for a big afternoon against the Giants' woeful defense.
But the inner conflict is clear. I have long been a proponent of the belief that my real life football team was more important than my fantasy team. Could my fantasy team earn me material rewards or bragging rights my Giants can't deliver? Sure. But I'm also cognizant of the fact that 15 years from now my children may be rapt at attention when I tell them about Eli Manning's late-game exploits in Super Bowls XLII, XLVI ... and 50? (I know, I know, but again, all you need is a playoff spot to make a run and you wouldn't have tabbed the Giants to win it all in Week 15 either of the past two times either).
I don't think it is a stretch to say, however, that my hypothetical future children will not give a shit about my fantasy team.
I acknowledge as I ask these questions that the actual impact I have on the outcome of either of these events is nil once the opening kickoff happens, but that doesn't help my naturally anxious disposition. I know Sunday afternoon I will watch on the TV with my stomach in knots as I know not what to cheer for and what to bemoan. Should Newton hit Ginn for a 73-yard touchdown strike that gives the Panthers a late back-breaking victory, will I rejoice about the 20-something points it will gift me? Will I be frustrated at the doom it casts on the Giants' season? Will I be left unable to have feelings about either?
It is a dilemma. An introspective navigation of the soul, its attachments and all that makes us feel pain and joy in an extended social convention over which we have practically no influence. I honestly don't know how I'll react or how I'll respond as I watch. All I know is the only outcome I will find universally satisfying is a 45-42 Giants win with no turnovers. Of course, I have watched enough football, and watched enough of these Giants in particular, to know all too well, how unlikely that is.
Actually, I'll definitely be better off seeing Star Wars instead. Maybe I will. Knowing me, I'll probably only have seen it three or four times by then.
Last week: 10-6-0
ST. LOUIS (-1.5) over Tampa Bay
NY Jets (-3) over DALLAS
INDIANAPOLIS (off) over Houston
MINNESOTA (-5.5) over Chicago
NEW ENGLAND (-14) over Tennessee
NY GIANTS (+5) over Carolina
Buffalo (-1) over WASHINGTON
JACKSONVILLE (-3) over Atlanta
BALTIMORE (+7) over Kansas City
Green Bay (-3) over OAKLAND
SEATTLE (-14.5) over Cleveland
Denver (+6) over PITTSBURGH
Miami (+2) over SAN DIEGO
Cincinnati (-4.5) over SAN FRANCISCO
Arizona (-3.5) over PHILADELPHIA
NEW ORLEANS (-3) over Detroit