There were only a couple of minutes left to play in this NFL exhibition game a few years ago and the Dark Shirts were leading the White Shirts by 7. Which was just enough, for it seems that several members of the Dark Shirts had taken a mild position on the White Shirts with 7½. On the sideline, some of the Dark Shirt regulars were already celebrating with laughter and jokes as they watched the rookies run out the clock. With their infinite skills the veterans had obviously managed to win both the game and their bets.
Suddenly a horrible thing happened. A rookie quarterback on the Dark Shirts ran a bootleg and completely faked out the Whites. Down the sideline he went, all alone, unmolested from midfield to a touchdown. Back on the Dark Shirt bench, some of the regulars were cheering—but not all of them. Instead, those few were cussing, slamming their helmets down and kicking over ice buckets.
"What the hell's wrong with you guys?" the head coach of the Dark Shirts asked.
"Aw, nothin', Coach," said the regular quarterback of the Dark Shirts. "I...uh...I thought I saw a clip."
—A True Story, Evidently.
September 3, 1978
So it looks like the Dallas Cowboys again this year, over Miami, or somebody, and two zebras in the Super Bowl. Who cares? All I want to do is get in on the scam. I enjoy betting pro football, like about 40 million other people, so naturally I've never heard of a game being on the level unless the favorite covers the 6½ so easily I get to tell jokes in the fourth quarter and discuss the girl in the Noxzema commercial.
There are those who would say I'm a cynic. To that, I say, yeah, well, it wasn't me who gave Bert Jones the fumble. I didn't give Mel Gray that catch in the end zone when he should have been called for a double dribble. And like everyone else, I saw Oakland's Mike McCoy standing there with the loose ball in his hands, and then watched Denver wind up with some kind of touchdown.
Instant replays will break your heart, but even worse is the inability of a team to get up for every game. That's what causes upsets.
How can a pro football player not get up for a game when he only has to work 16 days a year? I work the same days and I'm up. You have to be. You have to be alert and mentally tough if you ever hope to find a Zurich game. This is a game where the big favorite takes a dive and the team charters a jet to Switzerland to stuff its numbered accounts. It's not easy to get in on a Zurich game unless you're a biggie in the mob, Congress or the Polo Lounge or a guest on Pete Rozelle's yacht.
If you follow pro football, then certainly you know it is virtually impossible to make a bad bet, even if you lose. Simply by picking one team to either win the game or beat the points, you have proven yourself intellectually superior to the oddsmaker. This is because pro football is the only cerebral game to bet. Think about the others. All you can do with baseball is look for sore-arm pitchers who are trying to keep it a secret. In horse racing, you look for a jockey who could pull a Clydesdale. In ice hockey, you find a goalie who acts like the cage is a toll booth and the pucks a stream of little black cars. Nobody bets boxing, not since oppressed minorities went out. And basketball is roulette. Which Ahmad-Abdul Eugene will miss the free throw?
Those are a few reasons why smart guys prefer pro football. Then there is the Script. The first hint that there might be a Script came about at the NFL championship game of 1940 when a smart guy had the Redskins with 72½ over the Bears.
The Script is what Rozelle and his staff work out every summer—the results of all the games, intricately planned in advance to keep the divisional races close. If the betting man studies the results after the first few games, he can sometimes spot a trend. Like the Houston Oilers last year, who wound up with a 10-4 record against the spread. This was the best in the league, and more than one smart guy thought Rozelle should have given the big silver paperweight to Bum Phillips instead of to Tom Landry.
Working out the Script is one of the toughest parts of Rozelle's job. He has a lot of owners who don't want to lose a game at home or on television. It becomes a bargaining process. For example, Rozelle is forced to call Carroll Rosenbloom, and have the following conversation:
Pete: Carroll, how do you feel about dropping a close one to the 49ers on Oct. 8?
Carroll: I can't do it, Pete. Too many VIPs in the press box that day. I've already invited Warner Baxter, George M. Cohan and Cheryl Tiegs.
Pete: I'll trade you a really big win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 12 for it.
Carroll: I don't know, Pete, San Francisco is a division team.
