This is a story only tangentially related to Terry Glenn, the former NFL wide receiver who we learned has died today at age 43. But it’s a story of how sports, and the athletes we watch, bind us and provide texture to our lives.
When a celebrity, an athlete, an actor passes away today, we see the outpouring of tributes online. There is a part of me made uncomfortable–Is anyone’s life more worthy of remembering? People experience tragedy every day in this world.
But those public memories of some of our favorite celebrities aren’t just about the person. They are about us. The memories of a movie that inspired. The player that you grew up hoping to be. The famous moment where you think back, “I was there.” They are reminders of the connective tissue that can fill and enhance our sometimes moribund lives.
This is also a story tangentially related to Fantasy Football. I know that no one wants to hear a story about someone else’s fantasy football team, and certainly not a few hundred words on it, so I apologize in advance.
I come from a big family, large celebrations on holidays, lots of cousins. We started a family fantasy football league back in 2003, with several of my cousins, my uncles, my dad. I had done other football leagues, and I did baseball for the previous decade in college, and even NBA. My dad? This was his first exposure, back when I think fantasy football was really starting to grow mainstream thanks to internet leagues. And he threw himself into it with full effort, studied everything, and won the league in that first year.
But 2005, well, that was my year. The 2005 Streakers still hold the league record for points scored in a season. I already had LaDainian Tomlinson in our keeper league, and got Cadillac Williams in the rookie draft. Add in Torry Holt, and a young Carolina receiver named Steve Smith coming back off a knee injury. I also held on to a young quarterback named Carson Palmer from the rookie draft two years earlier, and he broke out in 2005, leading the league in touchdown passes. I had a 23-year-old tight end named Jason Witten. My defensive sleeper, the Bears, under Lovie Smith, broke out and led the league in defensive fantasy points as they made their first playoff appearance under Smith. And at mid-season, I pulled a trade (Williams and Smith) for Shaun Alexander, who went on to win MVP that season. I had top players at every position. It’s the platonic ideal of building a team and I could play forever and not capture as much lightning.
Earlier in the year, that team also set the still-standing single week scoring record, and it was against my dad. It was the fantasy equivalent of the Butt Fumble Game between the Patriots and Jets.
And well, if you know what happened later that year when the Jets played the Patriots again, you can guess how this one turns out.
We have eight playoff teams in our 12-team league. The bigger and more uncertain the better when getting together at family functions for Thanksgiving and Christmas. So that year, the #8 seed was my dad, who just snuck into the playoffs with a losing record.
My oldest son, now in middle school and growing an inch a day, was two years old. My wife was at the time working weekends at the hospital, so my Sunday routine involved heading over to my parents’ house with my son, and hanging out with my parents watching football until my wife got off work, interrupted only by trying to get my son down for a nap.
On December 11, 2005, the Chiefs were playing a big game in the late afternoon at Dallas, and it was going to be the capper to our fantasy playoff showdown. Neither of us had a player in the two night games to finish the week.
The Streakers got off to a slow start. Carson Palmer threw for under 100 yards against the Browns to tighten the stakes, the Bears got no turnovers. But still, going into the late games, Tomlinson, Alexander, and Witten were still to come. He just had Anquan Boldin, oh, and Terry Glenn. If things went close to how they had all year, then it should be a Streakers win. But it was tight, and some big plays could swing it.
So we sat down and settled in for a game which suddenly had huge stakes. In previous years, a wide receiver going against the Chiefs would have been fantasy gold. The Chiefs were involved in a few shootouts from 2002 to 2004. The Kansas City Chiefs, though, had finally started playing defense in 2005 and that wasn’t automatic.
Terry Glenn didn’t do anything early, just as he had not done much in recent weeks. He had managed just over 250 yards in the previous six games, after a hot start to the year. Which was good, because Alexander and Tomlinson were not putting up their typical games early on. As we approached halftime, Glenn had only one catch for six yards, and the Chiefs were up 14-3 and looking like they might get a big road win, and I had taken the lead.
Then, it happened, and I can see it like it was a few moments ago. Handoff to Marion Barber. Barber turns to Drew Bledsoe, and flips the ball back. Bledsoe strains back and unleashes a deep throw. I turn to my dad as it is released.
“It’s Glenn,” I say, and shake my head, knowing that the die has been cast.
He’s got an uncomfortable yet noticeable grin (after all, fantasy football puts you in those ethical binds of rooting for players versus your team). And the ball lands in the outstretched arms of a wide open Glenn as he glides into the end zone. (You can see the play in the insert of the highlight video below at 2:20).
Terry Glenn would end that game with 6 catches for 138 yards and that touchdown. In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys also ran a reverse at the goal line and Glenn twisted his way into the end zone.
On that day, it was Terry Glenn for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tomlinson and Alexander for 203 yards and 1 touchdown combined. And improbably, because Terry Glenn personally out-dueled the two best running backs in fantasy football that year, my dad went on to roll from the momentum of that victory to win the title improbably as the #8 seed.
I lost my dad unexpectedly almost six years after that Glenn play. I lost my dad six years ago this December. I am sorry now that a family has to deal with tragic news today, and that person happens to have been famous once upon a time for catching a football. Terry Glenn, at his best, was a marvel to watch. So smooth, gliding and fast, and able to contort his body and make some great catches.
I’m not going to lie, I was pretty upset that December day in 2005. I probably muttered a few curse words at Glenn. Years of growing have made me far less invested in the bounces of a ball or the Cowboys picking that time to throw a stupid flea flicker.
But I’m glad that flea flicker happened, and that it had to be Glenn eternally running under it in my mind. I’m glad it was part of our story. Sometimes you don’t know what will turn out to be a blessing, or when it will go away.