Place your bets

In which one of the world’s foremost football prognosticators teaches children how not to gamble

Although it is not widely known, I am one of the word’s greatest professional football prognosticators. I first discovered my gift back in the 1980s, when I had a roommate who earned his livelihood betting on NFL games. Nick was his name, but of course it wasn’t his real name; he changed it after skipping out on a cocaine distribution conviction. Betting on sports was, for all intents and purposes, the only job he was qualified for. After I got done with him, he wished he’d just done his time in prison.

Like most problem gamblers, Nick had a supposedly foolproof system for placing bets; his was based on the point spread for games listed weekly in the Las Vegas sports books. He’d pour over the figures and stats for hours before making his determinations, which, gauging from the money he was hauling in, must have been mostly right on the mark.

Now, I’ve never been much of a gambler. As with pornography, the rush you get—I once hit a $1,500 jackpot on a nickel slot machine—is a little too cheap, a bit too tawdry. It’s hard to wash the dirt off your hands later. Besides, despite my prodigious skills as a football prognosticator, I’ve always instinctively understood that my peculiar ability to pick winners evaporates as soon as money is put on the table.

Nick learned this the hard way. One weekend, he made the mistake of showing me the teams he’d picked for that Sunday’s games. It was all scientific, he claimed, he couldn’t go wrong. I told him anyone who bets that the Indianapolis Colts or the New Orleans Saints (two of that decade’s most dreadful teams, despite their appearance in this season’s playoffs) will beat the spread is in serious need of an MRI.

He refused to change his picks and paid the price. His eight-week winning streak came to a crashing halt; it was the worst loss he’d ever experienced during his short stint as a semi-professional gambler. He then compounded the error by asking me to help him pick the following week’s games, even though I told him my powers don’t work if money’s on the line. Needless to say, we haven’t spoken since.

In many ways, my gift is a curse. What good is a talent if you can’t capitalize on it? I’m going to share my secrets with you, dear reader, in the hopes of unloading this burden.

My system, if it can be called a system, is based entirely on intuition and a deep knowledge of football history gained from watching the sport since the age of 3. By way of example, let’s apply my technique to this coming weekend’s AFC and NFC championship games.

In the AFC, the division-winning Indianapolis Colts take on the long-shot New York Jets, the only wild-card team left standing. On paper, quarterback Peyton Manning and the Colts appear to have a significant edge. However, the Jets are no strangers at playing the Cinderella role. In Super Bowl III, Broadway Joe Namath and the Jets upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts (the team had yet to move to Indy) 16-7, an unlikely victory that has since become imbedded in the team’s DNA.

The Colts have at least three other strikes against them. One, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is married to supermodel Gisele Bündchen and Peyton Manning isn’t; two, after going 14-0, rather than pursue a perfect season, the Colts chose to rest key players and lost their final two games; and three, I want the Colts to win, which means they’re almost certain to lose.

Advantage, Jets.

Over in the NFC, future hall-of-fame quarterback Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints in the Superdome. This one’s a little harder to call. Favre, 40, is coming off one of his best seasons ever and remains a fan favorite, and this will undoubtedly play against the Vikings, because football is anything but a sympathetic game. On the other hand, no one will be feeling sympathetic for New Orleans now that the earthquake in Haiti has at least temporarily erased Katrina from our minds.

Advantage, Saints.

So there you have it, the lineup for Super Bowl XLIV: the New York Jets vs. the New Orleans Saints.

Once again, the Jets have institutional memory on their side, but in this case, the memory belongs to the Saints, who probably haven’t quite forgotten that fans once called the team the “Aints” and placed paper sacks over their heads while watching the NFL’s premier cellar dweller invent new ways to lose. New Orleans will also have to struggle against the fact that in a matchup with the Jets, I want the Saints to win.

Advantage, Jets, your Super Bowl XLIV winner.

Just don’t bet on it.