When we last visited with Gonzo-King himself, Hunter S. Thompson, he regaled -FUPPETS- with the truth about sportswriters covering Super Bowl VIII, held at the Rice University Stadium in Houston, Texas. Let's see what he is up to now, as the big game approaches.
The bus ride to the stadium for the game on Sunday took more than an hour, due to heavy traffic. I had made the same six-mile drive the night before in just under five minutes . . . but that was under very different circumstances; Rice Stadium is on South Main Street, along the same route that led from the Hyatt Regency to the Dolphin headquarters at the Marriott, and also to the Blue Fox.
There was not much to do on the bus except drink, smoke and maintain a keen ear on the babble of conversations behind me for any talk that might signal the presence of some late-blooming Vikings fan with money to waste. It is hard to stay calm and casual in a crowd of potential bettors when you feel absolutely certain of wining any bet you can make. At that point, anybody with even a hint of partisan enthusiasm in his voice becomes a possible mark - a doomed and ignorant creature to be lured, as carefully as possible, into some disastrous last-minute wager that could cost him every dollar he owns.
There is no room for mercy or the milk of human kindness in football vetting - at least not when you're prepared to get up on the edge with every dollar you own. One-on-one betting is a lot more interesting than dealing with bookies, because it involves it involves strong elements of personality and psychic leverage. Betting against the point spread is a relatively mechanical trip, but betting against another individual can be very complex, if you're serious about it - because you want to know, for starters, whether you're betting against a fool or a wizard, or maybe against somebody who's just playing the fool.
Making a large bet on a bus full of sportswriters on the way to the Super Bowl, for instance, can be a very dangerous thing: because you might be dealing with somebody who was in the same fraternity at Penn State with one of the team doctors, and who learned the night before - while drinking heavily with his old buddy - that the quarterback you're basing your bet on has four cracked ribs and can barely raise his passing arm to shoulder level.
Situations like these are not common. Unreported injuries can lead to heavy fines against any team that fails to report one - especially in a Super Bowl - but what is a $10,000 fine, compared to the amount of money that kind of crucial knowledge is worth against a big-time bookie?
The other side of that coin is a situation where a shrewd coach turns the League's "report all injuries" rule into a psychological advantage for his own team - and coincidentally for any bettor who knows what's happening - by scrupulously reporting an injury to a star player just before a big game, then calling a press-conference to explain that the just-reported injury is of such a nature - a pulled muscle, for instance - that it might or might not heal entirely by game time.
This was what happened in Houston with the Dolphin's Paul Warfield, widely regarded as "the most dangerous pass receiver in pro football." Warfield is a game-breaker, a man who commands double-coverage at all times because of his antelope running style, twin magnets for hands, and a weird kind of adrenaline instinct that feeds on tension and high pressure. There is no more beautiful sight in football that watching Paul Warfield float out of the backfield in a sort of angle-streak pattern right into the heart of a "perfect" zone defense and take a softly thrown pass on his hip, without even seeming to notice the arrival of the ball, and then float another 60 yards into the end zone, with none of the frustrated defensive backs ever touching him.
There is an eerie kind of certainty about Warfield's style that is far more demoralizing than just another six points on the scoreboard. About half the time he looks bored and lazy - but even the best pass defenders in the league know, in some nervous corner of their hearts, that when the deal goes down Warfield is capable of streaking right past them like they didn't exist . . .
Unless he's hurt; playing with some kind of injury that might or might not be serious enough to either slow him down or gimp the fiendish concentration that makes him so dangerous . . . and this was the possibility that Dolphin coach Don Shula raised on Wednesday when he announced hat Warfield had pulled a leg muscle in practice that afternoon and might not play on Sunday.
This news caused instant action in gambling circles. Even big-time bookies, whose underground information on these things is usually as good as Pete Rozelle's, took Shula's announcement seriously enough to cut the spread down from seven to six - a decision worth many millions of betting dollars if the game turned out to be close.
Even the rumor of an injury to Warfield was worth one point (and even two, with some bookies I was never able to locate) . . . and if Shula had announced on Saturday that Paul was definitely not going to play, the spread would probably have dropped to four, or even three . . . Because the guaranteed absence of Warfield would have taken a great psychological load off the minds of Minnesota's defensive backs.
Without the ever-present likelihood of a game-breaking "bomb" at any moment, they could focus down much tighter on stopping Miami's brutal running game - which eventually destroyed them, just as it had destroyed Oakland's nut-cutting defense two weeks earlier, and one of the main reasons why the Vikings failed to stop the Dolphins on the ground was the constant presence of Paul Warfield in his customary wide-receiver's spot.
He played almost the whole game, never showing any sign of injury; and although he caught only one pass, he neutralized two Minnesota defensive backs on every play . . . and two extra tacklers on the line of scrimmage might have made a hell of a difference in that embarrassingly decisive first quarter when Miami twice drove what might as well have been the whole length of the field to score 14 quick points and crack the Vikings' confidence just as harshly as they had cracked the Redskins out in Los Angeles a year earlier.