Feb 23, 2009


The last time we visited with the good Doctor, he had abruptly finished his balcony sermon, and was holed up inside his Houston hotel room, the morning of Super Bowl VIII.

It had been a dull week, even by sportswriter's standards, and now the day of the Big game was finally on us. Just one more free breakfast, one more ride, and by nightfall the thing would be over.
The first media bus was scheduled to leave the hotel bat 10:30, four hours before kick-off, so I figured that gave me some time to relax and act human. I filled the bathtub with hot water, plugged the tape recorder with both speakers into a socket right next to the tub, and spent the next two hours in a steam stupor, listening to Rosalie Sorrels and Doug Sahm, chewing idly on a small slice of Mr. Natural, and reading the cocaine papers of Sigmund Freud.
Around noon I went downstairs to the Imperial Ballroom to read the morning papers over the limp dregs of NFL's free breakfast, then I stopped at the free bar for a few bloody marys before wandering outside to catch the last bus for the stadium - The CBS special - complete with more bloody marys, screwdrivers and a roving wagon-meister who seemed to have everything under control.
On the bus to the stadium I made a few more bets on Miami. At that point I was picking up everything I could get, regardless of the points. It had been a long and jangled night, but the two things that needed to be done before game-time - my sermon and my lead - were already done, and the rest of the day looked easy: Just try to keep out of trouble and stay straight enough to collect on all my bets.
The consensus among the 1600 or so sportswriters in town favored Miami by almost two to one . . . but there are only a handful of sportswriters in this country with enough sense to pour piss out of their own boots, and by Saturday night there was an obvious drift among the few "smart" ones to Minnesota, with a seven point cushion. Paul Zimmerman of the New York Post, author of A Thinking man's Guide to Pro Football and the sportswriting fraternity's scaled-down answer to the Washington Post's political guru David Broeder, had organized his traditional pressroom betting pool - where any sportswriter who felt up to it could put a dollar in the pot and predict the final score (in writing, on the pressroom bulletin board, for all the world to see) . . . and whoever came closest would pick up a thousand or so dollars.
Or at least that was the theory. But in reality there were only about 400 writers wiling to risk a public prediction on the outcome of a game that - even to an amateur like me - was so obvious that I took every bet I could get against the Vikings, regardless of the spread. As late as 10:30 on Sunday morning I was calling bookies on both coasts, doubling and tripling my bets with every point I could get from five to seven . . . and by 2:35 on Sunday afternoon, five minutes after the kick-off, I knew I was home free.
Moments later, when the Dolphins drove the length of the field for another touchdown, I began collecting money. The final outcome was painfully clear less than halfway through the first quarter - and shortly after that, Sport Magazine editor Dick Shapp reached over my shoulder in the press section and dropped two bills - a five and a twenty - in my lap.
I smiled back at him, "Jesus," I said, "Are you giving up already? This game is far from over, my man. Your people are only 21 points down, and we still have a whole half to go."
He shook his head sadly.
"You're not counting on a second-half rally?" I asked, pocketing his money.
He stared at me, saying nothing . . . then he rolled his eyes up toward the soupy mist above the stadium where the Goodyear Blimp was hovering, almost invisible in the fog.

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