Pete: I've done you a lot of favors, Carroll. I got you out of Baltimore and into Beverly Hills. Now I'm working on the P.R. campaign that'll keep a team out of L.A. once you move to Anaheim. I need this one.
Carroll: Can I move back to L.A. if it doesn't work out in Anaheim?
Pete: Let's worry about that when the time comes. I need this game. It will make all of October more interesting. You're going to win the division, anyhow. I suppose its O.K. to tell you that. And look at it this way—it won't be the Rams' fault. I'll send a zebra.
Carroll: Well, all right. But let's make it a heartbreaker. Do the 49ers have a placekicker who can glance one off the crossbars?
This brings up the Manual, a secret document prepared by the NFL and distributed to key personnel on each of the teams. It's updated and improved every season with suggestions on how the quarterbacks, running backs, place-kickers, holders, receivers, centers and other offensive linemen can control and regulate the scores of all the games. In fact, all you need to do to know that a Manual exists is blow the late game on a parlay.
Almost any veteran bettor can pretty much tell you what is in the Manual. It goes like this:
To ALL PLAYERS
You have made America love pro football. Let's keep it that way. Nothing will continue to excite the public more than close divisional races and shocking upsets. There are ways for all of you to be a part of this without grading poorly in the game films. Once again, in return for your contributions, each of you will get one Zurich game before the end of the season. Have a great year!
You are still the most important swan in the ballet. In the past you have been very good at throwing passes into the dirt and into the stands, also at missing the wide-open receiver on a post pattern. However, we believe it is time to consider measures of a more subtle nature.
A study has been conducted for us by Dr. E. I. M. Fetterling, a renowned psychotherapist from Long Beach, Calif., and Dr. Fetterling has convinced us that there are things you can do conversationally in the huddle and at the scrimmage line that could be of great value and are virtually undetectable.
Dr. Fetterling offers this example. It is third and three and you desperately need to kill a drive. Heretofore, you have most likely relied on the bad handoff to the running back, or the short sideline pass just out of reach of the receiver. But why not call a running play which sounds very much like a passing play. For example, "Tiger, left, purple-X, motion ZYB, country road" easily could be confused with "Tiger left, purple flex, motion Z-fly B, country road." While everyone is blocking for the run, you are retreating to pass. Unable to find any receivers, you will be smothered for a loss, of course. An honest misunderstanding. Hence, you are forced to punt.
Dr. Fetterling sees the line of scrimmage as a rather untapped region for drawing critical penalties. Jerky, trick cadence is often used to attempt to draw the opponents offside. Try it on your own guys. A languid "hut" followed by a brisk and unfamiliar "hut, hut, hut" is almost certain to cost you five yards.
There is nothing new on audibles. Dr. Fetterling sees no way to improve on reading the blitz and keeping it to yourself, or audibilizing to only one side of the line.
As methods improve, we will soon be able to do away altogether with the necessary but embarrassing interception.
Wie geht es Ihnen? Wir erwarten von Ihnen eine weitere erfolgreiche Saison. Und wir danken Ihnen für alle Gef‚Äö√†√∂¬¨√ülligkeiten, die Sie uns bisher erwiesen haben. Alles Gute und viel Glück mit poof Zürich!
More and more, the Leftward Lean is looking like the best way to handle the right-footed soccer-style kicker. This ploy is particularly effective when there is a crosswind.
As for the straightaway American-style kicker, there are still only two things to remember. One, you know he doesn't like to kick into the laces under any circumstances. Give him those laces. Second, when you're holding for the guy who is deadly from any distance, regardless of the lean or even the down-flat placement, we advise relying on the good old-fashioned Fumbled Snapback.
You've done a wonderful job in previous years and we don't mean to criticize, but more imagination is required. Most of your slipping down on artificial turf looks just fine, and you're doing a splendid job of picking angles so that slower defenders can catch you from behind. Still, this business of allowing clutch passes to bounce awkwardly off your chests is being overdone.
We would like to see more of you running your routes one step short of the yardage needed for a first down. Then you can go ahead and make the diving catch. You will have looked spectacular, but the drive will be seriously hindered.
