The most difficult part of "Playing Football" is learning how to lose. Not that it should be an enjoyable experience. But it will happen - about 40 percent of the time during a good season of predictions.
Last week provided such a test of character. The same Cleveland Browns that propelled us to a prosperous (mythical $500) start by beating San Francisco and a 4-point spread on opening day defeated Cincinnati Sunday but were forced into overtime, 13-10. The spread opened at five and went out to six or 6 1/2 locally. We dropped a mythical $250 plus the $25 vigorish.
"Cleveland didn't really try," one lose lamented in Tuesday's mail. "They could have walked in for six points in the overtime but they settled for a field goal. They didn't even use all their plays before the field goal. They kicked on third-and-five."
What are we to believe? That Cleveland purposefully didn't want to cover the spread?
Ridiculous. What happened represented a slight deviation from the norm in the National Football League. The Browns went for a 27-yard field goal (with the ball on the 10) on third down instead of continuing to move a little closer to the goal line.
The question may be asked why the Browns, if they were so confident of Don Cockroft's kicking ability, didn't have him set up fon first down from 32 yards out Why risk a fumble twice, if you are so unsure of your ball carriers?
That, in fact, is what I think Coach Sam Rutigliano should have done. Cockroft is one of the best kickers in the NFL. His toe is the best part of the Brown's offense> along with Greg Bruitt's feet and Reggie Rucker's hands.
So much for our "preseason." More time was needed in order to view more teams before being able to make a larger number of selections. Now I'm ready, a mythical $225 to the food, with a "Magnificient Seven" set of selections ready for this week, each carrying a mythical $250 risk.
I will string along with:
Atlanta, getting two points at home against Cleveland Bob Martin, the head linesman, made the wrong team the favorite here. I think the Salcons should be a three-point choice. Their defense ranks second only to Denver's.
Miami, giving 12 1/2 at home against Buffalo. Don Shula's club started to put things together last week in Baltimore. This is a beautiful balanced squad, playing at home for the first time. The Dolphins should be able to stay close to New England until Bob Griese returns.
Pittsburgh, giving five at Cincinnati. The Steelers were convincing if not overpowering in their first two victories, although failing to beat the pread. The defense is weaker than it [WORD ILLEGIBLE] was, but the offense is stronger. Cincinnati's backfield of John Reaves, Archie Griffin and Pete Johnson lacks [WORD ILLEGIBLE] .
Dallas, giving four at Los Angeles. The Cowboys breezed through the first two games. This is their first [WORD ILLEGIBLE] competition of the season and they should be up to the occasion. The Rams' offense has disappointed, and the injury to Wendell Tyler robs them of badly needed speed.
Houston, giving 10 at home against San Francisco. The Oilers return to the dome after two weeks on the road. They are 1 and 1, but with Earl Campbell already established as a power back with speed, the Houston defense should be ready to start cracking down. San Francisco continues to experiment with all the new faces.
San Diego, getting five at Denver. I love the Broncos' quickness on defense, but one of these days they are going to give a touchdown this could be the week. San Diego is ready to challenge for the AFC West title despite having been done in by the zebras against Oakland Sunday.
New England, giving 17 at home against Baltimore. The Patriots may be slightly overrated. The Colts will not be comptitive against the big boys, however, until Bert Jones returns - and maybe not even then, what with all the injuries the team has suffered. A cliche says "never give more than 14 points." In this instance, give the 17.
In other games, Martin rates Chicago a three-point favorite at Detroit, the Giants 4 1/2 over Kansas City, Oakland 10 at Green Bay, Philadelphia one at New Orelans, the Jets seven over Seattle, Minnesota 11 1/2 over Tampa Bay, and Washington 3 1/2 at S. Louis.