Perhaps you have your own signs that summer is coming to an end. Here locally, it’s the ending of outdoor street fests or concerts. MLB playoffs might be another for you. Every place and individual probably has its own marker. But another one for all of us is the annual “Fat Bear Week” competition put on by Explore.org.
It doesn’t need much explanation. It’s Katmai National Park’s fattest bears getting ready to rest up for the winter, pitted against each for all of us to decide who is the best bear. Whatever parameters you choose. Much like a lot of things in life, “Fat Bear Week” really is about trying to identify that unknowable quality about events and people and places that we can’t quite label that gives life its spice. So let’s run through the bracket!
Holly vs. Grazer
We start with the two first-round matchups that kick off today. There’s a real Law & Order cops vibe to this showdown, with Grazer being the slightly younger of the duo who can feel her zest for life and the job being chipped away by all that she sees on a daily basis, but can still occasionally find the muster to rage against the dying of the light. Whereas Holly is slightly older, and has been glazed over by the world and life and cooly, if not totally removed, just observes the passing scene. If there’s a fire within, it’s dim, replaced by an acceptance that it will always be this way. Feels like Holly has been through one too many rodeos, and her time to claim the crown has passed and she knows it. Much like Tomohiro Ishii in the G1, she’s here to provide a great match and make someone look like a star. That’s for Grazer to move on.
Popeye vs. Walker
Classic upstart vs. vet tangle here, as Popeye has been around for nearly two decades. His experience is invaluable, as winning Fat Bear Week is as much about know-how as it is girth. But Popeye has shown signs of slowing down and even he can’t keep the ravages of time at bay anymore. Efforts to connect him with LeBron’s pregame stretching routine have proved futile, as Popeye wants to stick with what Popeye knows. Sometimes, you just lose the bat-speed, and Walker’s got a lively fastball.
812 vs. 131
It’s 131’s first entry into the tournament, and she’s basically here for the experience. Winning your first Fat Bear Week in your first attempt would be akin to the Miracle On ice. You gotta learn the ropes, build up your endurance, know the pitfalls that await. Even the Fab Five couldn’t navigate it all as freshmen, coming as close as they did. Especially as her introduction is a rough one, a date with 812. Look at 812. This is his prime. The wide-eyed excitement of merely making the dance is gone, replaced by a steely menace that only the prize will do now. No more “just happy to be nominated” spiels for 812. It’s title-or-bust. 131 is merely a speed bump on what could very well be a long journey for 812.
402 vs. Otis
Otis, as the oldest bear in the competition, would have benefitted from getting to face an opponent that was new to the game, who hadn’t been around the block much. Otis has to count on his wiles now. He’s that old dude on the court with the knee and elbow pads and the high socks who can still pull the chair on you and whose post moves are so pristine they should be put in a book, even if they look like they’re happening in slow motion. You still go for that ball-fake. Otis can still find his way to the rack against those who take him lightly.
But 402 has seen too much shit for any of that, and the occasional sneaky elbow in the back or chin isn’t going to phase her. This is her game too, and she’s much hungrier and spry. You can play Tim Duncan’s game for so long, Otis, but eventually the game bends towards shooting guards disguised as power forwards. 402 FTW.
2nd round: Grazer vs. 132 Cub
Not sure how 132 Cub got a seed here, clearly an oversight by the committee. This is clearly the weak side of the draw. 132 graduated from the juniors, but we’ll see just how tough of a step-up this is. That freelancing, coast-to-coast shit won’t work at this level, 132. Grazer with the surprise run to the semis.
Chunk vs. Walker
I don’t think I have to say anything more than “Chunk.” Walker gets a stern lesson.
812 vs. 503
503 is perhaps the most infuriating competitor, one you know well. All the tools are there, and yet it never quite comes together. You get the impression he’s here only because he’s good at it, not because he loves the game or competition. A setback early and you just know he’ll go away. Is the fight really there? Can 503 go to that place to achieve something truly memorable? Or is he happy to just par the 17th and 18th and take his check. No such questions about 812, who moves on.
402 vs. 747
The unquestioned #1 seed, 747 is the measuring stick. Quite simply, an absolute force, and if you wanna be the man, you gotta beat the man. Is he resting on his laurels a bit? Maybe, and 402 can certainly provide a wake-up call without having enough firepower to pull the upset. Part of winning a long tournament is knowing how to pace yourself and peak at the right time. 747 may need more than he’d like to get through, but he won’t need the full arsenal.
Semifinals: Chunk vs. Grazer
A brilliant run from Grazer to get this far, and perhaps the urgency of knowing this could be her last real chance is more than enough to overcome a complacent Chunk. Calling the upset. Grazer grabs the brass ring.
747 vs. 812
This semifinal will force 747 to bring the A-game, as 812 has just about the right combination of verve and experience to make for a rough contest for the favorite. 812 can play this any way you want, but at the end of the day sometimes the chalk is the chalk for a reason. One does not simply just walk past 747, but 812 will be more dangerous in the future for the experience. Five years from now we may not remember who won Fat Bear Week 2021, but we’ll remember this semifinal in a Duke-Kentucky type fashion.
Final: 747 vs. Grazer
812 takes too big a chunk (not Chunk) out of 747, and he arrives to the final sore in too many spots. Grazer has been waiting for this her whole life, and a less-than-full-strength 747 is just the kind of opportunity that comes around once and only once. Grazer has been through too much to not appreciate the break. Everything has been leading to this. 747 will be back, but this is Grazer’s time.