by Hugh Gilmore
One of my best friends, a guy I’ll call Toutovich, is personally well-acquainted with a macher – a real macher, you know, a book macher. A “macher” is a guy who gets things done. In this case, his acquaintance is not a books-maker, but a book-maker. Drop the “s,” in other words, and you get “bookie,” the guy with which you can make sports bets.
I call my friend Ovich for short – “Vich” for real short – which you have to be with him because he is fast. Take chess, for example. We play chess here and there … nah … why should I bother you with chess talk? Wait, OK, here’s one, just one to show you how this guy operates: Last time we played chess, he beat me having moved just one pawn. He beat me bad. Playing black, he moved his King’s pawn one square, jumped the hedges with both horses, slid the Queen up the diagonal and ate my lunch before I had time to nibble a gherkin. I replayed the game later, and all I can say is I know how he did it, but I don’t know how he does it. He’s very good.
So, naturally, I look up to him. And wadda ya know, football season comes around again this year, and he’s got my ear.
“You wanna bet the games this year?” he said.
I told him no, I don’t do that. I just watch the Eagles and I don’t bet. I don’t bet because I’m a fan. A fan always believes, deep in his heart, that his home team is going to win, somehow, someway, even when they are injury-riddled or outmatched. And even when it’s impossible to have any hope for a win, you watch the game as a learning experience – see how your favorite players do that day, something like that.
“Only degenerates bet football, or any sport, Toutovich,” I told him, using his full name in order to reprimand him.
“Look, it’s easy,” he said, “We’ll agree ahead of time and we’ll each bet 10 bucks per game. We’ll wait and see the line (the odds) and call in our bet.”
Hmmm, I thought he meant he against I, him against me, for who buys the beer next time.
Ovich sensed my hesitation and said, “You can’t believe how much a $10 bet can make a game matter. Even if it’s boring, that little bit of money riding on it makes you care what happens. It’s great.”
I succumbed. I didn’t like that it was a real bet, to a real bookie, instead of it being just two friends doing the old arm-punch-you get-the-beer-this-time, but I said, “Yeah, OK, Vich,” just to see what it was like. I said yes for the same old reason everyone does: I took up the challenge. Can I beat the oddsmakers at their own game? Can I study the sports pages, injury reports and sports analysts, and form a conclusion about the probable outcome of this week’s game? Am I smarter than the other guy?
The 10 bucks means nothing. It’s the psychological vindication, the endorphins that surge as you entertain the ridiculous notion that you can predict the future by studying the past. It’s all ego, just filthy old ego and needing to stroke it. Put your face at risk and then try to save it.
So I did my homework and bet against the Eagles vs. Detroit. The Eagles were favored by four points at game time. I bet them to either lose or not cover the spread, meaning they had to win by five points. How daring I felt. How weird I felt. I rooted for Detroit to score when they had the ball. I rooted for the Eagles to fumble or punt when they had the ball. It felt disloyal. How could I just abandon my team, our hometown team?
But it wasn’t about that, was it? It wasn’t about rah rah; it was about being smart. It was about being realistic. It was about … about … about being above it all. Yeah, being a wise guy. A guy who saw the world clearly and didn’t let his frilly little emotions get in the way of being a winner. A guy who wasn’t gonna be a sucker anymore, ya see?
I mean, how many times can a fan get his heart broken? Easy cure: don’t be a fan. Be a bettor.
And you know what? There’s an element of revenge going on here too. It’s about getting even and going against the guys who let you down so often. I’ll fix you: I’ll watch this one with my eyes wide open and hope you guys all step in a hole when your big moment arrives.
At a certain ironic, borderline-joyous point, I realized I could have it both ways. That’s part of the genius of professional sports betting. The Eagles had a chance in the last minute of the Detroit game to go ahead to win by three points near the end. It occurred to me – happily – that they could win the game (and I’d be satisfied as a fan), but not win by enough points (and I’d win the bet and show how brilliant I was as a cynic).
But they lost the game, I won the bet and I felt like a cheese. And then I bet against the Eagles to beat the Packers last week. The Eagles won, but I lost the bet. This is all a little too topsy-turvy for me, so I’m seriously considering dropping out of the betting pool. For the past two weeks I’ve felt like I needed to shower right from the opening kickoff.
Hugh Gilmore has been learning that he knows less and less about more and more with each passing day. Nonetheless, he beats on, boat against the current, in Chestnut Hill.