Los Angeles, CA
"Are you OK?" Change100 asked as she saw me wince in pain in between commercials of the Baltimore Ravens/Kansas City Chiefs playoff game.
I shook my head indicating that it wasn't a flu symptom. It was sports-acerbated-stomach pains.
"How much do you have on this g-?"
She knows better to ask that question. We've been dating for five years. She realized that she asked the wrong question and I walked out of the living room before she even finished.
"Oh, I get it. I don't want to know."
Somethings in life are too horrifying that we must protect the women and children from ever knowing they exist. Among these atrocities that we must never speak about are big bets on NFL playoff games.
I walked into my office. The bright Southern California sun illuminated the pile of papers (the most recent draft of a novel) on my desk. I could hear the faint notes of a violin from upstairs. My neighbor was practicing. Her studio is right above my office. Normally, those classical music sounds inspire me to write better, but in that instance, the Vivaldi was making me even more nauseous. I thought of that scene from The Titanic, when the ship was sinking, yet the band played on.
I quickly exited my office. It was no place to sweat a heavy bet with a prevailing sad soundtrack rattling overhead.
I ducked underneath the covers in the bedroom. Even the warmth of the goosedown comforter could not block out the sounds of the game echoing from the living room.
I jumped out of bed. I felt like I had sea legs. I wobbled through the apartment, attempting to pace back and forth. Back. Forth. Back. Forth. Back. Forth.
Matt Cassel threw an interception. I pumped my fist like Tiger Woods. But I still felt like I wanted to puke.
I walked outside but before I went into the alley, I pulled the blinds aside so I could see the TV from outside looking in. I couldn't hear the sound, just images flashing on the box in the middle of our living room. We have a statue of Buddha flanking the TV on the right. A karaoke machine flanks the TV on the left. I avoid making eye contact with Buddha. But BIG B knows that I would never ask him for help with a wager.
God, on the other hand, is on speed dial. I pester Him all the time. I imagine God looks like either Uncle Jesse from Dukes of Hazard or he looks like a young Wayne Gretzky. The Bible said that God made us in his own image. Why not the Great One?
And yes, sometimes I refer to God as Gretzky. At least, that's what I have him labeled on my cell phone. I'd hate for someone to steal my phone and than have a direct number to God. Hence, why He's coded as GRETZKY. He doesn't gives those out to anyone. It's one of the perks of attending a Jesuit high school. You learn Latin, Greek, and get God's cell phone number.
In Band of Brothers, many of the 101st Airborne soldiers from Easy Company were scared shitless of Dog Company's commander Lt. Ronald Speirs. Word spread fast that shortly after D-Day, Speirs gunned down six unarmed German soldiers in captivity. Conflicting reports swirled around the European Theatre. One witness said that Speirs handed out smokes to the captured soldiers and waited until they all lit one up before he mowed them down. Another witness said that he killed a dozen Nazis.
Many months later, after Speirs and his unit survives the brutality of Bastogne, one of his fellow officers inquired about the incident. Speirs made an off the cuff remark that all the stories surrounding the shooting also had someone who knew someone who was there, but no one actually really saw it happen. Speirs never confirmed it, but he didn't deny it either. Facts didn't matter much to him as much as reputation.
In Dick Winters' actual memoir, he mentioned that Speirs was one of the fiercest officers that the US had on the ground in Europe during WWII because of he was fearless and never thought twice about engaging the enemy. Winters also mentioned that Speirs had no qualms about killing for shock value. Side note... Winters passed away last week in Pennsylvania.
Some people make careers out of reputations. In Speirs case, his actual actions on the battlefield solidified his reputation.
"Why is everyone afraid of him?"
My girlfriend pointed at Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis after he brought down Kansas City running back Jaamal Charles.
"Because, he supposedly killed someone."
"No one knows for sure. But after a Super Bowl party in 2000, Lewis and his crew got into a brawl with a bunch of other guys. When the dust settled, two guys were stabbed to death and Lewis was wearing a bloody suit."
