Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Biggest Bet I've Ever Made

Although I generally eschew sports betting in favor of games where I see a genuine edge, I made the spring of 2002 a big exception.

I had met a group of small-time bookies who worked at a favorite bar of mine and started placing bets on the NFL playoffs and then the NCAA basketball championship. Bars, by the way, for some reason, are terrific places to meet book makers and do a little gambling. Perhaps it’s the combination of booze, television, and time to kill, I don’t know.

I still vividly remember getting robbed in a well-known Raiders and Patriots game in the snow; Tom Brady got stripped of the ball late in the game, but it was ruled an incomplete pass. The replay clearly shows Brady touching the ball with his other hand as he checks it down! The Patriots tied the game and eventually won by a field goal in overtime, which pushed my Raiders +3 bet, but I’ve always felt like I was robbed of $200. This memory doubtlessly contributes to my healthy hatred of the Pats.

By the time the NHL playoffs started, I was ready to mix my love of hockey with some bigger action. I picked a few games in the early rounds leading up to the Stanley Cup, sometimes losing a hundred or two, sometimes winning.

When the Red Wings marched into the finals, with a roster of certain Hall of Fame players, my instincts sensed an opportunity to make some “easy” money. The Wings' bench was stocked with arguably the best collection of players the NHL had seen in over a decade (I mean, come on: Yzerman, Federov, Shanahan, Hull, Robitalle, Lidstrom, Chelios, Larionov, the young Pavel Datsyuk, and a perfect cast of role players. This was a no brainer). The deepest pit of my stomach told me that there was no way Detroit’s goaltender, Dominick “The Dominator” Hasek, would let his best chance for a Cup slide by him.

So I visited my bartender/bookie and slid him a slip of paper which said “Detroit win series $1000.” Now a thousand dollars is a nice bit of dough, but as 1 to 8.5 favorites, a Detroit loss would decimate my bankroll. If you can laugh off $8500, then more power to you. This bookie pal of mine made sure I knew the murky waters I was wading into and told me he had never seen anyone put so much on one series. What can I say? I knew they would win. As an after thought, I put another $300 on Game 1.
Unfortunately, Carolina shocked Detroit in Game 1, tying the game with less than a minute left and then their captain, Ron Francis, netted a goal to win a minute into overtime. The turnaround was lightning quick; I was up $300 and on my way to a nice payday, then, in less than two minutes of game time, I was facing a $300 loss and suddenly looking down a 85 hundred dollar sniper’s bullet. A powerful sense of nausea appeared in my stomach like the sickly anticipation of waiting for a roulette ball to make up its mind and finally drop.

However, Detroit only trailed in one of the next four games, won them all, and when the ball did fall nine days later, the cash was mine. All told, during the 2002 NHL playoffs, I pocketed a little over $1300 and have tried my hardest to stay away from sports gambling ever since.

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