Might as well cancel my RedZone subscription. My survivor pool entry has been eliminated and my fantasy team is toast.* Thanks for the 10 weeks, NFL.
California Chrome did not win the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday and therefore did not become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. While my girlfriend Megan and I wanted to see history, his defeat is not what made the day a complete disaster. It was trying to leave the park that did.
In the time it took us to exit Belmont Park, a horse could have gone around the 1.5-mile track 54 times. Or it could have run across the streets of Queens, into Manhattan via the 59th Street Bridge, all the way to Penn Station (a destination for many travelers) and back twice…and then ran around the track eight times.
At the Super Bowl party I attended last Sunday, everyone was glued to the television for the coin toss. Would it be heads or tails? It was a question someone (OK, me) included on the prop bet contest distributed at the party. “It is heads,” the ref said, to the delight of everyone except my friend Griffin, the only tails backer.
When the broadcast went to commercial, Griffin’s dad asked me which team won the toss. I had no idea. “Does anyone know which team is getting the ball first?” he asked. Nobody did. “You’ve turned me into a degenerate gambler!” he said.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell approves. He won’t admit it—in fact, he publicly expresses complete disapproval—but gambling is a big reason why his league is by far the most popular in America.
Continue reading Is NFL King? You Bet, It Is
Using some Christmas money, I bought stocks for the first time. I chose proven blue-chippers—Disney and Pepsico—and gambled on some companies I use, like Domino’s Pizza and the company that owns Miller Lite. I know very little about finances and the stock market, and realized that buying and selling stocks would be much easier if you could invest in athletes, coaches, and teams.
Let’s go back to Week 8 of the NFL season. The New Orleans Saints are 5-2 and coming off a 62-7 demolishing of the Colts, setting a franchise record for points and victory margin. They travel to St. Louis to face the 0-6 Rams, whose starting quarterback is injured. New Orleans is a 13.5-point favorite, the biggest of the week and tied for the second biggest of the season. Of course, the Saints lose.
Welcome to the 2011 NFL season, where teams have been doing a remarkably impressive job of ruining Survivor pools.
For those unfamiliar, here’s how Survivor (also known as “knockout”) works: Each week you choose a team and if they win, you advance. You can’t repeat a team. The winner of the pool is whichever participant lasts the longest. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Hey, that sounds easy,” then you’ve never played Survivor.
But it’s not supposed to be this hard. My friend Kyle runs a Survivor pool which had 112 participants this year. Despite the fact that anyone eliminated before Week 8 had the option for one re-entry, only six people remain. Kyle has been running the pool for six seasons and said he’s never seen anything like this.
My friend Lee and I share an entry in the pool and each week we discuss potential teams before settling on one that we think has a great chance to win and gives us desirable options going forward. These discussions and eventual selections are not all that meaningful when huge favorites are losing every other week.
Our first loss came in Week 5 when we, like 80 percent of the pool, unwisely put our faith in the Giants against Seattle. The 9.5-point spread made the Giants the biggest favorite of the week—the “safe” pick. There is no such thing this season. The biggest favorite has lost three times; six teams favored by at least 9.5 points have lost.
One game that qualifies on both counts is this past week’s Eagles-Cardinals match-up. Philadelphia was a 13.5-point favorite in the Battle of the Birds, prompting 22 of the remaining 33 participants to choose them. They lost. My friend Griffin, a die-hard Giants fan, was one of them. Survivor has been so frustrating this year that it is making people hate their rivals even when they lose.
There have only been two things you can count on this season: the Green Bay Packers winning and the Indianapolis Colts losing. Due to the rule against re-using teams, the Packers’ success can only help for one week. Going against the winless Colts would be a flawless strategy, but they have a bye this week. To anyone still left out there: Good luck.
I spent last week in Ireland on a family vacation. I saw and did a lot of really interesting things, but most of them have no place on a sports blog. My visits to Ladbrokes, a sports wagering outlet, however, do.
