Before the first Sunday of the pro football season, most local fans and bettors assumed that Houston was going to annihilate the Redskins and cover the point spread with ease.
In fact, I heard only one dissenting opinion all week, and it seemed so unorthodox at the same time that I quoted it in this column. A professional gambler I'll call Harry outlined the reasons that the prevailing view of the Redskins was wrong, and concluded that they were an exceptional betting opportunity. He did it with such clear, incontrovertible logic that I found it almost impossible to argue.
I had learned years before that it is dangerous to argue with Harry.Handicapping sports is both his profession and his passion. He spends most of his days either studying sports statistics or thinking about them, culling through an enormous mass of data to find an occasional solid bet. His opinions are usually a bit idiosyncratic and, as in the case of the Oiler-Redskin game, they usually are right.
So I didn't laugh -- indeed, I listened like an attentive schoolboy, when Harry expressed a far-out opinion yesterday. He said he loves Vanderbilt, a 27-point underdog, against Tennessee Saturday. He even thinks that Vandy could win the game outright.
The Commodores have won only one game all year, but in Harry's view there is one crucial difference between them and other bad teams. "The big undergods that worry me are the ones with no offense," he said. "But Vanderbilt has an excellent runner named Mordica and they can move the ball offensively. They're going to score against Tennessee's defense.
"Tennessee gave up 44 points to Mississippi. They lost to Rutgers in Knoxville, and I don't think Rutgers is a great team this year. Vanderbilt ought to be able to score three touchdowns against Tennessee, and if they do that Tennessee will need 49 to beat the spread."
Harry doubted that Tennessee has the capability to blow out Vanderbilt. But even if it did, he said, "I don't see why they would go all out in this game.
"They've already clinched a bowl bid. They have nothing in particular to shoot for. They're not going to move up from sixth to fourth in the polls or anything like that.
"Besides, Tennessee's best player is its quarterback, Jimmy Streater. He's the guy that really makes the team go. He was hurt against Notre Dame and to my knowledge he didn't play against Kentucky last week. I can't see why they would risk playing him much against Vanderbilt. They don't want him to get hurt coming up to a bowl game against Purdue.
"I don't think Tennessee is equipped to beat Vanderbilt by 27," Harry concluded. "And even if they were, I think that in this game they'd be quite content to win by less. If Vanderbilt gets a little bit lucky and scores first, anything could happen. I think they've got a better chance to win the game outright than Tennessee does to cover the spread."