If you don't know the story about Ray Lewis, he was originally charged for manslaughter, but the police were unable to locate the "bloody suit." His attorneys got that charge dropped in exchange for a testimony against two members in his entourage. Lewis got slapped with an obstruction of justice charge, and eventually both of his buddies were acquitted of manslaughter.
Whether it's just an urban myth or a partial truth, some folks are deathly afraid of Ray Lewis. His reputation off the field was enough to scare the shit out of his opponents on the field.
Ray Lewis is the Lt. Speirs of the NFL.
I couldn't wait for the NFL playoffs to begin. For sports bettors, it's like having a decade of Christmases at the same time. The only other time of the year I get excited for sports is mid-late March for March Madness and October (but that's only if the Yankees make a run in the playoffs).
October retains the only semblance of purity because only complete degenerates bet on baseball. For that time of the year, it's simply for the love of the game. I know, I probably should bet on baseball games to justify why I'm wasting 4 plus hours of my life listening to Joe Buck pontificate about his own airheadedness. But if I start betting on baseball, then I'd be in complete agony. I can barely handle a two-hour sweat with a college hoops game, let alone a three-hour sweat for NFL games. Four and five hours of prolonged bettor's anxiety? That's enough to cause a major heart attack.
The new year ushers in the new second season of the NFL. Everything else is just foreplay and fodder for fantasy football geeks. Week 17, the final week of the regular season, was utter torture because of the majority of meaningless games on the schedule. With the exception of a couple of games, the playoffs teams were almost set. Week 17 offers up very little opportunity to make money, unless you're certain that a team is in a must-win situation. That's why the playoffs have tremendous value -- because every game is a must-win situation.
The line setters know what they are doing. How many times have you lost a game by a half a fucking point? It's like they were seers who could glimpse into the future and read the boxscore. I often wonder if there's a cabal of Ace Rothsteins sitting around a table with MIT-geeks in ballin' high-roller suite somewhere in Vegas (and/or in a beach-side villa in Costa Rica). They are the select few determining a market-wide price for NFL playoff games, sort of how the OPEC determines the price of a barrel of crude oil. Maybe it's just me wanting to push forth my worldview that wealthy men chomping down on tightly-rolled Cuban cigars sitting around mahogany tables are determining the fate of the world, let alone the betting interests in the NFL playoffs.
But if you've ever bet on a trap game, or if you've been smart/lucky enough to sniff one out, then you know exactly what I'm talking about.
The basic corner bookie wants even action of a game. Take the Jets/Colts game for example. My old man's bookie, Nine and a Half Fingered Vinny, would gladly accept $10,000 in wagers on the Jets at -1.5 and another $10,000 on the Colts. In the end, he's going to collect $1,000 in juice (that is, if everyone pays, but in the old neighborhood, everyone paid. There's a reason why Vinny lost a half a finger. If you're ever behind a week in a payment, his bagman is more than happy to share with you the story about how that missing digit came to be).
Ah, long live the vig. An even split on betting action is a perfect world for a small time bookie who wants to grind out a modest income. But the corporate betting shops in the UK, the big books in Vegas, and the offshore books in the Caribbean have their eyes set on a bigger payday. Every now and then they try to bait the public to bet one way. If everyone falls for the rouse and 95% of the action is on one side, and the other comes in, then the book is looking at a massive payday.
That's why you hear about some small time bookies going out of business during a massive upset, or on a rigged game that they had no idea was not on the straight. Heck, even the big boys in Vegas took a hit a few years ago when the NY Giants upset a near-perfect New England Patriots team in the Super Bowl. I know for a fact that that two bookies in New York who lost their books after getting too greedy with those Super Bowl bets. Instead of laying off some of the action in Vegas, or with the offshore books, or with other bookies, they decided to gamble themselves.