Intrigued by these small shops that I spotted everywhere from Dublin to Kinsale, I stopped in on two occasions to place bets on a sport I’ve rarely watched: soccer. Search this blog for “soccer” and you’ll find no results. I don’t hate the sport, don’t claim it’s boring because there’s not much scoring—it’s simply not for me. I’m not even a pseudo soccer fan who pretends to care every four years during the World Cup.
Of course that didn’t stop me from placing five euro on Manchester United to beat Chelsea in their match last week.
Here is what I considered before making the wager: (1) it seemed to be the feature match of the day and I was told it would be on TV; (2) I had heard of Manchester United before; (3) Man U was an underdog; (4) the teller told me she liked Man U in this match. Now, one could argue No. 4 should have been a reason not to bet on Man U, but I figured the tellers stand nothing to gain if I were to lose.
In a cab on the way to the Kilmainham Jail (great tour, by the way), I asked the driver what he thought about my bet. “At 11 to 4? That’s a great wager. Those two clubs are about even, I’d say.” My confidence was soaring as I got validation from a second local. Later, at a pub, just before the start of the game, a fellow Guinness drinker told me he also felt the game was a toss up. “Will probably end in a draw,” he said. No, I didn’t want a draw (tie), because unlike other sports, a tie does not mean all bettors get their money back. Instead, the sportsbooks give you the option to bet that the game will end in a draw.
The game started while I was still in the pub and ended sometime during my dinner hours later. Manchester United won 1-0. It wasn’t until the next day, when I saw the newspapers, that I realized how big the victory was.
A couple of days later, I pushed my luck and bet on another underdog, though this time I took a “double chance,” meaning I’d win if my team won or tied. The team I bet on was called the Metz, and that is the only reason I bet on them. Sure enough, they played to a 0-0 draw and I won again. This was the first time in several years that the Metz have not let me down.
Obviously it’s a small sample size but I was 2-0, 100 percent, betting on a sport I know nothing about.
Contrast that to my annual performance in NCAA Tournament pools, in which I hardly ever finish near the top of the standings despite watching several college basketball games a week and studying the bracket for hours in the days leading up to the Tourney.
My older brother ran a pool this year that had nearly 100 participants. Had Kentucky beat Connecticut in the Final Four, his girlfriend, Donna, who watched maybe two games all season, would have won. Instead my good friend, Jason, won. He had Michigan, Syracuse, and Notre Dame going far simply because he knows people who attended those schools. But he somehow picked UConn to win it all and therefore claimed the top prize. I’m not knocking these people; I’m envious and a bit confused, just as soccer fans reading this must be surprised of my betting success in Ireland.
While I figured Kentucky was too inexperienced to make such a deep Tourney run and UConn was out of gas after its Big East tournament gauntlet, Jason and Donna likely didn’t consider these factors. Just as I didn’t consider—because I didn’t know—that Manchester United hadn’t won at Chelsea’s stadium since 2002.
As they say, ignorance is bliss. And sometimes rich.
Last year, for the second year in a row, I went to Las Vegas for the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Since turning 21 in the summer of 2007, it was my fourth visit to Sin City. This was my best trip yet, thanks in part to what was arguably the wildest opening weekend in the history of the Tournament. Some of this “diary” will likely make more sense to those who are familiar with Vegas and sports betting, but feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me if you have any questions. Anyway, to get you excited for the start of this year’s madness, here’s what transpired on the first day of the 2010 Tournament…
Thursday, March 18
6:00 a.m. PDT My flight from New York’s JFK airport the previous night got me to Vegas with enough time to enjoy some St. Patrick’s Day festivities at O’Shea’s, a bar that must live for St. Patrick’s Day. I didn’t party all that hard, but I still wasn’t feeling great when I woke up. To my body, 6 a.m. should feel like 9 a.m., but keep in mind that I don’t like waking up at 9 either. Given that this is my favorite weekend of the year though, I’m not complaining.
