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The NFL and the Point Spread
by Lem Banker

Pompous politicians and other do-gooders love to blow smoke and their own horns as they crusade against legalized gambling. But the bottom-line truth is professional football wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is without a point spread. Period. Paragraph.

Say a team that’s a 10-point favorite is leading by 7 with several minutes left in the game. How many folks will leave their seats at the stadium or turn off their TVs during those next few minutes? OK, some doctors, maybe — but definitely not the senators, “bankers” and lawyers. Remember America’s outrage years ago over the “Heidi Game?”

Most people weren’t irate that the game was booted off the air for a kids’ show just because they loved the Oakland Raiders or New York Jets. It was because they had wagered on the contest and it’s ending was one of the most memorable ever in a regular-season game, with two touchdowns scored in nine seconds. Furious bettors bombarded NBC with a flood of angry calls and letters.

The NFL’s powers-that-be should get their heads out of the sand and accept reality. They should stop handing down edicts to broadcast guys like Al Michaels, ordering them not to mention point spreads and totals because such dictums are total hypocrisy. Everyone knows it, including the players on the field.

The whole country watches pro football. Who does the NFL think is buying those high-priced seats and luxury boxes? The answer, of course, is big corporations. Do you believe for even a minute the highpowered executives who own and manage them aren’t wagering some dough on the side? Give me a break. On Super Bowl Sunday there are pools at every one of their companies, along with a lot of schools, parishes, synagogues, saloons, and barber and beauty shops.

Gambling on sports is like speculating on the stock market. There’s no difference, except Las Vegas is cleaner than Wall Street. We regularly hear about scandals on Wall Street, but Nevada gambling scandals are few and far between.

Las Vegas sports books are the eye in the skyfor sports, college and pros alike. They keep the games natural and kosher. Even the FBI has acknowledged that Vegas bet shops play a major role in keeping games honest. They closely monitor actions of game participants and are the first to alert authorities when irregularities in line moves are detected.

Fact is, some of pro football’s biggest bettors were team owners. Consider Carroll Rosenbloom, for example. His Baltimore Colts played the New York Giants for the 1958 NFC Championship and opened as a field goal favorite. Rosenbloom made a big wager on the Colts at minus 3, and then went further and laid 3½ as the number climbed to 4.

Rosenbloom treated his players well and they loved him. They also knew how the boss had bet.

The Colts had the ball in New York territory in the waning seconds with the score tied and could have kicked a field goal for the victory. But the players wanted to please their owner and decided to go for a touchdown. The game went into sudden death overtime and, with Baltimore close to the goal line, quarterback Johnny Unitas handed off to fullback Alan Ameche, who plunged over for 6 points and a 23-17 triumph.

Here’s a sidelight to that story. I knew a degenerate New York gambler named Harvey who was a huge Giants fan. His father operated a little candy store near the Polo Grounds, where the Giants used to play. Harvey’s Uncle Izzy died on the Friday before that game. Since Jews don’t bury their dead on Saturday, the funeral was scheduled for Sunday. Harvey, who had season tickets to Giants games, said he was sorry, but he’d have to miss the farewell ceremonies. His mother said otherwise. So Harvey turned up at the funeral with a transistor radio glued to his ear. He continued to listen to it as the procession of cars and limousines reached the burial grounds. Just as the rabbi was chanting and the undertaker was about to lower Uncle Izzy into the ground, Ameche punched through and Harvey sobbed, “Oh, no!” His mother turned to him and said, “Oh, Harvey, I didn’t know you cared about Uncle Izzy so much.”

On Monday morning the bookmakers sent their goons calling on Harvey to ante up his losses on the Giants. Harvey insisted the bets belonged to his father, not him, so the shylocks went to the candy store and beat up poor Harvey’s dad. True story.

Besides having its pulse on sports, Las Vegas is the one place on the planet where bookmakers and bettors alike know exactly where they stand right up front. If you make a bet in Vegas, you know you’ll get paid if you win. And there’s no extended credit; no bullies will bust through the door to break your arms and legs if you lose, because nothing’s owed.

While the NFL is hypocritical on the issue of legalized gambling, the NCAA and some of its backers are even more entrenched in Fantasyland. The organization’s attempts to outlaw legalized sports betting in Nevada are ludicrous because even if they were successful, a so-called ban would do nothing to stop the spread of illegal gambling on college campuses or anywhere else. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Sam Brown of Kansas, Congressional sponsors of the bill to wipe out legal wagering on college sports in the Silver State are a couple of buffoons who like to see their faces on TV and in the newspapers. The “cause” gives them an ideal opportunity to grab publicity.

I say if a guy’s old enough to drink, vote, go to war and get married, he’s old enough to make a legal bet on any sporting event. Same for the ladies!

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