I was 22 years old, and as is the case with most of that age I believed I was at least 50 percent wiser than I really was — and, in matters of the real world, that disparity was significantly wider.
I’d spent one too many Monday afternoons skipping into the newsroom proclaiming that I was the king of football picks. I was known to talk too much as it was, but on this subject I finally wore down the final nerve of one of my elders, who made me a proposition too good to be true.
“Let’s see if you’re as smart as you think,” he said. “By Friday give me $20 and a bet.”
I did that.
Sunday, I suffered and bled as I experienced what I would soon be told was both a “back-door cover” and a “bad beat.” And if you thought I was insufferable when I had nothing in the kitty, you had to hear me describe colorfully and in great detail how I’d been the victim of the worst kind of burglary: football players had literally stolen my double-sawbuck.
And my elder pulled me aside.
“You aren’t built for this,” he said. “If you don’t go broke because of lousy picks, you’re gonna get the spit beat out of you — and not by angry bookies, but by angry co-workers who just want you to shut the bloody hell up about it.”
It was good advice. He was right. And this isn’t to submit myself as a paragon of virtue, but that’s the last illegal bet I ever placed. I would still happily wager at Belmont Park or Saratoga, or in Las Vegas or an island somewhere. I would merrily sit till 5 in the morning for a basement poker game (OK, I guess technically that is illegal). And sure, with gambling now A-OK, I place the occasional wager, and keep the news mostly to myself.
But I wonder. I can’t help it. I wonder.
I was raised in a time — or at least, in a household — where in sports, the worst of it was when the home team lost. You would shake a fist at the sky. You would yell at the TV. You would percolate at night, maybe losing sleep over a late touchdown drive engineered by Roger Staubach. It was silly. It was meaningless.
It was also awesome.
So I wonder. I can’t help but wonder. I have no kids of my own. I do speak to kids who would be around the same age as the kids I might’ve had. They know what I do for a living. And almost to a man, and woman, this is the order of the sporting subjects they wish to discuss with me:
- Their fantasy team.
- The same-game parlay they made on Caesars/FanFuel/DraftKings.
- The Jets/Yankees/Knicks/Rangers/et al.
I get it. I do. I’ve played fantasy, on and off, for over 30 years. The elder of whom I spoke earlier welcomed me into my first fantasy leagues and I remember, quickly, learning to care more about the players on my fantasy teams than the teams I actually rooted for in the real world. In Vegas, in the islands, I’d bet completely detached from whatever rooting interests I might harbor back home.
(One exception to that rule: I never have, and never will, bet against the Bonnies.)
Still, I wonder. I can’t help but wonder. Even with my elder’s advice, if I’d had the kind of easy access that’s available today, would I have been quite so adamant about staying away? It wasn’t so difficult to identify and engage a real-life bookie back in the day — but it was harder than simply tapping a thumb. My father liked to gamble. It’s in my blood. I’ve never walked past a Blackjack table and thought: Maybe not tonight.
And for the point of this parable, I won’t even talk about the financial peril that can accompany that access. Simply the cynicism. Sports fans have always been a little jaded, always feared the worst, mostly been treated to seeing the worst. But that was for the old stuff: Watching Roger the Dodger strafe your team. Losing a tough game by a point. Blowing a three-game lead with seven to play. Old stuff. Simple stuff. Innocent stuff.
Other people’s games.
It’s different when your own money is at stake. Not saying it’s better, or worse. Again, show me an enticing moneyline, I’m right there with you. But I wonder if it’s even possible for future generations to enjoy games going forward in the same way we did looking back. Not saying that’s bad. Not saying it’s good.
I just wonder.
Get on Julius Randle all you want; 95 percent of NBA players would’ve sat with an aching knee on a Friday night in December. He played. And the Knicks beat the Raptors because he played, for all the heroics of the Knicksanova triplets, and that’s a win that might feel mighty big come April.
I wasn’t aware how badly I needed more “Fargo” in my life until the new episodes started dropping on Hulu. Now I want six of them every week.
Dwight Gooden is spending the holidays telling kids about peer pressure and sharing his own story the off-field issues that disrupted his own career. Last week he was at South Brunswick High School and Sampson G. Smith school in Somerset, N.J. “I get so much out of this,” the Doctor says. “I am hoping these kids can learn something from my experiences.”
The Falcons aren’t a bad team. They are favored, on the road, and should be. But they are not the 49ers. The Jets are home, and desperate. If the Jets cannot beat the Falcons, there is no reason to believe this will not end 4-13. And that will be a catastrophe.
Whack Back at Vac
Howie Siegel: Clearly it is time to start Josh Hart alongside his buddy, Jalen Brunson. Quentin Grimes will still get ample time. Offensively, I expected more from Grimes, but it simply hasn’t appeared.
Vac: As tempting as that is, I think the Knicks are at their best when they can rely on the Hart/Donte/IQ/Hartenstein second unit to give a jolt.
Michael Diamond: The Beatles’ new song can hit No. 1 with two deceased band members after
50-plus years, but the Jets still haven’t been to another Super Bowl, let alone win one? The Namath curse is real!
Vac: Maybe if Joe Willie had a Lennon to his McCartney …
@DBonet59: The Johnnies being this relevant again sure will make the winter months a lot more enjoyable. Lifts the entire Big East up to its former glory. Now if only Syracuse was still in and Georgetown gets it together …
@MikeVacc: We’ll know the Johnnies are really back when the final minutes of a close game don’t get bumped off ESPN2 in favor of the start of a UConn game.
Avi Masliansky: In the wake of the owner of Las Vegas Sands buying the Mavs, the new NBA’s new name should be NGL — the National Gambling League. New logo: No more Jerry West, put in Arnold Rothstein.
Vac: Avi also thinks that maybe it’s time we all forgive Shoeless Kid for whatever he may or may not have done. And I agree with him.