Landry: Selecting the best of the decade a mind-bending exercise
There’s a point, sometimes, when you need to close your laptop and just walk away from it all. Give yourself a break. Clear your head of all the noise that’s bouncing around in there, polluted as it is by duelling opinions, lies, damn lies and statistics.
I could be referring to the general, day-to-day existence of the average person, whose COVID-19 isolation might mean too many hours going down rabbit holes on Twitter, subjecting themselves to too many head-shaking comments. Too many “what the…” moments.
I’m not talking about that, though.
I’m going on about selecting another “best of” list. This time, it’s the CFL’s All-Decade Team presented by LeoVegas.
MORE ON THE ALL-DECADE TEAM
I’ve always felt honoured to be asked to help compile these lists over the years; CFL All-Stars and yearly award winners, TSN’s Top 50 players. Things like that.
And every time I’m invited, I feel the same sense of giddy anticipation, the same sense of eagerness, the same sense of, you know, UNFETTERED POWER. “I’d be delighted to take part,” is always my reply. “Thank you for choosing li’l ol’ me.”
But every time — every single time — I begin to whittle the ballot down, a sense of uncertainty grows, at first just a wee sprout. But by the time the process is finished? It’s a mighty oak of anxiety, with its sprawling canopy blotting out the sun.
I’m sure you’ll understand the feeling as you wind your way through the positions, yourself. Some guys are locks, right? S.J. Green’s gonna be on the list, yes? Brendon LaBatte, too, right? Solomon Elimimian? Yuppers.
There will be more names that you’ll decide are easy to click on. But don’t get cocky. Because if you’re really going to be thoughtful about it, you’re in for a torturous game of everlasting mental ping pong.
I begin my game with the cockeyed optimism of Clark Griswold, piling everyone into the Family Truckster for what would certainly be a breezy, fun-filled journey to Walley World. Hurray for the best-laid plans. I thanked the CFL for putting me on the media panel. There are some good folks at the league’s head office and I’m proud to associate with them.
Then, I start filling out my ballot and after one afternoon of bouncing back and forth on a rather large number of selections, my mood turns sour. I start cursing the same people who’d invited me to take part. Miserable sadists. Why couldn’t they just leave me alone?
At least they delivered a detailed stats pack to my inbox, to make the job easier, I guess. Except that it doesn’t. Statistics guide you, at first, sure. But the more you look at them, the more they start whispering other things in your ear, one on top of the other. Before you know it, you’re sitting on your back deck with your hands over your ears, trying to get the voices to stop. “What about YAC?” those voices say. “What about forced fumbles? Touchdown to interceptions ratio? What about, what about, what about?”
It occurs to me that handing over a detailed stats pack and asking for a definitive all-decade team is like your butcher throwing down a whole side of beef on your porch and saying “here are your steaks. Enjoy your barbecue.”
Soon enough, you realize that it’s not about the locks, it’s about the close competition below. You’ve got five receivers to pick. Your list will be very good. But then, you’ll look at number six and number seven, and wonder how you can leave them off the all-decade team. And you know what? Number eight ain’t half bad, neither.
It’s like having a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that are all the same shape. You plop ‘em into place and think “what a pretty picture that is. But what if I take this piece out and replace it with this one over here? Yeah, that’s better.”
Fans can now vote on the best Receivers and Defensive backs of the decade!
Five minutes later, you’re pulling that piece out and putting the original one right back in there. Then you think about the third piece you haven’t even tried.
Once more, this process has been an exercise of repetitive stress. Time is a flat circle and I’m the marble rolling endlessly around its circumference. I whittle my linebackers list down to seven, for some reason, even though I’ll ultimately select just three. That logic doesn’t matter, though, because I end up spending some more time agonizing over the two or three that remain just outside my list of seven. What’s wrong with me?
Desperate for some kind of clarity on a few selections, I decide to go on-line to a Magic Eight-Ball website, which is a thing that really exists and that you can find. You can type in a question and you’ll get your answer, it promises. Excellent. “Just end this,” I think, zeroing in on a quarterback.
The eight-ball shoots back: “Reply hazy. Try again.” Honest to goodness, that’s what it said. So I do try again. It replies: “Without a doubt.”
Wait. What? I try a third time. “Without a doubt,” it tells me. Three more times I ask it. Three more times it replies: “Without a doubt.” What the hell?
“Ask again later,” the eight-ball replies. I know how it feels. I type in: “This is hard, isn’t it?” Eight-ball returns with: “It is decidedly so.”
Now, I think the eight-ball is just mocking me with its ham-fisted attempt at irony so I decide to head to other places on the internet, searching for signs that will sharpen the focus on who my fifth receiver ought to be. I tumble down the rabbit hole of highlight reels, Twitter threads, feature articles and Wikipedia pages.
Wikipedia? Yes. And you can find some crucial all-decade team decision-making tools there.
For instance, did you know that Manny Arceneaux belonged to the Phi Alpha Phi fraternity when he was at Alcorn State? I’m not sayin’ that’s a deciding factor, I’m just sayin’.
When it comes to deciding close races, it’s really easy to go around and around and around. Breaking the impasse might take some creativity on your part. It will certainly take swallowing some hard medicine.
For me, longevity is an important part of the selection process. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but I’ve granted it lots of weight as I cast my ballots for each position.
The Waggle: Episode 216: Debating the decade’s best
EPISODE OVERVIEW: Davis and Donnovan are joined by CFL.ca columnist Matt Cauz to dissect and debate a few of their picks for The All-Decade Team presented by LeoVegas.
For others, it might come down to a stat that they hold more dearly over the others. Or that a player’s career numbers came despite being on mediocre teams. The number of all-star selections. Awards. Big, memorable performances. A reel of eye-popping plays.
Whatever the process, what starts out as an easy task inevitably becomes a serpentine tangle of “yeah buts,” “on the other hands,” and “well maybes.”
And when you finally do get to Walley World, the place is closed, for crying out loud. A day after submitting my picks, I wondered if I should get in touch with someone at the CFL to change a selection or two. This is a gift that keeps on giving.
Next time, I’ll just decline the invitation and make life a whole lot easier.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to research some receivers and their college fraternities, to see how they match up with Alpha Phi Alpha.