It's like being a heavy underdog in a championship fight says Tom Drake and in his mind at least, the crowd is roaring.
"The people want me to win. They really do. It's just like Sylvester Stallone in 'Rocky," he insists. "I believe I'm going to win. They believe I'm going to win. I'm going to win."
Given the setting, Drake's psych-job on himself borders on the bizarre. He's not, after all, trading punches in Madison Square Garden, but is simply scraping lottery tickets with a knife as he sits at a card table in a neighborhood drug store about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh.
Last Monday, the 30-year-old former real estate salesman convinced his wife Philomena, that they should quit their jobs, liquidate their assets and spend all their money on a desperate attempt to win $1,000 a week for life in the Pennsylvania lottery's Instant Bingo game.
The official odds against winning the top prize are given as 35 million to one. But since the Drakes say they intend to buy about 20,000 $1 tickets, the odds against them, according to a local university professor, have dropped to 1,700 to one.
By week's end, they had purchased 1,500 tickets. Their "instant winnings" to date - determined by scraping a film off the ticket and matching numbers underneath with those on a Bingo-style card - have amounted to about $500.
"I'm kind of shocked that the biggest prize we've won on one card has only been $5," says Philomena as she rubs her knife across yet another ticket.
But Tom, a self-described dreamer, is quick to remind his wife that it is just a matter of time before they win the big one.
"We're going to make it, Phil," he assures her across the card table. "It's ridiculous to say we can't win. This next ticket could be the big winner."
There are two ways they can win the $1,000-a-week prize.
One is to gain a spot in a drawing for it by matching up numbers in a Bingo-like display on each lottery card.
The other is to collect cards containing all the letters in the words "Pennsylvania," "Lottery" or "Bingo."
The whole idea is "diabolically simple," notes Drake, who says his obsession with winning $1,000 a week for life has its roots in a bad cold his wife suffered last weekend.
"Phil was really sick. We went to a doctor and he said part of the problem was her nerves," Drake explained.
"So I started thinking. What can I do so she can quit her job and we can get closer together?"
When he reflected on his two-year-old marriage, Drake says, he realized that although they had been able to build up some assets - including two trotting horses, three acres of farm land and about $1,100 in savings - he and Phil still didn't have much to show for themselves.
"We'd been working so hard but we still weren't able to afford a house. We just couldn't make things happen fast enough."
Ordinarily, Drake might simply have tried to ride out the wave of depression. But this time was different.He had seen, a few days earlier, the movie "Rocky."
"That really inspired me. Nobody thought he had a chance but he believed in himself and did it. So why can't I?
"I know it's only a movie, but when I hear the theme song I get more and more determined."
A second flash of inspiration, Drake says, came last Monday while he was watching the game show, "Family Feud," on television.
"I thought to myself that all over the country people were rooting for these people to win. And I figured if I had that many people rooting for me, I could win too."
So Drake, who describes himself as just an average gambler, decided to "chuck it all" in the lottery. "I called Phil right away at work, but I made sure a neighbor was with me so she could tell Phil I wasn't drunk."
He says he told his wife that if she loved him and trusted him she would quit her job - she was a secretary for U.S. Steel Corp. - and grab the next cab home.
Without waiting to find out what Tom had in mind, Philomena did as she was told. By the time she got home, he had taken all $1,100 out of the savings account to buy the first book of 500 tickets.
That night they began their buying and scraping at a nearby shopping mall surrounded by a small crowd. But when they sold their 1974 Vega on Friday they had to move to a ticket-selling drug store closer to their one-bedroom apartment. No crowd was formed there.
Although they have to be content with sitting at a card table in front of a perfume counter, the Drakes say they're happier then ever. "We get to spend so much time together now," Philomena remarked. "We're so much closer."
When it is suggested that there may be other ways to spend their life savings for the sake of companionship, Tom becomes defensive.
"I can tell by your eyes that you're not a believer," he snaps. "If you were a believer you wouldn't ask things like that."
A spokesman for the state lottery said it isn't intended to entice people to squander their life savings.
"But the way I look at it, it's our money and we're not hurting anyone" Tom says. "I believe in myself and I don't want anybody to be able to say Tom Drake chickened out.
"If we don't win we won't be much worse off than we were before," says Philomena. "And if we do, think of the freedom we'll have the rest of our lives."
The couple said that, prior to this, the most impulsive thing Tom ever did was to trade his Corvette in on a beat-up Rolls Royce. But the Rolls was destroyed in a fire about a year ago, and Tom says he hadn't gotten over that until he came up with his get-rich-quick lottery scheme.
Despite the drastic change in their lifestyles, the Drakes say their dreams remain the same: a nice house where they can raise a family, and some money so Tom can get into harness racing the "right way."
There is, however, one other thing, admits Tom. "I'd like to meet Sylvester Stallone."
"Tom is really wound up," Philomena says as her husband raves about "Rocky" to the drug store owner. "Lately he's been acting a little different, but inside he's still really a good guy, and that's why I'm going along with this." CAPTION: Picture, Pennsylvania ticket-scrapers Tom and Philomena Drake seek $1,000 a week for life. AP