Publishing an accurate point spread is not always as easy as it looks. The line may move slightly from day to day, and it is important that such movements be noted. It also is important that readers be alert to distinguish the difference between an honest-to-goodness betting line and one that is a little more than one man's unbettable opinion.
This column occasionally becomes trapped in the middle of changes in the line. The material is prepared Tuesday for distribution Wednesday for Thursday morning (or later) publication. Changes can occur from the time the keys strike the typewriter until the reader sees the written word.
Take Detroit at Minnesota last week, for example. The game figured to open at even, according to the Head Linesman. But by Thursday, Viking quarterback Steve Dils had been placed on injured reserve, the result of punishment he suffered in the previous Monday night's loss to Oakland. Dils had been starting because Tommy Kramer was hurt.
"There's no line being posted on the game," Bob Martin said Thursday from Las Vegas. "Everybody's waiting to see what happens with Kramer. They say he might be able to play with a brace on his knee, but there's a good chance the rookie, (Wade) Wilson, will have to play.
"If we knew Kramer could start, I'd make Detroit only a one- or two-point favorite," Martin said. "If the Vikings have to go with their third-string quarterback, I'd make it 3 1/2."
ABC, during the Oakland-Minnesota national telecast, had shown Kramer on the sideline. Howard Cosell reported that Kramer was two or three weeks away from being ready to return. But after Dils went down, with his team 0-2, Coach Bud Grant obviously was going to move up Kramer's timetable, if possible.
The difference between Kramer and Wilson at quarterback figured to be the difference between cautious optimism and chaos. Kramer makes Minnesota a respectable club. His presence is particularly important because the Vikings have no running attack.
Sunday, in the pregame shows, CBS and NBC still did not know if Kramer would play. Grant apparently was being as cute as Shirley Temple. Kramer started. He was healthy enough to complete 25 of 42 passes for 333 yards. Minnesota won on a 24-yard field goal with seven seconds left, 26-24.
"Interestingly, the bettors weren't turned around even when Kramer's playing became more of a possibility," Martin said. "The line went out to four, favoring the Lions. The bettors believed Kramer, even if he played, wouldn't be sharp enough to make any difference. They kept betting Detroit."
I picked Detroit. That is one of the hazards of "Playing Football."
This week's prime pick is San Francisco, attracting an imaginary $500 at home giving six points against New Orleans. The 49ers are better than rated, generate an excellent offense and have a young defensive secondary that should improve rapidly.
I'll also go with five $250 selections: Miami giving 2 1/2 at Baltimore, Green Bay giving 2 1/2 at home against Minnesota, Detroit getting two at home against Oakland, Denver getting three at home against San Diego and Cleveland getting two at home against Atlanta.
In other games, Las Vegas lists Buffalo a three-point favorite at Cincinnati, Houston three at the New York Jets, Seattle 1 1/2 over Kansas City, Pittsburgh 3 1/2 over New England, Dallas 11 1/2 over the New York Giants, Tampa Bay one over St. Louis, Philadelphia (minus Montgomery) nine over Washington and, Monday night, Los Angeles at Chicago even. Last Week -- $600
Season Total -- $950
Last week: Buffalo, giving 3 1/2, lost to Philadelphia, 20-14, minus $825; Denver, giving three, defeated Baltimore, 28-10, plus $250; Detroit, giving four, lost to Minnesota, 26-24, minus $275; Dallas, even, defeated New England, 35-21, plus $250.
Won-lost record for season: 5-5.