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Everyone's a Pigskin Pundit

With manufacturing going the way of integrity in politics, we can find solace in the fact that the nation has an industry to fill the void: picking NFL games. With more than a billion bucks a week being wagered, pigskin prognosticators are as ubiquitous as fantasy sports, stadiums and events named after corporate conglomerates, and ads plastered on every available square inch of said stadiums and events. (I can't wait for those talking urinal cakes that pitch valuable merchandise while you tinkle in the arena restroom.)

If you say bye-bye to your shekels every week online, at the office or corner deli, or through Vinny The Vig, everyone and his mother-in-law is willing to help you do it. Each Friday, the New York Post runs a two-page spread of NFL picks by a slew of local auto dealers who, judging by their photos, you'd be sure to take inventory of your metacarpals after exchanging a hearty handclasp. In the quiet hills of the Hudson Valley, I opened the Sunday Poughkeepsie Journal and saw that Associated Abbey Carpet was taking the 49ers over the Dolphins, Take 5 Deli recommended the Cardinals over the New York Jets, and Dutchess Diner was locked a six-way tie atop the local advertiser standings. Turning on a local morning radio show, I was just missed hearing the host's mother-in-law call in with her forecast.

I'm relieved to say I have never wagered on an NFL game. I learned (the hard way) that when it comes to gambling, my luck be blacker than Texas crude. I spent a goodly portion of my youth blowing my allowance on nags at Belmont Park and Aqueduct. To give you one bitter example, a well-bred two-year-old colt named John Rolfe ran on my birthday in 1972. How's that for a wager-your-lunch-money hunch? Well, to pilfer an old joke, John Rolfe went off at 5-to-2 and finished at 3:30. And the only reason Scott Peterson was convicted of murder is because I tossed $2 into an office pool -- on the side of the ledger that said he'd walk.

In case you're wondering how the urchins of America are faring in the aftermath of the Detroit Donnybrook, here are some recent polls and comments by tender readers (ages 8-14) to give you heart ... or make you flee to Iceland.

Is it fair that Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jermaine O'Neal got such stiff suspensions for their roles in the brawl in Detroit?

No: 2,958 (52%)

Yes: 2,779 (48%)

The suspensions were not fair. How can you tell fans across the nation that by throwing objects at players, they can improve their team's chances of winning the championship? Detroit should be forced to play at least 5-10 home games on the road because what their fans did was unacceptable, and they should be punished for it. -- David, San Diego

It was wrong to go into the stands, but Artest should go to a psychologist to get help. David Stern should be ashamed for giving him the boot for the rest of the year. That was uncalled for. The guy who threw the beverage should get his season tickets taken away with no refund. If Stern thinks suspending Artest for the rest of the season is good for the NBA, he's trippin'. Who would buy tickets to Pacers games if their three best players are out? No one. Stern is one of the craziest commissioners ever. I could have done a better job, and I'm only 12. -- Jonathan E.

Jackson and O'Neal were in the stands to protect Artest. They should be commended for that, not punished. -- Andrew V.

Kids like me were in that stadium. I would have been scared out of my mind. Yes, the fans did not do a good job, but these guys should have shown restraint. -- John, Tampa, Fla.

The suspensions were completely reasonable. All players who went into the stands should be ashamed of themselves. Sports are to be enjoyed by families, and that is not behavior a family wants to see. Many people these days don't get the concept of self-control. Maybe the suspensions will knock some sense into these players. -- Lauren, 13

Do fans have the right to yell anything they want at players?

Yes: We have freedom of speech: 4814 (68%)

No: Foul language is a drag: 2234 (32%)

If fans pay the 40 bucks to get into the game, they should be able to yell anything they want. Players are used to about 70,000 people yelling and screaming. -- Dee N.

You can say that the Vikings are awesome and the puke green Packers stink. But when you physically or verbally attack someone on the court, it's totally crazy! Have your own opinion, but don't attack players because of it. -- Gabe M., 14

If somebody threw a beer at me, I would be up there beating the bajeezez out of him. Fans have no right to throw things, but if you do, you should have the right to get beat up. I'm glad Artest went up there. Now fans aren't going to throw things at players. -- Vipergt2015

Yelling out bad stuff is bad. When we do that, we are being bad sports. -- Adam B., age 9, Lewisberry, Pa.

I suspect these sentiments and percentages also reflect the adult public, and confirm that there is a sizable portion of the population -- at least sizable enough to keep attendance and TV ratings healthy -- that embrace the belief that coarse catcalls, hoary oaths, and knuckle sandwiches are part of a nutritious daily diet and healthy active lifestyle. But there may be hope for the future of civility....

Do you look up to athletes as role models off the field?

Sometimes. It depends on the athlete: 4978

No. What they do on the field is all that matters: 3836

Yes: 3011

Our readers' favorite athletes are (in order): Tracy McGrady, Michael Vick, Allen Iverson, Derek Jeter, Priest Holmes, Brett Favre, Albert Pujols and Tony Hawk. Top female athletes: Mia Hamm, Lisa Leslie, Serena Williams and Sue Bird. Not a list of rogues and brigands by any means.