As the kick-off to Super Bowl XXXVII approaches, I am overwhelmed by the same two emotions that grip me every year in late January: excitement and dread.
Super Bowl Sunday is just an inch shy of being a national holiday. The big feeds have become as traditional as Thanksgiving.
In the days leading up to the game, office chatter centers around football. Someone will start a pool. Newspapers quote famous personalities about which team they like. Britney Spears likes the Raiders; Donald Rumsfeld picks the Bucs. What topic other than the Super Bowl could bring such divergent types into the same stories?
But my dismal Super Bowl betting record has taken a bit of the shine off the event. My ineptitude is so well documented that I have become the target of good-natured abuse from my wagering colleagues.
Lucky thing for me that the sums involved don't amount to, in betting parlance, "shoe money."
Since 1967, I have lost with shocking predictability. I remember the details of each crushing defeat with such clarity that the games could have been played yesterday. The fumbles, the interceptions, the penalties, the injured star player are vivid.
I can't pick just one game and say, "This was the all-time low!" The bottom was 1986 and 1987. In 1986, I loved New England +11 against the Chicago Bears. The Bears were annihilated 46-10 in a game that ended for me during the first quarter.
And the very next year, to prove that I could back another hapless team that was steam-rolled from start to finish, I took the Denver Broncos +9 vs. the New York Giants. The game, in which Giant quarterback Phil Sims set a Super Bowl record by completing 22 of 25 passes, wasn't as close as the final 39-20 score would suggest.
Why not stop betting, you ask?
Because it's the Super Bowl, that's why!
You will recall that Dion "retired" two years ago. Tens of millions of Americans rejoiced—no more screeching, no more wild gesticulating and no more saccharine personality.
Yet, like the proverbial bad penny, here she is again.
Dion's presence conjures bad memories of 1995 when another chanteuse jinxed me. Kathie Lee Gifford's caterwauling version of the National Anthem so distracted the San Diego Chargers (+20) that Steve Young picked the defense apart for six touchdown passes in a 49-26 thumping.
Before fearlessly giving my prediction, I'll offer some sound advice from two betting experts with very different socio-economic backgrounds.
Stanford University economics Professor Justin Wolfers is the author of three papers on gambling. Wolfers' data is more esoteric than the average sporting gent might require but very valuable nonetheless.
In an interview on John London's KNBR's "Not Just Sports" talk-show, Wolfers suggested that those who like Tampa Bay +4 talk up some local Oakland fans who might in their enthusiasm be willing to give up a few more points. And losers, reasoned Wolfers, won't have to pay the 10% vig.
In an interesting side comment, Wolfers mentioned that the best choice on the board might be a 60-1 (maximum reward for minimum investment) shot on Tampa Bay to win the game by between 8 and 13 points.
The second expert is a nefarious character I met in the underbelly of Sparks, NV. The locals called him "Whispering Eddie." You would never invite Eddie to your home. He almost certainly has a criminal record. But when Eddie whispered about football, everyone leaned in.
Years have passed since I spoke to Eddie. He may be away. But I remember well Eddie's lessons:
And because I am a glutton for punishment and don't care if my losing prediction is posted on the World Wide Web, I pick the Tampa Bay Buccaneers +4.