I have always subscribed to Nick the Greek's maxim that the best thing in life is betting and winning; the second best thing is betting and losing. As the legendary plunger once said, "Gambling improves the flavor of life."
To this truism I would now like to offer an amendment. Gambling improves the flavor of life unless what you happen to be gambling on is professional football.
I've had it. I'm swearing off. I'm not going to subject myself to such torture and injustice anymore.
The event that finally prompted me to close my accounts with my bookies was Sunday's Houston-Tampa Bay game. The Oilers were favored by 9 1/2 points and I thought they were a mortal lock. With Earl Campbell healthy and Dave Casper joining the team, Houston was finally putting together what should be one of the best offenses in football. Tampa Bay's once-formidable defense had been falling apart; a week earlier the Bucs had yielded more than 500 yards in total offense to unmighty Green Bay. The game figured to be a rout.
And it was. Houston dominated the action and led, 20-7, late in the game and was driving for another touchdown when Campbell rushed up the middle. The ball popped out of his hands and into the arms of a Tampa Bay defender, who lateraled to a teammate, who in turn ran 80 yards for a touchdown that covered the point spread. Goodbye $880.
Such injustices are all too familiar to anybody who bets football. I am still haunted by the 7-year-old memory of betting Pittsburgh as a 19-point favorite over San Diego, and celebrating when I heard they had rolled to a 38-0 halftime lead.I had no way of knowing that Coach Chuck Noll was going to rest his regulars in the second half and surrender three gift touchdowns that cut the final margin to 38-21. I am similarly tortured by the memory of the 1976 Minnesota-Los Angeles playoff game, which left me catatonic for days, but the details of that one are still too painful to recount.
Of course, luck and various acts of God can affect the outcome of a horse race, a baseball game, a basketball game or anything else. But in football the effect of these breaks is most dramatic; one bounce of the ball can produce a 14-point turnaround, and 14 points will decide most wagers. In no form of gambling does the "correct" bet seem to lose so frequently. There must be more sensible and less-aggravating ways to improve the flavor of life.
But swearing off betting football entails a lot more than not telephoning the bookie Sunday morning. It involves a significant change in life style. Clearly,there is no way that any sensible person can sit through, say, one Chicago-Tampa Bay game without a wager, let alone stand 20 consecutive weekends in front of the television set.
Over the past decade, I estimate that I have spent approximately 1,500 hours galvanized to my television rooting for my wagers on pro football games. If Bo Derek knocked on my door at 1:05 Sunday afternoon and proposed a little hanky-panky, I would be forced to say, "Sorry, Bo, but the Bills are about to kick off."
I am not better acquainted with the nature of life in the hereafter than I am with what occurs on Sunday afternoons during the fall. The thought of brunching with civilized friends or bicycling through the park on a crisp autumn day sounds revolting, but still not as bad as letting professional football torture me anymore.