Not much makes sense about the Art Schlichter story, as we know it so far, except to say the incompetence on both sides suggests there was no game-fixing going on. The comic proportions of the story are a giggle. Here is the gang that couldn't bet straight. Schlichter couldn't pick Secretariat out of a buffalo herd, and the supposed bookmakers couldn't spell blackmail, let alone do it right.
Any gambler who could lose $389,000 in three months, with maybe $150,000 in one groping week, is a sick pigeon who would bet the sun will rise in the west this morning ("It's bound to happen some day, gimme 10 to 1 and you're on."). Such a gambler who also was a quarterback might be tempted to fix a game to square his account. In Art Schlichter's case, as the Colts' third-string benchwarmer, he had a better chance of curing cancer than fixing games.
Besides, according to the indictment handed down, the betting went on only after the Colts' season ended. Sure. Okay. And the sun will rise in the west this morning. Anyway, the indictment says the bookies never asked Schlichter to do anything but pay up. They didn't even ask him to smuggle out the Colts' game plan so they could sell it to the opposition. Their big threat was that if he didn't pay up, they would tell the Colts all about it.
Big-time professional gamblers--dum-de-dum-dum--would not make such a threat. They would iron his legs with a big truck. Or they would say, "Art, you owe us one. No more betting from you. You owe us. We'll collect later." Then, on that magic day when Schlichter carried the Colts to the Super Bowl, the phone would ring. "Art, remember us? Here's what we want you to do. Lose by 7. Your mother would like that, Art."
Threatening to squeal to the Colts marks these alleged bookies as amateurs. So does their stretching Schlichter's credit. Honorable bookies would never let Schlichter get in so deep. Not because they care if he has money for groceries. They care if he can't pay them. Bookies develop a nervous twitch if anyone owes them a dime very long.
Why, then, would these fellows take Schlichter's action until he was in a $389,000 hole?
"It doesn't seem to me like Schlichter was dealing with credible bookies," said Paul Hornung, an expert witness in such business affairs. "Bookmakers are the most honorable SOBs in the world. But here were some guys who took a helluva shot(at him), got him in deep, then when he didn't pay, they held it over his head that they'd go to the commissioner."
Hornung sat out the 1963 NFL season when Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended him and Alex Karras for betting on NFL games. Hornung was the halfback star of Vince Lombardi's mighty Packers. The revelation that Hornung, and other players, bet on football games was the first indication that gambling was an integral part of the public's fascination with the NFL.
Alan Page, the former all-pro lineman, said on National Public Radio yesterday that gambling was common on his teams. "It went on in the open" of locker rooms, he said. It's so accepted in this country, he said, that television networks and newspapers routinely carry gambling information. Why, he asked, should the NFL condemn Schlichter when it has done nothing about the admitted gambling losses of Philadelphia Eagles owner Leonard Tose?
Good question. There are other good questions. Hornung wonders how Schlichter could be so foolish as to think the $389,000 wouldn't be called in. And Hornung supposes the alleged bookmakers were amateurs--"Bookies in Baltimore never heard of them"--who thought they could take Schlichter for a ride without thinking he might lead them into an FBI trap.
Hornung said when the story broke last week, he called Rozelle and said, "Pete, I didn't do it this time.
"I also told Pete that if the kid ran up the bill and then called in the FBI, he's not my kind of guy. Hell, I couldn't walk around Louisville (his hometown) if I owed money to a bookie."
Hornung bet "up to $500, maybe $1,000" a game in 1962. "That was pretty good back then, but nothing like $10,000 or $20,000 a game . . . How do you get $389,000 in the hole? Let's say the kid makes $250,000. That's $125,000 after taxes. If he takes $40,000 to live on, that's $85,000 left. How can they let him go over that unless they want to get the kid over a barrel?"
Now a television sportscaster, Hornung maintains ties with professional football. He doesn't believe gambling is a problem in pro football. Still, he has a theory about which players bet.
"Most offensive players are bettors," he said. "Halfbacks, flankers, running backs, quarterbacks. They have more guts to gamble. The defensive guys and offensive linemen are too cheap. Of course, they don't make as much money as quarterbacks . . . The Schlichter thing surprised me, though, but I don't think the real story is all out yet . . . "
As to Schlichter's future, Hornung's experience may be instructive. If Schlichter's gambling involvement is only betting (which is to say he furnished no information to his bookies, fixed no games), then Rozelle might hand down a one-year suspension.
It would be ludicrous to expect Rozelle to banish Schlichter forever when he has permitted convicted cocaine dealers to play in the NFL.
"When Pete suspended me, at first I didn't agree with it," Hornung said. "But there was talk then of bringing everybody, Vince, too, to Washington for some kind of sports gambling hearings. They were talking about not only me, but subpoenaing other players. By suspending me and Karras, Pete kept the league alive."
By that last sentence, Hornung seemed to imply he and Karras were offered as sacrifices to the public taste for punishment of gamblers. Were they, in Hornung's mind, scapegoats?
"Maybe. Let's say maybe," Hornung said.
One other thing. When did Hornung speak to Rozelle about Schlichter?
"Last week. Right before I went to Vegas."
Laughter moved along the phone line.