Miami opened a three-point favorite over Washington for Super Bowl XVII. "The number will never be less than three," pricemaker Bob Martin declared from Las Vegas Monday afternoon. "It could move a half-point (to 3 1/2) later in the week. I wouldn't be surprised if it did."
To which I said, "Hogwash."
"Sure, the pros think it's high. . . but the public is going to bet on Don Shula," Martin replied. "The public loves the Dolphins' defense. They love the sack, they're an AFC club. They're impressed by the company they played in, compared to what Washington faced in the NFC. Many people still don't believe in them. People like Ronald Reagan, for example. The president never went to a game, did he?
"You look at San Diego, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Oakland and (New York) Jets," Martin continued. "They're all AFC clubs, and they're all rated better than the Redskins."
AFC and Ronald Reagan, indeed. Even in its finest hour, this Washington squad gets little respect. The Redskins are 18-4-1 against the point spread since going 0-5 at the start of the 1981 season. This year they're 10-2 after covering the first five games in a row. Many professional bettors and sports services were quick to make the case for the underdog this past week, but the line is determined by the public's money, and the public, Martin knew, had its mind made up in advance.
"The strongest recommendation Washington has is that they beat Dallas." Martin said. "They beat Dallas, but it was not a real Dallas. It was Dallas in name only. These Cowboys had to struggle in the playoffs to beat Tampa Bay and Green Bay on their home field. I think Dallas was overrated this year."
I found that last statement a little surprising. Only one week earlier, in discussing the Dallas-Washington NFC title game, we had agreed that though the Cowboys were not as impressive as they had been in recent years, they still knew how to make the big play offensively.
But Martin knows his business, which is to judge the pulse of the nation's betting public. The biggest difference between the two conference champions, he knew, was the public's faith in Shula and unfamiliarity with Joe Gibbs.
"Shula and (Bill) Arnsparger. They command great respect off their record, through the years, working together." Martin said. "Arnsparger spells defense. The Dolphins have that. They smother you."
Maybe. Maybe not.
The Dolphin defense is dynamite in the Orange Bowl. Away from home, for whatever reason, it has frequently been known to be much less intimidating. This Washington team is hardly the greatest professional football team ever assembled, but no one should ever confuse David Woodley with Bob Griese, either.
I made the mistake of betting on Washington only three times this season, including the first game against Dallas. I thought the Redskins' offensive line would carry the day in that first outing with the Cowboys. It didn't and I backed off awhile. Then, when Art Monk was injured before the playoffs, I overestimated the impact his absence would have on the passing game.
So, while I wasn't smart enough to do better than 2-1 with Washington this season, I also avoided being dumb enough to go against them. They are the great overachievers of the NFL in 1982-83. They may lose today in Pasadena, but they do not figure to be embarrassed. And if Woodley performs as woodenly as he often has against good defenses, Joe Theismann will be in for a great year of commercials. On one point Martin and I agree: This should be a defensive struggle.
"The over-or-under number looks like 37," Martin said. "As a betting attraction this Super Bowl looks like a good one. There are no big names, but the teams are closely matched. This Super Bowl won't create the betting interest that a Jets-Dallas or Chargers-Dallas game would have, but Miami is popular and the pros like Washington. It'll draw."
That being the case, I'll draw a conclusion: A field goal wins it, which means there's only one way to bet. If it's Mark Moseley's, stand up and proclaim, one more time, "Hogwash!"