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.