What Bobby and Whitney Can Teach Us About Football
by Robert Ferringo - 09/18/2006
This past week, people across the country had to deal with one of the most shocking and upsetting social developments we've seen in recent years. No, I'm not referring to anything related to the September 11th memorials. I'm talking about the break-up of Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston.
Bobby and Whitney were a modern Romeo and Juliet - star-crossed and misunderstood lovers doomed at the wicked hand of Fate. Their 14 years of marriage gave gossip-mongers, info-tainment junkies, and decent folks everywhere hours of unfettered enjoyment. I'm certain that each one of us has their own personal favorite story from the bizarre, disturbing and downright hilarious adventures of the cracked-out pair.
But what in Vishnu's name could Bobby and Whitney possibly have to do with football or gambling? Well, not much. But their abrupt split did get me musing on the perplexing nature of chemistry between people and groups. It's a delicate and enigmatic concept, and one whose effect resonates throughout the Football Universe.
The intangible and unseen psychological connections that exist between people have been analyzed, studied, and opined since the dawn of time. Unfortunately, I hate to say that you won't find any grand proclamations about them in this space. My aim is much narrower: to discuss the influence - for good and ill - that these phenomena have on an inherent conundrum in sports gambling.
Chemistry is that aura that cloaks the Indianapolis offense when it takes the field for a two-minute drill. It's also there when the Chicago defense is crowding the line on third-and-long. Conversely, the lack of chemistry is what makes the Raiders locker room - with Randy Moss, Aaron Brooks, Al Davis and That Guy From Idaho - about as normal as a Flavor Flav-Brigitte Neilson and Charlie Sheen-Denise Richards double-date.
And chemistry - that Great Unknown - was alive and well in Week 2 of the National Football League. Consider:
- New England ended its bitter feud with former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch by trading him to Seattle. Richard Seymour said the move left "a lot of broken hearts", while Tom Brady saw the situation as "a big mental drain." Despite the negative vibes in the organization, the Patriots stormed to a 24-0 lead in their straight-up, spread-covering victory against the New York Jets.
- Buffalo placed fifteen-year veteran Troy Vincent on injured reserve last week as a cost-cutting measure. Takeo Spikes, Buffalo's undisputed leader, railed the move in the media by calling it "baffling". That bit of dissension - and the absence of both Vincent and Spikes - didn't stop the Bills from an inspired 18-6 win at Miami.
So what was it that made these groups of individuals come together and achieve success? How is it that teams suddenly get hot and go on massive winning streaks? What makes teams gel, and why do they suddenly gain momentum within a game or a season? Most importantly, should bettors be able to anticipate any of this and is it quantifiable in any way?
The answer to those questions cut right to the core of a debate that always has and always will exist within the gambling community. An underlying theme within the industry is whether or not handicapping is a purely mathematical endeavor or one that involves a certain mysticism and "feel". Consider it the oddsmaker's version of Nature vs. Nurture.
It's also something to be contemplated before one considers wagering hard-earned green on contests of violence and skill. Your stance will likely have a direct effect on your gambling habits. But know this: if you believe that there is truly a "correct" answer to this riddle you'll be in for some l-o-n-g days.
For instance, if you feel that simply doing some extra homework and crunching some numbers will insulate you from absurd losing streaks and soul-numbing bad beats you're mistaken. Linesmakers, sharp bettors and pro handicappers have a clear advantage in the statistics department and own a mind-boggling arsenal of data. They possess software and middleware and active matrix displays and double precision super computers. Essentially, their technological capabilities rival the space programs of some industrialized nations. Think HAL-9000 hopped up on methamphetamines and Mountain Dew.
That's not to say that mathematically savvy bettors can't gain an edge. Just the opposite. Extrapolating info and correctly analyzing The Numbers are key components to success. But even the digit-drunk gambler routinely finds himself staring down the cold, cruel barrel of a brutal and inexplicable loss.
Consider our previous Buffalo example: the Dolphins are historically one of the best early-season bets in the NFL. Miami holds a winning record against the spread at home, as a favorite, and against divisional foes in the month of September. They have started 0-2 just once in 36 years. Yet anyone playing those historical angles was still at the whim of Daunte Culpepper's ineptitude.
That being said, Miss Cleo may want to leave the tarot cards in the drawer. More than one wing of the MGM Grand was built solely on the money from saps and suckers who thought they could beat the odds simply by picking the team that "felt right". That type of recklessness and hubris has left more than one grown man battered and weeping on the crusted couch of some seedy motel.
So exactly what do we do? Are bettors caught in some metaphysical void between faith and reason? Not exactly. But I also can't tell you that there's a correct way to evaluate the psychological implications of random and insane events. I'll leave that to the armchair psychologist in each of you.
My best advice is that preparation and sound research can protect you from random Acts of God. But it won't make you immune to them. Here are a few simple tips and guidelines that might help:
1) Ignore the mainstream media. Their job is to sensationalize the trivial and whip fans into a frenzy. They're like picadors - those guys who drive lances into bulls before they are sent into the ring for slaughter. They guide the public and the public is usually wrong.
2) Emotion has a bigger role in college football than in the NFL. The pro game is one of cool efficiency, whereas hormones and pride fuel the college game. Off-field incidents and injuries will have a greater impact on younger players.
3) Play momentum. Sometimes you don't have to understand why things work. Just know enough to ride a streak.
4) Don't bet a game simply because something controversial happened - like a position coach getting arrested for going through a drive-thru while naked. Value in a line should draw you to a game and incidents then influence them. Not vice versa.
One caveat: bet against a team where a group of contributors is involved in anything containing a combo of the words "multiple felonies", "sex scandal", "ring" or "scheme" (such as "illegal gambling ring" or "massive doping scheme").
5) Letdown Games and Look Ahead Games exist. Again, college players are more susceptible though there are occurrences in the NFL. It's more likely to happen later in the season when everyone is more conscious of win-loss records.
6) Be able to tell the difference between a team playing for pride and one playing for a paycheck. A team will play for pride at home against a rival or divisional opponent. A team will play for a paycheck on the road against someone with more talent.
Carpe diem, my friends. And good luck.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also purchase his weekly plays here.