With each pitch, Sid from Tacoma knew the governor wouldn't call and he'd have to sit in the frying chair. Every time the Cubs' pitcher took a signal, Sid from Tacoma spat into his hands and, as if in prayer, pressed them together. Taking a crucifix from inside his shirt, he kissed it and held it against his lips until the baseball passed the plate--or, praise be, until in one moment of salvation, Davey Concepcion's grand slam home run gave the Reds an 8-4 lead.
Life came back to Sid from Tacoma then, for life at 2 o'clock this afternoon in the Stardust Hotel's sports book depended on the Reds at $1 to win $1.20. Before the sun goes down, Sid from Tacoma figured, "I'll die five more times." The trick, he said, "is to figure out six ways to stay alive."
We were talking about Art Schlichter. Sid from Tacoma probably isn't his real name, but he had silver hair waxed, he insisted. So. We're in the Stardust Hotel, where the marquee promises "Live T.V. Racing, Wagering on USFL, NBA, Baseball." This is next to McDonald's, where they bet they can serve breakfast for a dollar under a minute (or you get free fries).
Sid from Tacoma has no sympathy for Schlichter. He thinks the kid ought to be suspended forever for being dumb. "Professional gamblers," Sid said, moving his cigar around the room full of leather swivel chairs and private work desks, "don't bet more money than they make. They don't welsh on bets, and they don't go crying to the FBI. That's dumb. Rozelle did gamblers a favor."
"He had to ditch the kid. The NFL's holier than thou, right? You know some of those players are betting on games. Not a lot of them, but some. And we're not even talking about referees who blow calls to keep games close so the TV audience won't turn it off. So how's it look when the NFL has to admit it's got gamblers?
"Rozelle had to get rid of the kid before everybody started looking around at who else bets. When that happens, it's katy bar the door. Gamblers love the NFL the way it is. They've got the public believing it's an honest game. I think it's honest. The players are making so much money now they don't have to bet."
Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner, today suspended Schlichter for next season, saying he will decide in 1984 if the Colts' reserve quarterback can play again. Schlichter has admitted to losing $389,000 betting sports the first three months of '83. He says he paid $230,000 before losing another $159,000 the first week of March.
When the alleged bookmakers threatened to tell the Colts if Schlichter didn't pay up, Schlichter completed this comedy by calling the FBI. Here was a kid quarterback riding the bench, a year out of Ohio State, who apparently would have bet on the Titanic against the iceberg. He dealt with four greedy amateurs who beat Schlichter for $230,000 in two months.
None of this went down well in Middle America, or even above Park Avenue in Pete Rozelle's aerie, because gambling on sports events is--well, it's downright sacrilegious. That's because most of America likes to think of its games as pure, and most of America thinks of gambling as an illegal violation of that purity.
We know this is so much bullfeathers, because our games are less than pure in a hundred ways, ranging from spitballs to altered transcripts. Romance dies hard, though, and so we cry a little inside when we hear of an Art Schlichter so sick he loses $389,000 betting on our pretty games.
It's a surprise that people here feel the same way. This is Vegas, where McDonald's bets you on breakfast, and you'd think folks here would defend Schlichter. They'd say he was only doing what the pin stripe suits do daily on Wall Street. All Schlichter did, you'd expect to hear, is what the NFL hopes most of America does--bet on NFL games because they're honest.
Let's leave Sid from Tacoma in his nervous twitches. Here's Robert in the Hawaiian print shirt.
"Rozelle had to do it," he said.
The newspaperman agreed. The appearance of a betting interest in NFL games would ruin forever the romance that ties pure fans to the games. When the league is seen as a tool for bettors--a roulette wheel in shoulder pads--only the handful of Sid from Tacomas will care.
"It won't change how people look at the NFL," Robert said. "If they find out he was a compulsive gambler back at Ohio State and he controlled point spreads there, maybe it would have an effect. But I don't think any one guy can fix a sports event."
"They won't applaud Schlichter now, even if they say he's a compulsive gambler. It's like Nixon. He didn't do anything no other president didn't do. He should have burned the damn tapes and he'd be one of the five best presidents in history. But he didn't and now he's at the bottom. Same thing with Schlichter. Bet, but don't get caught, because it just ain't right."