Fantasy Fatherhood: Seeing the Game Through a Child's Eyes


“Dad, I want to make sure I get a good quarterback, so should I take Jalen Hurts with my first pick?” asked my 11-year-old son Derek. He’s on the clock during his first-ever fantasy football draft. A mix of kids and their fantasy industry parents have organized the league so the children can experience the joys (and sorrows) of this crazy game we love.

“It’s your team,” I told him.

My goal was to offer advice when asked but allow him to feel what it’s like to be on the clock. I wanted to empower him to make the choices, not lean on me.

There is no money on the line. No trophy to take home. This is fantasy in its purest form – build a roster and anxiously await the results.

After his Jalen Hurts – Derrick Henry start, I was hit with something I wasn’t ready for. “Do you think Justin Tucker will make it back to me?”

It was the 2-3 turn.

I paused. Then, with a hopeful grin, I shrugged and said, “We’ll see. Maybe someone else has the same idea.”

He landed Justin Tucker a bit later and filled out his roster with names he knew or learned from the magazine I gave him that day. He took shots on unheralded rookies like De’Von Achane. He scooped veteran values such as George Kittle. Overall, he drafted a pretty good team, if I can say so.

“That was amazing!” he exclaimed with a smile bigger than the 30-inch monitors he sat behind.

He ran to show his mother the fruits of his labor. Then, it was on to the most critical matters of fantasy: your team name and logo.

'Hurts So Good' was born.

Week 13 of the 2022 season was when my son first came into the basement and sat beside me to watch football.  I was prepping as I did every Sunday for my SiriusXM show that aired from 7-9 pm. I would blockade myself downstairs and take copious notes about every week's matchup. My family mostly forgot I existed on NFL game days.

But that day, Derek sat. He watched. He was asking questions. The lightbulb had gone on.

What followed was a crash course in Eagles fandom that culminated in a tear-filled, pillow-soaking Super Bowl postgame that I’ll never forget.

I hope he doesn’t, either.

It’s a special bond between a father and son. Maybe it’s fishing, hunting, or fixing a car. Whatever allows you to spend one-on-one time with your child is precious.

I’m at an age when I see my friends losing their fathers. They would do anything for one more game of catch. One last oil change in the garage. It’s the time that we genuinely cherish most. I wasn’t about to let this slip by.

 

Draft Day #1 for Derek

 

We created a routine. Every Eagles game would include Pizza Rolls, Hot Cocoa (maybe a beer for me), and a spot on our basement couch.

Touchdowns would signal him to hit the “Griddy” and losses; well, for the 2022 Eagles, we didn’t see many of those.

That was until Super Bowl Sunday. My son was decked out in full Eagles gear. He had the unbridled optimism that only a child can have. You could construct another Lincoln Financial Field from any long-time Eagles fan, like me, with the cynical doubt we've built up.

A ten-point halftime lead soon evaporated. The dances turned into a nervous, huddled ball on the sofa.

When the final horn sounded and the Kansas City Chiefs were crowned Super Bowl Champions, his young, hopeful heart was broken. Tears rained like the confetti falling inside the stadium. As a father, I felt worse than I did as an Eagles fan.

But in a way, I was glad he could go through this. It’s good to lose. Damn it, people need to lose to see how to get over it and move on. It’s something I don’t think enough young people are taught these days. Some days, the other guy is a little better, and you won’t get a trophy. You lost.

As an Eagles fan beginning in the mid-80s, I’ve seen my share of losing. This wasn’t new for me. But to see it through his red, watery eyes brought me back to when I’d slam my fists into a pillow and curse the names of the Giants, Cowboys, and then Redskins.

We spoke about the loss. About how kids were reacting on his Snapchat group. He was heartbroken and couldn’t understand the one simple request I wanted him to follow.

“Wear your Eagles jersey tomorrow,” I told him.

“Why, they lost?” He defiantly said with half of his face buried in his pillow.

“Because you’re a fan. This is what fans do. Win or lose, you wear that jersey tomorrow and show the school who you are.”

The following day, he came downstairs with his coat already on. He didn’t say anything or even make eye contact. But I could see the tails of his Midnight Green shirt hanging below the coat.  

 

I worried about how he would take the losses during a fantasy football season. Everyone loses. It's just how the game goes.

Well, maybe not for him.

Week 1 saw him win by .06. It was a cause for celebration. This began a new tradition: our Sunday night strolls.

As we walked laps around our neighborhood, he would tell me how his team did or what his opponent didn’t do. It was as honest as I’ve ever seen the game of fantasy—no big payouts. No trash-talking. Zero egos about getting a take right. It was simply a young fan rejoicing that his hand-selected group had given him something he had earned – a victory.

Derek would rattle off nine straight wins to open the 2023 season. His first loss came in Week 10. I was curious how he would handle it, but he was unflinching in his outlook on the game.

“I lost, but he had a great week, and I’m still in the first place.” He exclaimed, bouncing a moonball high into the sky on our dusk walk.

I was proud of him.

He lost and lost badly. By 43 that week, but who’s counting? But handling the loss with maturity impressed the father in me, not the fantasy analyst.

Walking into his room and seeing him reading Mike Clay’s waiver wire articles on ESPN.com would make me smile. Not because I asked him to, I didn’t. But because he was genuinely interested in the game and setting his waivers.  

He would wake up early, tell me who he had claimed for the week, and ask what I thought of that player. He added Kyren Williams and Jayden Reed, so shoutout to him (and Mike’s article).

Whether he wins a fantasy championship in his first season remains to be seen. It’s not essential, though. Building a foundation of love for the game of football and playing fantasy football is great, but not the goal. He is learning to compete. I believe winning with grace and losing with dignity are the hallmarks of any champion, even in fantasy football.

Spending a little time with his old man doesn’t hurt either.

 

Brian Drake has written for Fighting Chance Fantasy since 2017. He is the co-creator of the Fantasy Football Hustle podcast. Currently, he's a staff writer for FantasyPoints.com and Sportskeeda.com.  Follow him on Twitter @DrakeFantasy


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