Three selections were made last week.
The best one lost.
Green Bay, getting four points, led Atlanta, 17-0, early in the fourth quarter. To the bettor, that's 21-0. The worst that could happen, if the Pack cracked, would be for the Falcons to rip off three touchdowns and three extra points and win, 21-17.
So, if the worst happened, Atlanta would score a dramatic come-from-behind victory, the Packers would blow another one, and the person betting on Green Bay would be left with a 21-21 tie. The bettor would neither win nor lose. No money would exchange hands.
That being the case, once I heard the 17-0 fourth-quarter score on television, I decided to go out for a stroll, congratulate myself on a brilliant pick, mentally count the imaginary money earned, and await the 4 o'clock contest between New England and Philadelphia.
By the time I got back to the tube, some 20 minutes later, all Starr had broken loose. The only Bart was in Bartkowski, and while I'd never expected Green Bay to shut down Atlanta's balanced offense completely, I sure wasn't prepared for their recording 31 points in the final 15 minutes, either.
Let's face facts. A team has to have a lot of help from the opposition in order to score that rapidly. A 53-yard punt return, the return of an interception for a touchdown and the return of a fumble for a touchdown all figured in the Falcon follies, and my dropping an imaginary $275.
It reminded me, however painfully, of a game in Pittsburgh in 1973 when Johnny Unitas, near the end of his career and in absolutely no shape to stand up to the Steeler pass rush, was quarterbacking the San Diego Chargers. Pittsburgh opened as a 17 1/2-point favorite and went out to 19 1/2 by kickoff. I bet my lungs on Pitt.
The first four times Chuck Noll's club had the ball, it scored three touchdowns and a field goal. With 6 1/2 minutes gone in the second period, and Unitas mercifully removed to the sidelines, the count was 31-zip. At halftime, it was 38-0.
Then, early in the second half, Noll started to make many substitutions. The third quarter was scoreless. But in the final quarter, a little-known quarterback named Dan Fouts helped put 21 points on the board for San Diego. Final score: 38-21. I took the loss calmly, tearing off the kitchen screen door.
"I guarantee you, I won't do that again," Noll was quoted after the game, "I won't substitute like that again if it's 100 to nothing at the half." To my knowledge, he never has.
Just remember, through the agony and the ecstasy, that incidents such as '73 Pittsburgh-San Diego and '81 Green Bay-Atlanta are part of the game of trying to cover the spread. It doesn't pay to cry. But swearing helps.
I'll be happy to donate the vigorish from last Sunday's loss to the Ray Malavasi-Ron Erhardt-Neill Armstrong-Ray Perkins-Walt Michaels Early Retirement Fund if Lady Luck will smile a little more kindly this week, starting with tonight's game in Buffalo.
The Bills' superb defensive effort against San Diego in playoffs last season set the tone for their performances this season. Nose tackle Fred Smerlas is beautifully named and Chuck Knox's week-to-week preparation is second to none in the NFL, although Philadelphia's Dick Vermeil might deserve an equally high rating.
Buffalo should be able to pressure Eagle passer Ron Jaworski into more mistakes than a top quarterback should make. And the Bills' offense looks to be better than it's ever been. Everything points to a maximum effort by what might be the best team in pro football right now. I'll take an imaginary $750 on the Bills giving 3 1/2 and follow on Sunday with $250 on Denver giving three against Baltimore, $250 on Detroit even at Minnesota and (Monday night) $250 on Dallas even at New England.