Five winners in six games! In normal times, my performance last weekend would be cause to break out the champagne, call in the dancing girls and generally behave in a manner to be regretted the next morning. But the times are abnormal and scab ball is downright bizarre. So instead of celebrating, this handicapper has been a brooding hero, an Achilles in his statistical tent, wondering whether the weekend's winning tickets should even be cashed.
Amid the depression that now afflicts all pro football aficionados, I have attempted to keep scab ball in perspective. After all, the history of strike breaking and union busting has never been pretty. America's robber barons, the spritual ancestors of the NFL Management Council, used to break strikes by breaking people's heads. If the price of watching this strike broken is merely watching bad football, it is a modest cost to bear.
But there is one aspect of scab ball that deeply troubles any gambler -- and should dismay anyone who cares about the sport. The NFL is not losing its innocence; like Jessica Hahn, the grand old league has inspired many old suitors to point out that innocence was lost long before the current headlines. The real problem is that pro football has now lost its own most enduring cliche.
"On any given Sunday," we have long been led to believe, "any NFL team can beat any other." If the old cliche was threadbare, it also had an undeniable ring of truth. The NFL has always been a land of wonderful subtleties. Even when the best teams faced the worst, there were delicious possibilities of emotional letdowns, inept officials or crazy bounces that could allow the meek to inherit the point spread, if not the entire game.
Last weekend, those subtle factors were virtually erased. In one game after another, well-organized replacement squads or those laced with veteran scabs mercilessly beat up the ragtag underdogs.
Point spreads fluctuated wildly as bettors and oddsmakers realized which teams were the bullies. But the point spreads never did catch up to harsh reality. In almost every case, the strong ran roughshod over the weak. The bettor who could find real joy in such developments probably spends Saturdays laying the points with Oklahoma over Iowa State.
The happy exception occurred at RFK Stadium. The wizardry of personnel man Bobby Beathard and Coach Joe Gibbs, parlayed with Roy Green's felicitous imitation of Rickey Henderson pulling a hamstring, enabled the Redskins to overcome the scab-laden Cardinals.
It is ironic that the solidly pro-union Redskins probably profited more than any other team in the league from Scab Week 1. They not only won the game, but they didn't lose any solidarity. Late in the season, when clubs like Dallas, New Orleans and Indianapolis pay for the disunity that began last week, the Redskins should remain solid and strong.
I picked them to make the Super Bowl before this whole mess started. I like them more than ever now, recalling the solidarity and leadership that made them world champions in the last strike year, 1982.
As I write this, no offices in Las Vegas or elsewhere are taking bets. The oddsmakers will reluctantly release lines between today and Sunday, but the suspicion here is that many lines will be ridiculously inflated, and the easy pickings of last weekend will cease.
This, of course, will not stop me from venturing some opinions. To do so, I am daring to conjure lines that I think may be available when wagering finally begins.
Start with the principal sham of the day -- what once promised to be one of the games of the year, Washington at the New York Giants. The decision of the Super Bowl champs to go with a sandlot crew from Connecticut remains one of the puzzlements of the scab season. The Redskins have shown that they can play. I figure they will be 6-point favorites, and I'll go with them.
Maybe it's something about those old ugly uniforms, but the scab Bears look almost as menacing as the real ones. They'll be 17 over the sorry Vikings scabs, and I'll risk laying that number.
The Cowboys will be heavy favorites over the Eagles. Texans seem be be buying the idea of winning whatever way possible, and there should be a large home crowd. The Cowboys may even start using regulars like Danny White and Tony Dorsett, but it might not be necessary to rout the pickup Eagles. The Cowboys will pay for their scab tactics later. Right now, they can keep paying me. Dallas minus 15.
Tony Collins said his mind was on the picket line when he dropped three of the first six balls he touched last week. His concentration should improve now. But even the distracted Patriots should handle the pathetic Buffalo Bills. New England minus 8.
My ESPN colleague Tom Jackson, the former Bronco who played against the Raiders for 14 seasons, had a sharp comment when he saw the Raiders scabs start whipping Kansas City last week: "Maybe it's just something that happens to guys when they pull on all that silver and black."
Sorry, Tom. This week the victims are your old teammates. Raiders minus 10 over Denver.
Last week: Dallas, laying anything from 4 to 8, beat the Jets, 38-24. The Steelers, closing at minus 3, beat Atlanta, 28-12. The Colts, pick' em, routed Buffalo, 47-6. The Redskins, who opened as favorites and closed at plus 4, upset the Cardinals scabs, 28-21. The Dolphins failed in Seattle, 24-20. As people realized that it was safe to lay any price, the 49ers closed as high as 8 over the Giants. They won laughing, 41-21.
Scab ball record: 5-1.
Real ball record: 6-4.
Reflecting on this record, I have decided, after all, to cash last weekend's tickets.