Like many people, Trey Lee spent the night of Sept. 9 cramming for his fantasy football draft.The difference is that he had to stop at 8:30, when his mother told him to go to bed. That's how it goes when you're seven years old.
Trey is one of the 18 members of the Aptos Amateur Fantasy Football League, which held its first draft last Thursday afternoon and, depending on your point of view, signifies either the coming apocalypse or a robust future for America's youth. Starting at 3 p.m., a horde of seven-, eight- and nine-year-olds descended on the modest living room of the Jeffery family in Aptos, Calif. (The draft was the idea of nine-year-old Cooper Jeffery, who'd watched his dad play fantasy football for years.) Just like their adult counterparts, the kids wore baseball hats (and one coonskin cap), carried notebooks full of scribbled rankings (some even legible) and subsisted on Rice Krispies Treats and beer (O.K., so it was root beer). To watch them was to see a distorted reflection of the 20 million of us—mostly adults, tending toward obsessive—who play fantasy sports, and perhaps even to gain a little perspective.
Jesse Cox and his twin seven-year-old sons, Ben and Tommy, co-managers of a team, were among the first to arrive. The night before, when Jesse told his boys they were going toa draft, they had both cheered.
"We get to goon a raft!" one said.
"No, a draft," Jesse replied.
The smiles turned to frowns. "But we want to go rafting!"
Others were better versed. Eight-year-old Max Pepperdine spent a week putting together his notebook, while Blake Wheeler's simpler draft strategy was evident in his JaMarcus Russell jersey and silver-and-black armbands. (He would select four Raiders, including reserve running back Justin Fargas with his third pick, something even Justin Fargas probably would not do.) Blake, who has big brown eyes and spindly legs, can recite the scores of the Raiders' preseason games and said he was "totally certain" this was their year. And who's going to tell him he's probably better off believing in Santa Claus than in Al Davis?
The emcee was Cooper's dad, Kevin, an amiable lawyer and Stanford grad. He called on nine-year-old Liam Martin for the first pick ("Kurt Warner!") and then turned to Trey, who stood up, cleared his throat and announced that with the second choice he was taking "TOM BRANDY!" (Later, teams would draft Kelley Winslow and Marc Blunger.) Up next were 11-year-old Kate Jeffery and her friend Sydney Rastatter (decked out in a pink Donovan McNabb jersey), the only girls. While the boys generally followed the equation cool adjective + cool animal = totally badass team name (Rabid Raccoons, Fearless Ferrets, Flying Monkeys), the girls took a different tack, calling their team YouGotBeatByaGirl. Judging by their picks—Adrian Peterson third overall, Darren McFadden in the eighth round—they might be prophetic.
Throughout, the drafters were remarkably quiet and attentive. It took nearly 45 minutes for the first monster burp to be unleashed (from the girls, and to much applause),followed not long after by the first airborne projectile (one of the aforementioned Rice Krispies Treats). Though one boy defected to read a Super Friends comic, most were like nine-year-old Jackson Carver, who was wedged into the couch like spare change, crossing names off a master list.
By the 10th round,two drafters were lost to afternoon baseball games and one to a soccer scrimmage. Those who remained were already trying to upgrade their rosters. In one corner, Mekhi Burkett, 10 years old and wearing a too-big Red Sox hat,approached 13-year-old Sarah Jeffery, who had taken over for her sister."I'll trade you my kicker for Adrian Peterson," he said coolly. She looked at him the way women have long looked at younger, foolish men."Yeah," she replied, "that would be a real good deal for you."
After the draft ended, roster appraisal began. It was quite optimistic. "You know,"said J.P., a nine-year-old in a Jaguars jersey and one of four players who drafted without parental assistance, "if my dad were here"—he paused to examine his team, which included a third-round pick of kicker David Akers and a fifth-round choice of quarterback Trent Edwards, then nodded assuredly—"I might have picked the same team."
And that, if anything, sums up how these boys saw the draft: full of wild possibility. Maybe David Akers will set all manner of kicking records this year, just as the Raiders could win the Super Bowl. And maybe Trey could one day draft his dad in a fantasy league, as he tried to do in the fifth round. ("You better not choose me—I'm not in the league," Mike Lee said gently.)
After all, what's so wrong with wild possibility? When the NFL season opener kicked off 10 minutes later, all the dads dutifully took up their positions around the TV,slumped into easy chairs, beers in hand. The drafters, however, were nowhere tobe found. Close to a dozen of them were outdoors, on the asphalt of the cul-de-sac, matched up five-on-five and playing touch football in the afternoon sun. They ran, they yelled, they lateraled when they shouldn't have. The sun dipped toward the horizon. Inside, the game began. Outside, life continued.