Football Betting Bliss or Miss: The Thrill of Victory, Agony of Defeat
by Josh Nagel - 09/24/2008
Sometimes, there's a strange comfort is losing a sports bet so bad that you never really had a chance. And sometimes, there's not.
The occasional major tanking (say you had the under 56.5 in a college football game, and the score is 28-28 in the first quarter … early in the first quarter) at least relieves you of having to sweat out the outcome for the next three hours, along with relieving of your money. Thus, the best course of action is to take your medicine and have a decent chuckle at your own expense.
Other games provide no such consolation. You know, the picks with which you got "creative," and maybe even persuaded your friends that Whattsamatta U was a lock to cover the 49.5 points against USC.
Oops. It's a lot more difficult to live down those ones, and a lot harder to just wash them away with a couple swigs of beer approved by the More Taste League. Not even poor-quality beer can mask the bad taste these games leave behind.
In honor of such contests, this week's Bliss or Miss will start with a miss that crashed and burned with the resounding thud of a scud missile.
Miss: Tennessee +7.5 vs. Florida. Final score: Florida 30, Tennessee 6.
This one was not as close as the score indicated and, for unfortunate Vols backers, the score didn't indicate much. That is, except an embarrassing loss by what looked to be one of the least-prepared and uncertain SEC teams of all time.
For analogy's sake, this is like sticking your hand in a gator tank once and having it bitten, only to do it again just to see if you could get away with it. The predictable outcome: You get hurt. I swore off betting against Florida after a week 1 loss backing Miami, but there's more history to it than that.
This is because a few years ago, as a few buddies and I watched 14-point favored Utah trounce Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl (I was on the correct side of this contest), I announced to my friends that I would never, in no uncertain terms, bet against an Urban Meyer-coached team. Never. Even if the spread was so big it seemed like the value was clearly on the other side.
I reckoned his teams were just too well-coached, too well-prepared, too creative, and Meyer himself too relentless on the hapless opposition. I figured I would either back Meyer's squad or not bet at all.
Somehow, in the throes of a glittery sportsbook last Friday night, I was struck with amnesia about this event. In this deluded state, I convinced myself that I would make one of those genius "against-the-grain" plays and that Tennessee was the pick here. I figured 7.5 points was a terrific hook for an SEC home dog, and that the Vols would be looking to avenge the 59-20 beating they took last year in The Swamp. Not that they had a realistic shot to win the game, but covering a touchdown didn't seem that far-fetched.
That is, until the kickoff. Then, the first play from scrimmage. As the Gators moved effortlessly down the field and stomped all over the Tennessee end zones, those unmistakable orange blurs that look like a melted creamsicle dumped over a checkerboard, I had one of those introspective moments every struggling sports bettor faces in which he has to look himself in the mirror and ask one important question.
"What the hell was I thinking?" Or maybe more important, "what wasn't I thinking?" The pick itself violated one of my basic tenets of sports betting, that being, don't bet on bad teams and don't bet against great ones. Seems I accomplished this unfortunate double whammy in one fell swoop.
The carnage was fast and furious, and stunned, distraught Vols fans headed to the exits at halftime. The CBS commentators accurately pointed out that Tennessee looked like it didn't want any part of the game after awhile. Asked if this were the case, Vols coach Phillip Fulmer, a man of few words - or more likely, a limited vocabulary - looked right at the camera and proclaimed, "We believe we can win this football game."
Right. Kind of like the way in which Ralph Nader believes he can win an election. The lesson here is that doesn't pay to get cute with your picks, especially when you know better.
Bliss: Air Force +7.5 vs. Utah. Final score: Utah 30, Air Force 23.
Yippee, now here's a home dog gone right and backed for all the right reasons. This one was different for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Air Force is undefeated against the spread this year, and already was a battle-tested underdog before taking on the powerful Utes.
With solid road wins against Wyoming and Houston as proof, it seemed to make sense that the Falcons, whose triple-threat option is difficult for anyone to defend, would hold their ground at home in this important Mountain West Conference showdown. Sure, the Utes looked good in rolling up the points on dreadful clubs like Utah State, and although they were clearly the better team, it stood to reason they would be in for a fight against Air Force.
Assuming this line might go other way, I bet this one early at 7.5 points and was pleased to have this important key number on my side. I was somewhat bewildered as the Utah money poured in, and the nearby sports book closed with Utah at -9.5. This is when you started wondering if Utah bettors had some sort of knowledge to which I was not privy. They didn't.
Air Force led most of the way and was in terrific shape with the game tied 23-23 with just a few minutes left. Things looked safe even as the Utes headed in for a certain score, barring some sort of disaster like a two-point conversion or the always-feared pick-six on Air Force's ensuing possession. The Falcons did, in fact, throw an interception on their last drive, but it was not returned and Utah ran out the clock. Altogether, it was a pretty solid pick on a good home dog, and one Air Force bettors could be proud of.