I guess they were Jets fans or had zero faith in the G-Men. Then again, you can't fault the bookies for going with their gut. If you re-play that Super Bowl 99 more times, the Patriots probably win 97-2. It just took a freak pass from Eli Manning to destroy a perfect season and make scores of gamblers who hammered the Giants a little wealthier.
Emotional hedges are like credit default swaps. It's an insurance policy just in case the shit hits the fan. That's why I usually bet against the Jets. When they lose, then I get compensation. If they win, I don't care about any lost money because the elation of winning far outweighs the negative emotions attached to losing a CDS/emotional hedge.
The Jets pulled it out courtesy of some clutch defense and kicking. Something happened to Nick Folk ever since the Rex Ryan foot fetish video surfaced. He started to kick better and more consistently, even though the media was having a field day with foot fetish jokes about Ryan asking Folk to kick barefoot in practice so he could get off.
The Jets game was fun to watch on Saturday, only because the Jets finally beat Peyton Manning. On the flip side, the Baltimore-Kansas City game was torture on Sunday. It felt as though I was getting waterboarded by angry lesbians. I felt like I was drowning in my own anxiety the entire game. If you can't tell by now, the biggest bet I placed in a very long time was riding on Baltimore covering by three points.
Instead of betting on every game, I've been trying to get my stack all-in on one key game. In the opening round of the playoffs, the game that stood out was Baltimore. Maybe it's Ray Lewis' reputation or simply put that the Ravens defense play much tougher once the calendar hits January.
The final score did not indicate how close the game was in the first half. KC's rushing attack seemed unstoppable early on. The Ravens had not given up that many rushing yards in a while and it seemed as though Matt Cassel and company were going to give Baltimore a headache in the second half, especially when they finally got WR stud Dwayne Bowe involved into the offensive mix. But, a few turnovers in the second half changed the momentum of the game. The Ravens D shut down Bowe and the passing game deteriorated on every ensuing possesion. Cassel went from looking like a perennial Pro Bowl QB to looking like Vinny Testaverde at the height of his color-blindness affliction.
Here's an old NY Jets joke.... In case you were wondering, Testverde is Latin for "color blind."
It wasn't until four minutes were left on the clock before the knot untied itself from my stomach. For almost three hours, I felt sicker than I had been all week, and I had been out of commission with a nasty case of the wook flu.
Even a batch of Northern California's finest Blue Dream failed to settle my stomach. I looked so wrought with uncertainty, my girlfriend handed me a Xanax hoping it would calm me down. I handed it back to her. Xanax comes in handy if there's a crying baby on a flight from JFK-LAX that won't shut the fuck up. For a bet on the NFL playoffs, I needed something stronger. Of the poppy derivative. Alas, black tar is not my bag, so I had to absorb the agony without any pharmaceutical enhancements.
I hovered over the toilet at least a dozen times thinking I was ready to spew up my breakfast every time that the Ravens had to punt. I even bent over a bush in the alley thinking I was about to hurl. My head was spinning in both directions. I know drug addicts that pay top dollar for the same buzz. I've dabbled and experimented with my share of illicit products. Nothing matches the high you achieve the moment you cash a winning sports bet.
Hardcore gambling addicts in GA meetings all over America will tell you that the best part is the rush that happens before the outcome of a bet. That's why people buy lottery tickets -- their heads swell with sugar plum dreams about what they'll do with their windfall worth millions of dollars.
That's why you play craps -- to feel the tidal wave pick you up and you get that moment of weightlessness before you're tossed away and crash into a coral reef.
That's why you play poker -- to utter that silent prayer to the poker gods, begging for that one-outer to spike on the river.
What's a bigger rush? The moment before the dealer flips over the river? Or when the card is revealed?
Depending on how you answer that question will determine what type of person you are in life. Sure, I can say that I thrive on the moment before it happens, but live for the actual outcome. I can say that, but we all know better. The rush before the rush. I play for the rush. I play for the rush before the rush. I even get goosebumps writing about the rush before the rush before the rush.
I'm a sick sick man. And I can't wait until next weekend.