There I was, bouncing along at a .688 clip, with a chance to better my best-ever percentage -- .693, in 1977 -- when the Lost Weekend hit and hit hard. Miami, Dallas, the New York Giants and the Los Angeles Raiders failed to cover the point spread. All four were outplayed or held even on the line of scrimmage, and that is what wins football games at any level, from Little League to the National Football League.
My refusal to back teams associated with Bernie Kosar or Dieter Brock proved costly Saturday, even though Kosar passed for a grand total of 66 yards and Brock 50. On Sunday, Chicago beat up on the Giants -- with the help of a missed punt, of all things! Still, I was reasonably sober when the Raiders pulled out to a 17-7 lead over New England in the second quarter.
That, of course, was before the Patriots produced their favorite play, the seven-point kickoff. You've seen this incredible bit of strategy three times in the last four weeks: The Patriots kick off, the opponent fumbles the return and the Patriots' kickoff unit recovers and scores, all in less than 10 mind-boggling seconds.
New England did it against Miami on Dec. 16, against the New York Jets on Dec. 28 and the Raiders on Jan. 5. I know. I had all three losing teams, in terms of the point spread. And the Patriots were smart enough not to use it until the games were extremely important.
Which brings us to the conference championships. Chicago should beat Los Angeles, but will the Bears cover the 10 1/2-point spread? New England, a 4 1/2-point underdog at Miami, poses another problem. RAMS AT BEARS
Again, Los Angeles' special teams are the best in the league. They could break a big one. Dale Hatcher is a dynamite punter. Eric Dickerson always is a threat to go 60 yards on a run that should gain six. He is 6-5 in Las Vegas to gain more yards Sunday than Walter Payton.
Give credit, also, to the Rams' secondary. It is outstanding. Much better, certainly, than the Giants' secondary that Jim McMahon picked apart last week.
But what are the Rams going to do, offensively, with Brock facing that Chicago defense play after play? His only solid outings have been against the softer defenses. Now he is confronted with the strongest, most physical defense the NFL has seen since Mean Joe Greene and the Steel Curtain. Sure, he has two or three Pro Bowl players on the offensive line. But they have a history of leaving their best efforts at home, in sunny southern California.
Coach John Robinson's primary concern will be making sure that Brock doesn't make costly turnovers and give Chicago excellent field position.
Robinson will hope that McMahon, operating a more open offense, will make the mistakes. The Rams' defensive front might be good enough to keep Payton and the Chicago running game in check, at least for a while. If Robinson can buy time and somehow jump out to an early lead, Los Angeles should cover.
If, on the other hand, Chicago comes out strong in the cold weather, the Bears could establish their running game and their overall dominance in a hurry. The Rams, with Brock at quarterback, are not equipped to play catch-up against such a rugged defense. I don't see Los Angeles scoring more than 10 points, at best. Give the 10 1/2, taking the Bears. PATRIOTS AT DOLPHINS
New England has covered the spread 13 consecutive weeks. What more does anyone need to know?
Well, there is the factor that the Patriots haven't won in Miami since Ponce de Leon was a young man. Not that I believe in jinxes. Most of those times, since 1966, the Patriots were overmatched. This time, not so.
When they last met, in Miami less than four weeks ago, the Dolphins led midway through the fourth quarter, 27-13. The Patriots fought back with a long drive to make it 27-20, then unveiled their seven-point kickoff play for a tie before eventually losing, 30-27.
Miami was favored by 6 that night. The spread Sunday is 4 1/2. It takes more than luck to have made the progress the Patriots have shown in recent weeks. Their confidence seems to be improving with every game, while Miami, judging by the victory over Cleveland, has a defense that's not to be trusted.
Anyone who saw the Browns run on Miami, without the threat of a passing game, has reason to believe New England will do well. The Patriots' ground game is as strong as Cleveland's, and quarterback Tony Eason is a big improvement on Kosar, and he has much better receivers.
So why didn't New England run on Miami in their two regular-season games, which they split? If the Patriots can generate a good ground game, they have an excellent chance. I'm rooting for them to win (for ulterior Super Bowl purposes) but selecting Miami to cover the 4 1/2. SUPER BOWL XX
Projected line: Bears 6 1/2 over Dolphins; Bears 9 over New England.