My friend Woody has a different barometer than most for natural disasters. He will say, "That was almost as bad as the Earl Monroe game." Or: "Losing this bet felt twice as bad as the Earl Monroe game."
The "Earl Monroe game" was a routine, midseason basketball game that has come to epitomize the pain and the injustice that are part of betting on sporting events.
Woody had made a large wager on the New York Knicks, who were favored by 7 points over Portland. With seconds to play, the Knicks had the ball and an eight-point lead, and were running out the clock. As the buzzer sounded, Monroe playfully tossed the ball at his own basket. Swish! The margin was cut to six, Portland covered and Woody was ready for a strait-jacket.
I recount this bit of sporting trivia so that the reader can appreciate the amount of pain, agony and horror suggested by the following statement: "What happened last Saturday night," Woody said, "was 10 times worse than the Earl Monroe game."
On that night, the University of Florida was playing the University of Miami and, Woody concluded, "It was a classic betting situation."
Wise guys like Woody love to bet against the tendencies of the public, and the public loves to bet (a) on teams coming off an impressive win and (b) against teams that have suffered a major injury.
After Miami won its season opener against Auburn in sparkling fashion, and Florida's quarterback was sidelined by an injury, there was a national stampede to bet Miami. The Hurricanes were favored by 3 early in the week, but the public's money drove the line up, up up.
When the point spread reached 6 1/2, Woody confidently plunged on Florida, figuring that (a) Miami was likely to suffer an emotional letdown and (b) Florida would find a way to compensate for its lost quarterback. Woody went to a local bar that had picked up the telecast via its satellite dish, and sat down to watch and see all his reasoning confirmed.
Florida was leading, 20-19, in the final seconds of play when quarterback Bernie Kosar threw a long touchdown pass that put Miami ahead, 26-20. Woody congratulated himself for waiting until he got 6 1/2 points; he was going to win the game by half a point.
As a Florida player returned the kickoff, the TV announcer counted off the remaining seconds: "Four. . . three . . . two . . . one . . . The game is over! No! Check that . . . there is one second remaining."
Even when Florida tried a desperation pass on that last-second play, and the pass was intercepted, Woody wasn't terribly worried. Defensive backs routinely run out of bounds in such situations.
And Miami's Tolbert Bain probably would have, too, if all 11 Florida players hadn't stood there immobile, making no effort to tackle him. Some of them, Woody said, were actually starting to walk toward the sidelines. Bain was permitted to saunter 59 yards for a "meaningless" touchdown that covered the point spread.
As the bar room exploded with the cheers of people who had bet Miami, Woody turned ashen and slumped in his chair. It took him nearly a week to view the defeat philosophically, to observe that he has put the worst trauma of the year behind him, that nothing more painful could possibly happen to him during the 1984 season.
Don't bet on it, Woody.