DETROIT — "There's no such thing as a win-win."
That's what the leader of a major American corporation once told a friend, who worked as a hotel manager.
She had tried to split the difference between winning and losing on the rates for a multi-room booking with the company. She explained that it was the lowest room-rate they'd ever offered, and it was one in which the hotel could still make a profit.
"It's a win-win," she smiled.
The corporate man in charge sneered, "There's no such thing as a win-win. There's a WINNER, and there's a LOSER."
No such thing as a win-win? It seems unreasonably harsh and especially ugly. The reality of it, however, appeared this week in Detroit, of all places – the city that has seen a winner and now what appears to be a loser.
The winner here Saturday was Aaron Martens, who clinched the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series Toyota Angler of the Year title on Day Three of the Plano Championship Chase. The loser Saturday was Edwin Evers, who entered the event with the title all but tucked away.
The Evers clan, from Talala, Okla., had come to Detroit for the all-but-certain capper to an incredibly consistent Elite Series season. Evers finished first once and never worse than 30th though seven events. Evers didn't have to do much this week. But there was a chance he could fumble the football while running out the clock. A small chance.
And that's exactly what happened: No win-win. The loser was Evers; the winner was Martens. Agony of defeat, thrill of victory – all that. Does life have to be this up-and-down?
No one knows the reality of it better than Lesley Martens, Aaron's wife. Lesley has lived through the agony more than Aaron.
On July 23, the final day of the Mississippi River Rumble in La Crosse, Wis., I glanced into the crowd of anglers' wives that assembles near the front of the VIP seating at weigh-in stage of every Elite Series event. As one angler's wife took a seat next to Lesley, I thought I read the woman's lips say, with a smile, "Did Aaron win?"
It was a polite question. Aaron had been leading going into the final day, and he'd started that Sunday on fire, catching a keeper every cast at one point. But Tommy Biffle staged a late rally and Aaron was "reduced" to runner-up – again.
"Second," Lesley seemed to say, as she turned her head back toward the stage. She didn't appear rude. It looked like she was simply acknowledging another seemingly unfair moment in the life of being married to "Mr. Second Place." Aaron has a long list of second place finishes in his otherwise incredible career. A highlight/lowlight has been four second-place finishes in the Bassmaster Classic. Some men would steal to finish second once in the Bassmaster Classic.
Saturday afternoon in Detroit, I asked Lesley if I'd simply imagined that scenario. Was that really what happened that day: "Second," like spitting poison from her mouth, as politely as possible?
She confirmed that my eyes hadn't lied. Lesley admitted that all the second-place finishes grated on her more than her husband.
"Aaron wasn't ever worried about whether he was going to be first again," Lesley said. "He's confident in his abilities. And it's not like I'm not confident in him. But I just feel horrible every time he gets second. I don't want that to be his legacy."
Leslie wasn't going to take a chance on seeing Aaron finish second again Saturday. She hadn't planned on being in Detroit. He was a longshot to win AOY, and their kids had a school day Monday. She planned to control the circumstances she could control – at their home in Leeds, Ala.
"I had a formula, because I was worried about the kids missing school," Lesley said. "If Edwin didn't make the (Top 50) cut, I was driving up. So (after Friday's weigh-in, when Evers finished 54th, a mere eight ounces out of the Top 50) we packed up, dropped the cat at the boarder's and drove up here.
"I drove six hours last night, stayed in a hotel for about six hours, then drove the rest of the way this morning."
Aaron shed tears on-stage Saturday, when an AOY title was in hand, and his family was unexpectedly in attendance.
"This is one of the best days of my whole career," he said. "I was thinking, 'If only my family could be here…."
He took a moment to compose himself, looked toward Lesley and the kids, then said, "It just got a whole lot better."
Backstage it was all smiles, hugs and handshakes.
"This is awesome," Lesley said. "It kind of wipes out all the seconds."
For one family, yes, it does, and deservedly so. For another, it adds weight to the burden: The new Mr. Second Place. Skeet Reese once wore that dubious crown. Even though Martens had won AOY once before, in 2005, the burden had fallen to him after Reese. Edwin Evers has now finished second three times in the Angler of the Year race.
There is simply no win-win.