There was a time, about a decade ago, that I used to bet on sports. Mainly NFL and College football, with a select few College hoops games, which met specific parameters. Luckily for me, my first child was born, and made the decision to stop very easy. Diapers and baby food sapped the majority of my discretionary income.
So this year, I was introduced to Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Pro Football Pickem. I joined an established league for a menial cost. Rules are simple; you pick three games each week of the NFL season, against the spread. So, it’s like betting on football, without putting the money at risk each week. Minimal risk, with a minimal reward. The reward amounts to bragging rights, and enough cash to grab some beers and a steak with the fellas if you win.
The season has actually gone reasonably well. I’m in contention for the money. Most weeks I’ve had a winning record, so it at least appears that I know what I’m doing. The thing I learned years ago though is that betting on NFL football can make you look stupid very quickly.
Now, I claim no great knowledge or insight into picking NFL games. It’s all a feel for me. I use my eyeballs, and recollection of what I’ve seen before, with what I feel is a favorable point spread, to choose which teams I select.
So, along came week 14 of the NFL season. To set the stage, my selections for the weekend were Baltimore +2.5 at Washington, Cincinnati -3 vs. Dallas, and San Francisco -10 vs. Miami. For the purposes of this column, the third game doesn’t matter. That’s because the first two games showed me why I don’t bet games anymore.
Baltimore and Cincinnati played early afternoon games. Both of them led, and were covering the point spread for the majority of the afternoon. And, although I didn’t actually track the duration, I’d say they both crushed my footing in the Pick ‘Em standings in the span of five minutes.
The Bengals result was a little easier to deal with. They were favorites – home favorites – but favorites nonetheless. While they had leads of three, seven, and nine for nearly three quarters; as a three point favorite, I understood that the cover could evaporate at any time. Needless to say, I went from looking like a genius to a complete bonehead with that one. Ouch!
The Ravens on the other hand, became the smoking gun. The hard and fast evidence that it doesn’t pay to gamble on NFL games. A 2.5 point underdog certainly isn’t a huge number. I was compelled by the fact that Baltimore was 9-3, one of the most solid teams in the league; and getting points against what I consider, a team that is a bit overrated in the Redskins.
Although the Ravens got behind briefly, they quickly rectified that. Baltimore was able to establish a lead from the second quarter on. Having an underdog in that spot, I felt pretty good. The lead ballooned to eight in the fourth quarter. At that point I felt golden. For the Redskins to cover they not only had to score a touchdown – which they hadn’t done since the first quarter – but then, they’d have to convert a two-point conversion. If they accomplished all of that, they’d earn the opportunity to cover in OT.
Well guess what, they did all of that. They did all of that with just :29 to play in the game; and then made quick work of the Ravens, by stopping them on their first possession; and easily getting into field goal range to execute the cover 31-28. Great, thanks a lot. Nice doing business with you.
By that time the third game didn’t matter. Cover or not, the best I could do was salvage some dignity. The damage was already done. It was going to be a losing weekend. However, what once would’ve ruined my weekend, and my enjoyment of watching football, did not.
Picking those losers, and having them blow up in my face that way, reminded me of why I stopped doing this long ago. Actual gambling – taking money I earned, and watching it go up in smoke based on the performance of professional football players – made me hate sports.
I remember how irritated I’d get watching the games. I could care less if I just witnessed an amazing TD catch. It didn’t even cross my mind that I might be watching a living legend make history. My love for the game was gone. The only thing that mattered was the cover. Get it done, one way or the other. I didn’t care if it was due to skill, injury, fluke…whatever, just cover the number.
Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, any day which football was played, had the opportunity to turn into a gut-wrenching mess. Now, understand that I’m not against sports betting. I believe anyone should have the right to do so. If you have the means, do with it as you will. I don’t believe it’s some great evil that can’t be controlled.
I didn’t have a problem. I stopped on my own. I chose to stop simply by realizing that I had priorities that my means needed to be directed toward. I know there are people out there that do have an addiction. I only imagine my agonizing, times a thousand for people in that situation; and I empathize.
What I did have was a good sample size. I bet sports for two College football and NFL seasons, ending around the Super Bowl each time. I had one very successful season which provided a very nice Christmas; and I had one, absolute train wreck of a season. Still had a nice Christmas, just not as nice as the year before. I learned two very valuable lessons from those two seasons.
The first, you can’t beat the game. The minds that create the point spread are too sharp, especially when it comes to NFL football. For me it’s like golf. For every perfect drive that keeps you coming back, there are three or four shots into the water. Unless you plan on devoting all of your time and attention to it, you will not beat the game. Even if you do that, you probably still won’t.
The second lesson I learned was that I love sports. I love the games. I enjoy great moments in sports. Betting on sports took all of that away. I hated the games. I watched with one purpose, to see if my angle came through. Getting away from that made me realize how much I truly love watching sports. I appreciate how outstanding, athletes at the college and professional levels can be.
I now get my fix from fantasy sports. I used to think fantasy football players were the worst. Rooting for individual players, gimme a break. Who were they, gutless losers who couldn’t step out and make a play! Well, I’ve been playing for about eight years now, and I love fantasy sports. I love them so much; I’m the commissioner of three leagues, and possibly four starting next season.
I have one fantasy team in every major sport (Don’t make fun). Special thanks to the NHL for destroying my fantasy hockey season this year, I really appreciate it. Never the less, fantasy sports allow me to analyze the players, the teams, and the games; and still have enough on the line to have it mean something. There was a time fantasy sports caused me nearly the frustration that betting did. I’ve mellowed now, and for the most part, just let the games play out.
I still enjoy analyzing the spreads, and even providing my take to anyone that may ask. But, participating in something like the Yahoo Pick ‘Em game, is more my speed these days. Look, I’m not telling you want to do. If you want to bet games have at it, it’s a free country. I simply used this week as an example; but week in and week out, there are examples that remind me why I just won’t do it anymore.