7:20 a.m. We have showered (there were five of us in the room), dressed, and walked to Planet Hollywood from Bally’s. You see, like last year, we were supposed to watch the games at the Paris auditorium. One problem, two words: Barry Manilow. Apparently, Manilow was booked at the last minute for a few shows this weekend. Paris was no longer an option, and five guys who previously didn’t have any feelings towards the “Mandy” singer suddenly hated him. Luckily, Planet Hollywood was offering what seemed like a similar venue. We figured we’d try it out on Thursday and go somewhere else on Friday if need be.
8:00 a.m. Saying unprintable things about Barry Manilow on our walk to PH, once we arrive we are fairly satisfied. We took the escalator up to the second floor, where PH’s nightclub (Prive) and show (Peepshow starring Holly Madison!) are located. We pass under the large banner that reads “Welcome to the Madness” and enter the viewing area. It is a sight for sore (and bloodshot) eyes.
There is a viewing area on each side, both with four large projection screens. The screens on each side are linked, so whatever is being shown on screen #1 on one side is being shown on screen #1 on the other side. Right now it’s ESPN on screens 1 and 2, ESPN2 on screen 3, and ESPN News on screen 4. We take a seat on what I’ll call the north side and I quickly discover that the seatbacks recline; nice touch. It’s not stadium-style seating, but other than that it’s just as good as the Paris auditorium. Suck it, Manilow.
8:15 a.m. Taking shifts to make sure we don’t lose our seats, it is my turn to place bets. There are betting windows set up just to the side of the viewing area, but the line is very long. We take our chances at the actual PH sportsbook. Good decision; the line is much shorter. I’m next in line when I hear the guy in front of me calling out his bets: “Twenty-two on five-fifteen. Fifty-five on five-eighteen.” Uh oh. It’s been a while since I bet with a human being. I forget I can’t just say “Ten bucks on Butler, please.” I let three people cut me in line as I frantically match up my teams with their betting numbers. Feeling like an amateur, I finally step up and place my bets: a couple of straight wagers and three moneyline parlays that all pay about even money. I’m no sharp, but I’m a few steps ahead of another guy in line, who asks his friend, “So if it’s minus four-and-a-half, they need to win by more than four, right?” He’s right, but just the fact that he had to ask is a bad sign.
9:05 a.m. The anticipation has been building since I took my seat in the auditorium. ESPN is still on all of the screens. The crowd is getting restless. We want our CBS!
9:06 a.m. Greg Gumbel appears and the crowd gives him a hearty applause. The crowd, by the way, is nearly all male and all white. The age range is probably 21-65, but it’s mostly late 20- and early 30-year-olds. I stand up and do a 360 and see a total of two women. There are a bunch of school t-shirts and hats, from Duke to Syracuse to Michigan State. Not as much North Carolina as last year.
9:19 a.m. Before the first game even tips, we get our first Masters commercial. Having attended March Madness in Vegas last year, I know this is something worth noting.
9:20 a.m. More cheers as the first game of the 2010 Tournament—BYU vs Florida—tips. One minute later, BYU’s Tyler Haws gets the Tourney’s first basket.
9:26 a.m. The game between Notre Dame, the alma mater of the four other people in my group, and Old Dominion tips. In my group, a lot of money is riding on the Irish, a six seed, to cover the two-point spread or at least win outright. Six minutes later, No. 2 seed Villanova begins its game with Robert Morris.
9:50 a.m. I crack open my first beer of the day just moments before the second Masters commercial of the morning. Per the tradition that outdates my Vegas visits, our group rises and toasts the“tradition unlike any other,” and now that we have drinks, we can do so properly. We get some strange looks from fellow viewers.
10:01 a.m. My body convulses as all three games have gone to television timeouts.