Remember that you still must catch one very difficult pass in every game before anyone will accept the three easy ones you may need to drop later on. With luck, most of you will be able to accomplish it with a leaper at the sideline. But there will be occasions when you will be asked to grab one on a crossing pattern into the middle of a zone. Yes, we can hear the sound of the crash from here.
Most of you gifted fumblers are doing a terrific job. All we would care to suggest is that you hold to a minimum your fumbles inside the opponent's 10. Fumbles deep in scoring territory leave a very bad impression on both the fans and the press, and they can sometimes spoil a game that might otherwise have been talked about for years as a classic.
On a happier note, we think your all-round diving over the stack and lunging for unimportant extra yardage looks about as close as you can ever hope to come to perfection.
You have truly shone in ignoring the blitz, which is your most vital role. And as long as the general public remains unaware that picking up the blitz is one of the center's major responsibilities, you will continue to be one of the unsung heroes of our game.
We do ask one thing. Try not to snap the ball quite so high over the punter's head on fourth down when so desperate a measure is called for.
Sorry about the new rules this year, gentlemen, but something had to be done to take the heat off our zebras. All the new rule means, of course, is that you will be able to hold on every play—and we hope you will do so as flagrantly as possible.
The more flagrantly you hold, the better it will look in case you have been isolated on camera for a replay, and this happened to be the moment when our zebra urgently needed to call holding to stifle a rally.
Just reminders. Continue to play as hard as you wish, for you have learned that the offense can score as often as it cares to without your help.
Keep up the cheap shots. We aren't as opposed to them as we publicly state. The fact is, cheap shots not only add authenticity to the drama, but also breed rivalries and stir up fan interest.
You will get your usual quota of touchdowns on interceptions. As always, the circumstances will be obvious, and the ball will be thrown as directly to you as possible under a heavy rush.
Do not be concerned if your team appears to be falling too far behind or is building up too large a lead. The full details of every game plan will be known only to the offense.
And as we have said earlier, trust your zebras!
A FINAL WORD
Angry mail from fans has reached such proportions that we have been forced to put in a new regulation applying to players who score touchdowns. Unless you run 50 yards or more with the ball, the time allotted to spiking the football will be five seconds. Maximum spiking time for anyone will be 30 seconds, including choreography and a medley of your all-time favorite spikes.
By now you may have the impression that the system is so refined—and the deck so loaded—it would be utterly senseless to make a bet on a pro football game. That is true, I think, for the person who chooses to rely on all of the information that is supposed to be helpful in sizing up a game: statistics, injury reports, playing surfaces, home fields, weather, coaching reputations, size, speed, experience and so on. Over the years, however, the smart guy has learned to ignore such things because they are built into the overall scam.
The successful bettor knows you can only beat the Script and the Manual if you have well-tested systems of your own. Here are a few that seem to work for me:
Never take a tip from a guy eating in a luncheonette. If you insist on listening to someone about a game, make sure he just walked out of an expensive restaurant and got in a limousine with a Marthe Keller look-alike.
Find a team whose players' wives have an abundance of mink coats. Wait until the mink coats are favored by 10 or more against a team playing under .500, then load up on the dog. The dog could win the whole game.
A team with several players wearing religious medals hates to fly. It's not a good road team.
Running backs playing out their options try to confine their fumbling to the first half of the season.
A team with too many members in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes can draw up to three delay penalties a game. Too much preaching in the huddle.
Go with a good passing team against defensive backs who collect art.
Long invocations in cold weather don't always make the visiting team numb. They can also make them angry.
Jump in with both hands against a placekicker with a big mortgage.
A team with its entire offensive line living within a block of a drugstore could go all the way.
The underdog on Monday night has more to prove. It is the players' normal night off and most of them would rather be in a disco.
Finally, keep an eye out for the Ivy Leaguer in a key position if the Dow takes a sudden dip.
If nothing else, I'm convinced these tips will help you lose with a better attitude. But as any gambler knows, there is something a. lot worse than losing. It's not having a bet on the TV game.