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Time to Dust Off Those NFL Stat Files
by Mickey Charles

Although the MLB All-Star Game is over (a contest that has become more promotion than an event between competing stellar performers) the fight to the finish for the second half of the season has begun, and the NFL has taken center stage. Rookies and veterans are reporting to training camps as I pen this piece, working out under the sweltering rays of the sun, and negotiating new contracts before the ink is dry on old ones. Everyone who has a vested interest in the outcome of a Sunday’s festivities has already begun to check schedules, TV listings, and traditional/historical data — statistics that will, hopefully, show a developing pattern with specific teams and games.

It is the nature of the football bettor. He is a self-styled masochist for whom Sundays, Mondays, and an occasional Thursday or Saturday of football, college and pro, are better than having the Marquise de Sade come to dinner each week with his new friend, Hannibal. It is that time of the year when marriage vows are reviewed and hung in the balance, weighted against the opening line and the TV clicker soldered to one’s palm. Sex even becomes a thing of the past, since it is rather gauche to be looking over a shoulder to see if there was a first down while trying to get to first base.

Beer, pretzels, soft drinks, and potato chips are purchased in quantities that could feed Yugoslavia. Weekends with the kids are put on hold unless, of course, there is a son or unlikely daughter that has been taught to share the same degenerate fall/winter stimulation, amusement, and fascination for excitement that jump-starts good old dad’s heart and has it beating rapidly.

The incredible aspect of this is that fans and bettors are about to be treated to anywhere from six to nine hours, give or take a little, of joy, terror, plaudits, and an onslaught of expletives and predictable disagreements with their wives each Sunday; maybe even a Saturday during collegiate distractions. What joy!

What more could a guy ask for? How about some winners?

Aha, now we come to the crux of the matter. How much more enjoyable the game becomes when you have the underdog and they are up by 10 with one quarter to go, you have the benefit of 9 more, and the opposing quarterback is out with cramps. Or, you have the over, the number was 36, and the half time score was 21-14. Life can be sweet, but oh the suffering and distress, torment and torture, spasms and stoicism — all part and parcel of the package. The fun part!

Now let’s look at your multiple “advisory boards” and consider their qualifications.

The local sports talk-show host knows little or nothing and his pre-game guests possess even less savvy and expertise. They are there for appearance only, with combined viewpoints that are less than incisive and discerning. Besides, they quickly forget the teams that they chose or recommended when the games are over or the next show is underway.

The handicappers that once proliferated the airwaves, phone lines, magazines, newspapers, and enough direct mail to have confetti filled parades down Broadway, have been reduced to a precious few. There are still reputable organizations such as The Sports Reporter, Gold Sheet, and Marc Lawrence’s Playbook, but these are a rarity. If those that are asking for your money to hear their words of wisdom were as good as they proclaim, wouldn’t they be in a Nevada sportsbook just waiting for containers of money to be delivered to them?

Instead, they advertise their wisdom, declare their savoir-faire about sports, and herald their sophisticated knowledge of football in particular. All to anyone who will listen to them and send a few quid in exchange for what is often just the name of the predicted winner. Occasionally, they may provide a detailed explanation of why they have selected this team or that, the over or under, or the money line versus the points, etc. Some make sense. Most do not.

You have to love a prognostication based on a team scoring 35 or more the week before, the planets lining up in conflux with Jupiter, the home team losing their last game, and Regis liking the over. It’s almost as good as the loser of three in a row playing the winner of two in succession, rain is predicted, and the locker room toilets are not working. Statistically, it is a proven fact that the visitor will win by 11. Sure it is!

Your friends and relatives know less than you do and are influenced by the teams they have been following as fans for years. They are not about to share in your losses and you certainly do not want to give them any portion of your winnings. Limit discussions with them to asking which channel the game will be televised on and what time it starts. If they know that, you are well ahead of the game.

The game, by the way, is not deserving of a wager just because it is on the tube. Make a mind bet and sit back. Yes, it is possible to watch a game without making a bet, hard to believe but true. And, if viewing the contest is an absolute necessity for you, get DirecTV and purchase the NFL package.

When you have the schedule for the upcoming weekend, make a line of your own on each game with teams with whom you are familiar. You do not require an encyclopedic mindset to do this. Factor in weather reports, injury updates, a qualified opinion or two, and some statistical/traditional/ historical background. Stir gently and then match your “line” against that of the odds maker who knows precious little more than you do. When there is a great disparity between your number and his — say, three points or more — make a selection.

Those who live in Nevada have a plethora of sportsbooks at their fingertips. They can take their time, and compare lines to get the better of a particular game by a half point or point. How often will this make a difference? About as many times as Julia Roberts phones to see if you are free this weekend. Does it make you feel better? Sure. An edge? Usually not!

For those who believe that finding a half point here or there impacts the final tally, let me tell you about the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. Maybe once in a season if you are incredibly lucky!

The rest of the betting breed has to stick with the neighborhood bookie or, as a second option, head to Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Antigua, Gibraltar, Curacao, or any one of a number of other exotic destinations you can reach by phone, wire, computer, and your credit card. It is the age of making hi-tech wagers with people that you do not know and have never met, with whom you entrust your money for months; a repository without vaults except for their own. You are not exactly dealing with Lloyds of London or Barclays in these situations. Yet, there are firms in these venues doing a gross business in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Small they are not.

Forbes would list some if their core business were not gambling and bookmaking.

When Caesars Palace, MGM, Hilton, Station Casinos, Stardust and others become involved in Internet gaming and sports betting they will attract more players than a bright light does moths. Why not now? Because their Nevada licenses would be in jeopardy and none of them are going to stray from the narrow confines of the Nevada Gaming Control’s rules. Is that day coming? Yes! Soon? Don’t count on it. Meanwhile, Nevada residents can wager with them offline and, as of this writing, online with a few.

By no means am I discouraging you from wagering and enjoying every second of the game, hopefully with winners if you can manage basic strategies. Sure, make an investment. Enjoy. Have a good time. But set up fundamental guidelines, such as not having to watch the game on which you are betting. Add in that you do not need to wager on a four o’clock game just because it’s being played. “Winner” at one o’clock does not mandate action in the afternoon, and “loser” does not necessitate an attempt to get even. Nor need the Monday Night event be anything more than just one more listing of something to watch instead of old movies. If you’re ahead, the game does not have much appeal, or you’re not sure of one side of the other, then pass. If you’re behind and want to catch up or make yourself even before Tuesday dawns, wait for next week. It’s a long season!

The most important thing to remember is that there does not exist the obligation to make a wager if the game does not appeal to you. One of the most important words you will ever learn is “pass.” Discipline! Like the song asks, “Is that all there is?” Hardly. But, it is a beginning.

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