10:07 a.m. The first losing bets of the Tournament are crumpled and thrown to the floor. BYU, a 2.5-point favorite in the first half, only leads by two at the break. Meanwhile, the 15 seed Robert Morris is leading ’Nova and ND/ODU is very close.
10:40 a.m. Another scoop layup for BYU’s star Jimmer Fredette, from Glens Falls, N.Y. I stayed away from the Cougars in this game, but have them in the Final Four in my bracket. They’re in a tight game with Florida, which makes me nervous, but not nearly as nervous as Danny, a friend of ours who bet big on Notre Dame and really, really big on BYU. Rather than sit down, he is pacing back and forth in the aisle.
11: 09 a.m. ND hits a three-pointer, Robert Morris does the same, and Florida gets an and-one bucket. I’ve got ND in my bracket but didn’t bet on them. I figured the game was a toss-up and only took the Irish out of fear. If someone in my group saw me rooting for ODU, I’m not sure I would have made it to the second set of games.
11:20 a.m. Carlton Scott’s three goes halfway down before popping out, and Luke Harangody’s second basket of the day comes on a meaningless layup at the buzzer, as ND loses by one. It feels like the life has been sucked out of the group. I’m afraid to move. Just a moment later, I hold my breath as Florida’s last-second shot misses, sending the game to overtime. I’m already down for one ‘X’ on my bracket, I don’t need another four so soon.
11:27 a.m. Only a couple of people were aware of this, but before the trip a hat was customized and purchased. There’s no sense in getting into the specifics of the hat, but I will say it is a pink trucker’s hat. Whichever person in the group was acting like an idiot had to wear the hat. Although everyone seemed to have bet on ND (except me), my brother wound up with the hat after the Irish lost.
11:32 a.m. Robert Morris is up eight at the final media timeout. Vanderbilt and supposed “giant killer” Murray State tip. I went back and forth in my bracket, but took Vandy.
11:39 a.m. Again it is Florida with the final shot, but again it is off line. We’re going to double overtime!
11: 42 a.m. Fredette draws a foul and waves directly into the courtside camera as he gets up. Was he waving at me for having put his team in the Final Four? At the guy who bet more than my paycheck on the Cougs? Who cares, as long as BYU is winning.
11: 48 a.m. Both wild games—BYU/Florida and Robert Morris/’Nova—go to commercial, which gives me a chance to catch my breath. The outcome of both of these games is still in doubt, but BYU is looking promising.
11:51 a.m. Overtime for Villanova!
11:54 a.m. The crowd groans as the TV showing the BYU game switches to Baylor/Sam Houston State. It is clear BYU will win, but bettors want to be sure they cover the spread, which was anywhere between 4.5-5.5 points. They’ll have to settle for the real-time updates provided in the box in the upper-left corner of another CBS feed.
12:15 p.m. BYU did in fact cover, and nobody is happier about it than Danny, the big BYU bettor. He jumps up and down like he’s on a pogo stick. Jay Bilas would say he has great jumpability. Meanwhile, Robert Morris loses by three in OT, ending an unbelievably awesome opening trio of games. Here are the numbers to prove it: three overtime periods, five shots that could have won or extended the game on the final possession (two for Florida, one each for ’Nova, Robert Morris, and ND), and two games decided by three points or less (BYU won by seven).
12:33 p.m. As the results start to sink in, I say to a friend, “I feel like I’ve watched a weekend’s worth of games already.” His response? “I feel like I’ve drank a weekend’s worth of beers already.” Welcome to March Madness in Vegas.
12:57 p.m. Kansas State, which would be BYU’s next opponent, gets off to a slow start, making me feel better about the Cougars’ chance of an upset. Vanderbilt, which was trailing Murray St., is starting to come back. What could be an interesting 7/10 match-up, St. Mary’s vs. Richmond, has tipped, but it’s not on any of the four TVs. What gives?!
