Monday, Sept. 20, 1982: the day the line stood still on the NFL games in Las Vegas and everywhere else.
It was shortly after 1 p.m. and the strike by the players' association had not been formally declared, but everyone knew it was coming, so why should the punters (never to be confused with kickers) go through the motion of betting on games destined not to be played on schedule?
"They can't do this to me," a friend wailed over the phone from Nevada. "The strike should be illegal, or somethin'. I'm off to a good start this season. I've got momentum . . . and now they've done this. What's sad, they didn't even try to settle it."
Oh, the pains of withdrawal were beginning immediately, even though tonight's contest between Atlanta and Kansas City -- the Chiefs were favored by three early -- had not been officially scratched. My friend obviously had only one recourse.
"The Giants," he declared. "I got to double up on the Giants tonight (giving three at home against Green Bay) . . . it may be the last game of the year."
It may be, although that would appear to be an extreme view, in the mind of most bookmakers. I asked one such citizen of the subculture yesterday to quote some odds as to the duration of the strike.
"I'll give you a nice price on less than two weeks, or I'll give you a decent price on more than four weeks," he said. "I'd be keeping everything in between for myself."
Three weeks sounds about right, but it's all so wrong that the Football Bettors of America should be restricted to college contests for their weekend wagering. What does anybody know about SMU-Rice, Arizona State-California or, pardon the expression, Northwestern-Northern Illinois?
Still, that is where much of the action will shift to in the weeks ahead. I'm actually going to dabble on Nebraska Saturday giving 3 1/2 against Penn State, although I haven't seen Nebraska play. The Cornhuskers have a great public relations man.
One can only wonder what effect the strike will have on the final NFL standings if, indeed, the 1982 standings ever become final. Detroit, Washington and the Los Angeles Raiders were off to glorious starts. This halt in the action can hardly help them, whereas it may buy valuable time for San Francisco's ailing offensive line. Several squads were suffering from a cluster of injuries at one position. The strike has to aid them.
Tell me, if you can, which teams during this strike will take their daily, informal workouts the most seriously? If play is resumed, which teams will be ready? It is tough enough, attempting to beat the point spread, without having to build in another such consideration in the calculations.
That is a problem for the future. For the first time in more than eight years I am taking Sunday afternoon off, away from the three-screens-in-one Sony. There is nothing to be learned by watching the Canadian League. Monday night, I might take the wife to the movies. Something she'll really like. "Semi-Tough," "North Dallas 40" or "The Longest Yard," perhaps, if they are replaying in the neighborhood.
Playing Football had two solid picks staked out for Sunday, Philadelphia giving the Rams five and Washington giving St. Louis four. Now we'll never know. Even if those games are played, somewhere down the line, conditions will have changed either slightly or radically. The serious bettor who shies from the early weeks of the season, waiting for the form to form, suddenly finds himself threatened with a terribly short betting year if he sticks strictly to the pros.
A baseball strike was one thing. Who cared what happened before the playoffs and the World Series? Pro football, by comparison, is life's sporting blood.
Like my friend in Vegas. Through the first two Sundays he was sailing along, comfortably ahead of the spread. When I talked to him Monday he was bemoaning the fact that the strike would stop his winning streak. Tuesday, he called again. "I made a mistake last night," he admitted. "I didn't just double up on the Giants, I quadrupled. I guess I panicked. Hell, that might have been my last chance to get rich for the year."