But I knew the mafia-looking guy leaning on the pinball machine at the Hollsopple, Pa., VFW was called a “bookie.” I had recently learned how to donate money in a game called “poker,” so I asked my brother-in-law, Skip, on the bar stool next …
Well, that February holiday of love rapidly approaches, when men everywhere shower their one true love with worshiping, undivided attention. (Then of course, a week after the Super Bowl comes Valentine’s Day).
This column is “To all the Bowls I’ve Loved Before.” Oh, that grand dame has been my sweet mistress and also my heartless betrayer over our 33-year relationship since we were introduced in ’78. Until that Dallas/Denver Super Bowl XII, I had never even watched a football game on TV. I didn’t know my pass from a hole in the ground.
But I knew the mafia-looking guy leaning on the pinball machine at the Hollsopple, Pa., VFW was called a “bookie.” I had recently learned how to donate money in a game called “poker,” so I asked my brother-in-law, Skip, on the bar stool next to me to explain the basics of the bookie/football transaction. It sounded like what I’d been missing all my life.
I was like any young man before the “first time” walking towards Spike the Bookie, with his partner Ernie lurking nearby. I tried to hide my nervousness and inexperience as I leaned over and whispered, “Hi Spike. What’s the pointspread?”
When I went back to Skip and said it was “Dallas minus 7,” he explained what that meant. I flipped a coin and bet my first loser, the Broncos plus 7. I learned all kinds of football things during that clumsy first bet that cost me $55 though. I had been seduced, lost my innocence, and there was no turning back.
That next Super Bowl winter, I was home again for a month and found myself in a familiar spot: next to my worldly brother-in-law at the VFW. Spike and Ernie were leaning on that same pinball machine and Skip and I split a $55 bet on our hometown Steelers, favored by 4 1/2 over the Dallas Cowboys. Losing after the first half, we left disgusted for another local club. But our Steelers roared back in the second half and had an 18-point lead.
“Let’s go back to the VFW for our money,” Skip said.
Suddenly with two minutes left, Roger Staubach led the Cowboys to two touchdowns in 90 seconds and the final score was Steelers 35, Cowboys 31; we lost by that cruelest of all heartbreaks: the dreaded half-point.
With 38 seconds left in the game, I told Skip, “Let’s get out of here before Spike sees us. I already drank up my half of the bet money!”
Two seasons later, I was football-wise and had completed an entire season of accruing statistics and betting over the phone long-distance to Spike and Ernie. I knew the Raiders would beat the Eagles in Super Bowl XV, 1981, but my nephew Jay stops at my apartment after school telling me about some psychic who spoke at an assembly. “He guaranteed the Eagles would win, and he’s never been wrong on a Super Bowl!”
Now what? Betray all my tenacious, hard-work calculations, or change it just because some stranger is able to predict the future? I agonized for days and sleepless nights, but finally stayed true to my gambling education and bet the Raiders, who pounded the Eagles, 27-10.
Now, had I changed that bet and lost because of my nephew’s unsolicited declaration, it might have been ME driving through the wall of Jay’s roofing shop in Cody last week. Gambling grudges have no statute of limitations.
My old friend Danny Humphreys still needs to watch his back also, remembering the “Super Bowl XXII Desecrated Orange Caper of ’88.” It was the Broncos vs. Redskins and I had several “fins” riding on the Broncos. My best buddy Frank Rozek arrived carrying snack oranges, but suddenly realizing the “Denver Orange” connection, we placed the last two oranges on either end of my coffee table with perfect, good-luck positioning. After the first quarter, it was Denver 10, Washington 0.
Then came the second quarter, and another good buddy, Danny Humphreys. He grabbed the oranges and started juggling, as we screamed to return them to their lucky spots. As Frank remembers it, “After you explained they were lucky oranges, I saw a devilish smile come over Danny’s face and he bit a huge chunk out of the orange.”
The Redskins scored 35 straight points immediately afterward and won 42-10.
Hear the bells, Humphreys; they toll for thee! I don’t have the gas money just yet, but one day I might drive to Seattle and crash a big, orange truck through YOUR wall!
There are so many Super Bowl memories I lack space to list, like Super Bowl XXV in ’91, when my old high school buddy Jeff Hostetler — whose family farm I stayed at overnight many times — guided the Giants over the Bills 20-19.
The Raiders came through big again in ’84, but my liver took a big hit. I placed bets for my pals, Scotty Pulse and West Matthews, and we vowed to down a double shot of tequila for every Raider score. We expected a lower-scoring game, but the Raiders’ 38-points left us at times hugging, yet at one drunken point angrily wrestling across my floor, which probably resembled a Three Stooges fistfight.
I truly love Super Bowl Sunday. Valentine’s Day is a shallow love tribute compared to past Super Bowls. And when the Steelers beat the Packers 27-14 Sunday, I’ll fall in love all over again.