1:04 p.m. Some of the fans start to get agitated that the SMC/Richmond game isn’t on, and it seems to have an effect. The TV operator is at least attempting to change the channel, but an error message from DirecTV is displayed: “You do not have access to this game. You must purchase it.” “Make the purchase!” my brother yells. “You can afford it after my Notre Dame bet!”
1:42 p.m. Murray State, down one, with the final shot…GOOD! I can’t fault myself for taking Vandy in my bracket, but I at least could have made some money by taking the Racers and the four points they were getting. But that was a great ending regardless. The first four games of the 2010 NCAA Tournament have all been incredible. Although we’ve had some lopsided match-ups as far as seeds, the four games have been decided by an average of three points. An 11 seed (ODU) and a 13 seed (Murray) have both advanced. Four games like this would be pretty good for an entire first round. To get them all on one day, in the first few hours of the Tournament—unreal.
1:52 p.m. Fans are yelling “FOUL!” in the waning seconds of the Baylor/Sam Houston State game. These bettors must have the “over,” but facing a nine-point deficit Sam Houston sees no reason to extend the game any further. These bettors throw their tickets to the floor.
2:13 p.m. Butler/UTEP tip off. UTEP, a 12 seed, is a trendy upset pick, as they have a big-time scorer on the perimeter as well as former Louisville forward Derrick Caracter. I don’t see it happening, as I have Butler all the way to the Elite 8. I nearly lost another Elite 8 team earlier in the morning though, so who knows.
2:32 p.m. Uh oh. Butler/UTEP looks likes boys vs. men, and unfortunately for me, the Bulldogs are the boys. UTEP is getting steals, grabbing offensive rebounds, and scoring inside at will.
4:11 p.m. That first half of the Butler game seems like days ago. The Bulldogs use a 19-2 run in the second half, aided by a barrage of three-pointers, to take a commanding lead in the final minutes. My second Elite 8 teams in the West Region is safe for now. Meanwhile, Northern Iowa and UNLV tip. I bet on UNI and despite being in Vegas, I’m not alone. There’s support for the hometown team, but not as much as there is for the Panthers.
4:25 p.m. Georgetown and Ohio tip. We are wondering why a moneyline was offered for this game, considering Ohio, a 14 seed, made a miraculous run in its conference tournament just to qualify for the Big Dance.
5:14 p.m. Ohio is up 12 at halftime and we wonder why we didn’t put ten bucks on the Ohio moneyline. On my way to the bathroom I notice a group of a dozen or so men in a small conference room in the hallway adjacent to the viewing area. One of them is standing near a projection screen showing PowerPoint slides, while the others sit at a long table with blank looks on their faces. I feel bad for them.
5:50 p.m. It is clear that Georgetown is going to lose. The Hoyas are getting absolutely manhandled. Disgruntled bettors start mumbling about how “the Big East sucks.”
6:25 p.m. Ali Farokhmanesh hits a deep, deep three to win it for UNI, as the Planet Hollywood crowd erupts. Others in my group bet the Panthers as well, so it’s a bit of a bounce back after ND’s crushing loss.
8:58 p.m. After walking down the strip a few blocks to get some food—stopping at every TV set along the way to check scores—we return to our hotel room to watch the final minutes of the Texas/Wake Forest, Tennessee/San Diego State, and New Mexico/Montana games, all of which are still in doubt. It looks like the day is going to finish similar to how it began—with a trio of tight games.
I have New Mexico in a moneyline parlay and Wake and SD State in my brackets, though each only going one round. In the end, I get two out of three, as SD St. comes up a bit short, but Wake wins a miraculous game on a buzzer-beater in overtime. It is already the third overtime game of the Tourney, exceeding the total number of OT games from last year’s Dance! Just a few minutes shy of 10 p.m., New Mexico pulls out a closer-than-expected victory. That’s over 12 straight hours of college hoops, but I’m already anxious to do it again tomorrow.