"It happens to all bettors," Bob Martin contends. "They fall by the wayside."
What the Head Linesman is saying, politely, is that no one can successfully buck the odds over a long period of time. "Eventually," Martin declares, "the 11 to 10 in betting on football will wear everyone down."
Managers of the local sports books and bookmakers throughout the nation heartily agree. They have the big edge, making the player risk $11 in an attempt to win $10 game after game after game.
I have met many fine individuals in the gambling business while devoting many months of the last decade to covering the spread of NFL contests. None has made as strong, or as favorable, an impression as Martin. As the man who sets the betting line for the Union Plaza and the Churchhill Downs books, he is the man on whom the rest of the country waits, each Monday, for the starting points.
This makes Martin the merchandiser of a number, an Abe Lincoln number designed for the people, and, eventually, a number often altered slightly by the people. But the original number never is established by the people. But the original number never is established by the people. Martin does that, and he does it frustratingly well so far as the professional bettor or handicapper is concerned.
"It's strictly a numbers game," Martin remarks. "What many people don't understand is that my job is to come up with a 'splitter' -- a number that will attract equal action on both teams." If the number does that, the bookmakers can't lose.
Naturally, if Martin is to be entrusted with the job of setting an Abe Lincoln number, he must have the kind of integrity associated with the 16th president. He does. He plays the game straight, in a world full of curve ball artists.
As a collaborator once wrote: "Bob Martin has the manner of a benevolent prince. With an ever-present twinkle in his eyes, a smile that always plays around the corners of his mouth, upturned nose, full face and a deep voice resonant with authority, he could pass for the king of the leprechauns -- if leprechauns were full-grown men who liked to bet serious money on other full-grown men playing boys' games."
With Martin there is no nonsense, no pretense. He works off a master grid or power rating that he modifies slightly after each Sunday's schedule. Certain outside opinions are welcome. But he has great confidence in his own talent, his own feel for what he does.
Last week, for instance, he believed the fact that San Diego's flight to Miami had been delayed for four or five hours in Oklahoma was significant. "A team going cross-country, and then to have something like that happen, it can't help the Chargers and it might be one of those little things that makes the difference in whether they cover (the spread) or not," he said.
San Diego, favored by 3 1/2, won by three in overtime, downing the Dolphins, 27-24.
This week, in discussing his numbers,Martin employed the adjective "revitalized" in front of the Detroit Lions, warned that Houston came out of the loss to the Jets with Earl Campbell, Toni Fritsch, Mike Barber and Dave Casper all hurting, and suggested that San Diego should be favored by 3 1/2 instead of three over Philadelphia, "because the game has to mean more to the Chargers, who really need it, while the Eagles don't."
Martin made Detroit 3 1/2 over Chicago (Thursday) and Houston o 1/2 over Cleveland.
I will attack all three games, going against the Lions (in belief that the Bear defense is too solid) for a mythical $500 while backing the Oilers for $500 (get healthy, Earl) and the Chargers with $750 (get hot, Dan). A fourth prime pick is Oakland, giving four at home Monday night against Denver (I like the prospect of the Raiders' rugged defense going after Craig Morton). Atlanta, giving 10 to the Theismann-less Redskins, and Green Bay's rejuvenated Packers, giving Tampa Bay 4 1/2, also attract $100 each.
In other games, Dallas is listed nine over Seattle (Thursday), Buffalo two at Baltimore, Kansas City seven over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh 6 1/2 over Miami, Minnesota five at New Orleans, New England seven at San Francisco, Los Angeles 10 over the New York Jets, and St. Louis two at the New Ork Giants.