The phone rang early Sunday afternoon, a call from a friend aware that I had picked Los Angeles, giving 4, for an imaginary $500 in Atlanta.
"You won't believe what (Ray) Malavasi's just done," the friend began.
"Yes, I will," I countered. "It's Malavasi. Nothing's impossible."
"Well," the friend declared, "it's early in the first quarter, no score, and the Rams stop the Falcons on third down at the two. Atlanta's starting to send in their field goal unit while the officials are explaining to the Rams that there was a penalty on the last play against the Falcons and they have the option: third and seven or fourth and two. It's Malavasi's move."
"Farrah Fawcett could figure that one out," I suggested.
"Maybe so," the friend replied, "but Malavasi took the penalty. You want to guess what happened on the next play?"
There was no need. I already knew. Sitting at home in my living room, watching New Orleans-Washington, CBS had flashed an early score from Atlanta: Falcons, 6-0, after Tim Mazzetti missed the extra point.
The phone conversation ended quickly, but before I put the receiver down, a dull, sickening feeling had begun to form in the pit of my stomach. This was going to be one of those days.
Not that the situation looked too bad in D.C. Washington capitalized on Mark Moseley's toe for a 22-7 lead over the Saints and appeared ready to cover 10 points for an imaginary $250. All the Redskins had to do was let Moseley kick one more. He was five for six for the day. But no. Instead of having him try one more, and end the game interest for the bettors, Washington faked the field goal. Joe Theismann threw a pass, complete, but six inches short of the first down. The Saints came marching back to score in the final minute, 22-14. I'm down $275.
A few minutes later, the highlights come in from Atlanta. Los Angeles, leading, 10-6, with less than two minutes left, has the Falcons pinned back to third and 48. One play later, they have them fourth and 11 on the Atlanta 46. One play later, they have them Atlanta 13, Rams 10. Serves Malavasi right. Except I've lost $550.
New England also loses, while in Baltimore Bert Jones is getting sacked 12 times by St. Louis. Four selections, four losses, minus $1,375.
But Houston, behind Earl Campbell, buries Cincinnati, 23-3. Kansas City, up 10-0 early and 17-10 late, holds on for a push at 20-17. Now there's the Late Show, San Diego at Dallas.
The Cowboys hold an encouraging lead, 7-3, until Dan Fouts passes to Charlie Joiner. The ball bounces off a defender's shoulder pad, smack into the hands of John Jefferson, who doesn't need that kind of luck to be effective. Jefferson waltzes some 50 yards for a touchdown and a 10-7 Charger lead that soon becomes 17-7.
Remember the late Peter Finch in the movie "Network"? Well, it's now time for my three-a-year Oscar routine. I gather my German shepherds and go out for a long, long walk, periodically looking to the heavens, screaming, "I'm not going to take it anymore!"
Someone obviously got the message. They saw to it that the ball kept bouncing crazily, but in my direction, the second half in Dallas. Final score: Cowboys 42, Chargers 31. What had all the makings of the Titanic became merely another Bad Day at Black Rock.
This week I intend to bounce back with Oakland, Buffalo, Baltimore and a six-pack. The Raiders are enjoying a rebirth, thanks to Jim Plunkett, and are worth an imaginary $500, giving 7 1/2, over Miami's impotent offense and rookie quarterback. Buffalo, at home, can deprive Atlanta of another miracle finish, giving 4 1/2 for $250. Baltimore, getting 2 at Kansas City, should stop the Chiefs' winning streak at four.
Attracting $100 each are Pittsburgh, giving 13 1/2 to Green Bay; Detroit, giving 9 to San Francisco; Los Angeles giving 14 to New Orleans; Dallas, giving 5 at St. Louis; Houston, giving 3 1/2 at Denver and (Monday night) Chicago getting 5 1/2 at Cleveland.
In other games, Las Vegas lists Washington 7 1/2 over Minnesota, Tampa Bay 6 1/2 over the New York Giants, New England 9 over the New York Jets, San Diego 3 1/2 at Cincinnati and Philadelphia 2 1/2 at Seattle.