A friend in Virginia called recently to tout, I thought a super tout.
"If you played this guy's selections last year on Monday nights you went 11 for 11" the friend said. Then he paused for a second and added "Of course you had to be a wealthy man to have any money left by Monday night since, overall, this guy was 43 percent overall picking the pros which means you tapped out almost every Sunday."
So it goes in the world of "sports services." The football trade magazines on the stands at the corner drug store never had it so good. They are being kept in business by the touts' advertisements many of which make preposterous claims for themselves in order to outshout the competition.
Does anyone believe, for instance that an NFL handicapper can consistently select 80 percent winners against the spread when the precise break-even point in the percentages is 52.37?
"No but there is a large audience out there that wants to believe, including thousands of well-educated professional men with money who you would think are too intelligent to be lured so easily" said Mike McCusker of Peoria, Arizona.
McCusker in the only man in America, to my knowledge, who monitors such winnings and losings. He has written two volumes on the subject, "Sports Services, Tipsters or Gypsters?" and they provide interesting reading for those who ever considered dabbling with the doughboys.
"There are a few touts I would trust," said McCusker. "They devote all their time to handicapping sports.They have good-sized staffs, do their homework, maintain solid information sources, and have the resources to keep going when their luck goes bad.
"A small number make a very good living. A few have credibility. But the best advices 'bettors beware'. Too many of the subscribers, unfortunately, wouldn't have known the differences between Mahalia and Reggie Jackson."
McCusker sent out form letters inviting the tipsters to submit their picks to him each week, in advance, for an audit. He planned to compile his ratings of their ratings at the end of the season. Most balked at this invitation. McCusker, in turn, is devastating in his criticism of many of those sports services he checked out.
"The only reason I took the time to answer you is to keep the record straight and accurate," one tout replied. "As far as you rating me, it would only mean something to me if I was rated No. 1, which I am. If you don't rate me No. 1, don't rate me at all, and please let's discontinue any further correspondence."
I'm told there are a couple of sports services which have fared well over the years. They are not, I might add, the ones that have attracted the most national attention.
What "Playing Football" can endorse is a fan doing his own handicapping without resorting to the $300 or more several of the high-priced touts ask for their services.
Good information is available from watching the games on the tube and from studying the fine print of the statistics in Monday morning's papers. You can form intelligent reasons for picking a certain team against a spread on your own. And that is the real satisfaction - doing it yourself, not paying someone to do the thinking for you.
Our season started nicely last Sunday when Cleveland easily covered the four points against San Francisco, 24-7, for a mythical profit of $500.
I'll go right back with the Browns this week, at home against Cincinnati, Cleveland is a five-point favorite.
John Reaves is the Bengal passer. He is substituting for the injured Ken Anderson. Reaves is inconsistent. And Cincinnati's running game consists of Archie Griffin and Pete Johnson, which isn't saying much.
Cincinnati was upset by Kansas City last week, 24-23, when the Chiefs rushed for 267 yards. The Bengals will be trying to bounce back. They are a better team than San Francisco but Cleveland's defensive line should again do well, now that Jerry Sherk is holding up the middle again.
I'll risk a mythical $250 in an attempt to let Cleveland atone for naving ended my 11-game winning streak last fall when they were beaten by Cincinnati at Cleveland.
Other games this week find Washington favored by 4 over Philadelphia, Detroit 1 over Tampa Bay, Los Angeles 10 1/2 over Atlanta, Chicago 3 over San Francisco, Dallas 10 over the Giants, Houston 6 1/2 over Kansas City, New England 6 1/2 over St. Louis, New Orleans 1 over Green Bay, the Jets 5 over Buffalo, Oakland 5 over San Diego, Pittsburgh 14 over Seattle, and Denver 1 1/2 over Minnesota.
No line is available on the Miami-Baltimore game because of the numerous injuries Baltimore has suffered.