Monday night's Oakland-Seattle contest was a miniclassic, so far as the nation's bettors were concerned.
The Raiders, favored by two points, had battled back from 17-7 to 17-16 and were inside the Charger 10 with little more than one minute to play. On third and three, Oakland quarterback Jim Plunkett went for a touchdown, instead of waiting for the field goal. Plunkett rolled out to his right and nearly threw an interception. He got off with an incompletion. Then Chris Bahr kicked the three-pointer for 19-17.
Ordinarily, that would have been the end of the television drama. But no. Seattle retreated to its three-yard line on its final series. A desperation fourth-down pass went incomplete. Eight seconds remained.
Now came the question. Would Oakland merely cover the ball and run out the clock, or would the Raiders try to score again and, in effect, cover the point spread for those who had risked $11 to win $10 on them, giving two points?
Plunkett handed off to Arthur Whittington, who cut over his right tackle and was downed at the two. A "push." No one wins, no one loses, not even the bookies. It's as though the game were never played, which is not to say those final minutes weren't thrilling, as they are so often when the covering of the spread is in doubt.
Network television commentators continue to ignore the point spread. Rarely is "the number" mentioned, except perhaps in the opening minutes. And never is there an attempt to play up the fact that thousands upon thousands of viewers stay tuned to their sets -- long after the winner or loser has been determined -- in order to see if their selection covers the spread.
Let's be honest. Television has done more to encourage gambling on sports events than RCA could have imagined. Bettors love to see their team in action. It can be agony. It can be ecstasy. But it's rarely dull, and it surely beats having to sit there waiting for a score from a nontelevised game to be piped in whenever the network chooses.
The only thing worse than sitting by the tube, waiting for a certain score, is to be sitting in one of the NFL stadiums, hoping the million-dollar scoreboard will give out information on other league games. Today's scoreboards supply everything but scores, of course. They are designed primarily to spout commercial messages.
Cable TV, someday, might be the answer to giving the bettor what he wants to hear. Until then, don't hold your breath. The networks are delighted to have the gamblers follow their sports presentations so closely. But they are not about to acknowledge that such intense and widespread betting interest exists. That, apparently, still would be un-American, particularly in the eyes of Pete Rozelle.
This week's picks are Minnesota, a mythical $750, giving six at home to Green Bay; Philadelphia, $500, giving six at home to Oakland; Dallas, $250, giving 12 at home to Washington; New England, $250, giving 6 1/2 at home to Baltimore, and $100 each on San Diego (Thursday night) giving 3 1/2 at Miami and Tampa Bay giving three at home to Detroit.
The Vikings continue to offer the best "value" of any team in the league. They are underrated by the linemakers and the betting public. Green Bay's patched-up defense shouldn't keep the Vikes under 30 points.
Jim Plunkett is starting to look more and more like Daryl (the mad Bomber) Lamonica. Oakland's defense is excellent, but Plunkett has been a little lucky. The Eagles should end Oakland's victory streak at six.
In other games, Las Vegas lists Atlanta 6 1/2 over Chicago, Cleveland seven over Cincinnati, Houston six at New York Jets, St. Louis one over Kansas City, San Francisco three over New York Giants, Pittsburgh two at Buffalo, Denver four over Seattle and (Monday night) Los Angeles 10 1/2 at New Orleans.