For most bettors, these have not been happy holidays.
Unsympathetic souls may feel that a man who spends Christmas Day rooting home hi s wager on the Fiesta Bowl deserves whatever fate befalls him. But, in fact, the finished of many of the televised football games during the past week have constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
The majority of bettors was traumatized and the hearts of bookmakers simultaneously gladdened, when the Philadelphia Eagles and Brigham Young University blew 13-point leads in games they seemed to be winning with case. And these games were tame compared with something called the Hall of Fame Bowl.
When an Iowa State player called an absurd timeout in the final seconds, enabling favored Texas A&M to run one more play and score the touchdown that covered the point spread, people who bet the underdog were contemplating the formation of a suicide cult.
As horrible as these results were, there is something still more painful than picking a loser. It is picking a winner and losing anyway-a fate that befell a couple of local gamblers.
Harry harbored no expectations of a Merry Christmas, inasmuch as he was suffering from the combined effects of unemployment and a long losing streak at the track. But when he opened the racing form one day last week, he saw hope for salvation.
"I've always like the trainers who train their horses at Middleburg, like Paul Fout and Fred Fox," Harry said.
"They're good at getting horses to run well after a layoff.And the Middleburg track is so deep and slow that horses who work over it get really fit."
So Harry was excited when he saw a first-timer starter in the third race at Laurel named Bippy, trained by Fred Fox and showing one Middleburg workout in his past performances. He assembled all the money he could-about $200-and made arrangements for a friend to meet him at a Georgetown bar and drive him to the track.
On the morning of the race, Harry called a cab to take him from his Virginia home to Georgetown. None came. He called again. Still no cab. Finally, after Harry had fretted and fidgeted for nearly an hour, the taxi arrived and sped him to the bar where his friend was waiting, leisurely sipping a beer.
"have a drink," he told Harry. "We've still got plenty of time." They had their drink and then set out for Laurel at 12:10 p.m. "You know," the friend said, "maybe we don't have plenty of time."
Harry might have sensed then that he was foredoomed, for there is an immutable law that governs such circumstances; if you are desperately rushing to the track to bet a particular horse and you get there late, the horse will win; if you arrive on time, the horse will lose.
Harry and his companion drove into the Laurel parking lot just in time to hear the public address system blaring, "It's Bippy in front!" When they got into the track Harry saw that his $200 bet would have returned him $1,560. Instead, he was broke by the end of the day, left ruminating about the cruel workings of fate.
Harry's frustration was mild when compared with that of a gambler named Irv, whose particular sickness is not horses, but college basketball.
Irv analyzed last week's Holy Cross Fordham game and concluded: Fordham possessed the home-court advantage, but Holy Cross was so overwhelmingly superior that it was a cinch to cover the three-point spread. So Irv called his bookie and bet with conviction.
That night he heard on the radio that Holy Cross had won ain a rout, 81-54. His jubilation lasted until the next day.
Irv read in the newspaper account that Fordham's coach had refused to leave the floor after being assessed his third technical foul. So the referee had forfeited the game to Holy Cross with 6:10 to play.
Then Irv talked to his bookie. "I'm sorry," the bookie said, "but you had no bet. There's a rule that a basketball game has to go 35 minutes or all bets are off, and this one only went 34 minutes. If you doubt me, you can call Las Vegas."
Irv called and discovered that, indeed, he had found a new way to lose while picking a winner.