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      There’s a joke about the CIA and torture, in that the only person who went to prison for torturing people was the guy who revealed the torture. Daniel Hale, the guy who revealed that drone bombing killed 90% innocents, is now off to his stint in jail. He seems tough, maybe he won’t be driven to multiple suicide attempts like Manning was by the deliberate mis […]
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Stories for Final Four Saturday

For those who have an interest in this, today is the semifinals of the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, with four teams left, out of the 68 teams which were part of the field, including one, Virginia Commonwealth University, which was forced to forfeit its opening round game because of some positive Covid 19 tests. It has been a tightrope-walking year for the sport, and all the tourney games have been played in Indianapolis, to minimize travel risks.

Despite all of this, it has been an exciting tournament. This actually is the first year in tournament history that the Final Four teams are all from west of the MIssissippi, a bit of trivia. They are Gonzaga, Baylor, Houston, and UCLA. Yes, UCLA, my alma mater, the school with the most basketball titles, eleven, though we have not won one since 1995. And it has been quite amazing, since UCLA was a play-in eleventh seed, thus anywhere from the 65th to the 68th team invited. We were behind by eleven points or so in our first game to a favored Michigan State team but rallied, and won in overtime. Then we beat favored BYU. Then we sort of got lucky that Abilene Christian beat Texas for their first tournament win in history, and we were better than this small but admirable team, and we won easily. Then we beat Alabama, seeded #2 in the South Regional, in overtime, and then we beat #1 seeded Michigan by two points in the Regional Final.

However, now we must play Gonzaga, the #1 seed in the entire tournament, which has not lost a game this year, and is a big favorite over the Bruins. I will be stunned if we win this game. It was still exciting to get this far, though we used to always say, “At UCLA, we do not hang Final Four banners, only championship banners.” I do not think that we have much chance to hang a title banner this year; things are not the same, and we do not have the greatest coach of any sport in history, John Wooden, on the bench for us.

When I was a boy, and followed the games very closely with my father, and I would greatly worry about this or that game, because the Sports Illustrated magazine which my parents had gotten me a subscription to, would tout some other powerful team whose games I could not see, because few college games were on TV then, he would say, “We’ve got Wooden.” And it was true, and we beat them all, almost every single time. Wooden’s teams won ten national titles in twelve years, and he retired on the eve of the last one, in 1975, and we have won one title in 46 years since.

So it will be with a mix of nostalgia for those times, with a sense of basketball pride, that I will watch and hope that we at least make a game of it, and wish that my parents were here to share it with me.

I wrote a post a couple of months ago, “Bad Beats and Arduous Wins,” about the travails of sports betting. These were not necessarily so amusing at the time, but in retrospect, they are good stories; and I fortunately won more than I lost, so it is fun to remember them. There was one story I did not fit in that post, and I wanted to tell it, so I will do so now. It might come under the heading of, “One just can never seem to win any bet easily.” This story is unusual even in that context.

For four years or so, I would spend the weekends of the football season at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, because they had the best sportsbook. I would leave the law firm early on Friday afternoon, come home and briefly pack, then drive to the airport and fly in. I would get there early Friday evening, and then spend the night not gambling or doing anything around the town, but sitting in my hotel room, studying the games. Then up very early on Saturday, then spend all day at the sportsbook, then dinner, and back to my room to study the Sunday games Then I would fly home Sunday night, unless I could stay for the Monday Night football game. So it was pretty arduous, but fun, and I made a few friends with whom I shared the ups and downs of a football weekend.

One season, there were a few weeks where I was struggling, lost some games; started to lose some confidence, and really could have used a good win. I think this was late in the NFL season, when they played a few games on Saturday. The early game was the New York Giants vs. some team I am not certain of, I think it was Cleveland. In football betting you can bet the pointspread margin, which is essentially how many points the favorite wins by, or if the underdog will actually win. Or you can bet on how many points are scored, which is known as the “over/under.” Say that the number is 45, you can bet on whether the total scored by both teams is over or under that. You can also bet on the total for the first or second half.

I rarely if ever bet on totals, I have no great ability to pick those. But on this day, I decided to bet the second half total, over the 18.5 points of the line. Why I did this, was that Cleveland was substantially ahead, and the game just seemed like it would have more touchdowns scored. I needed three TDs in the second half, or less likely, two TDs and two field goals. The major problem was that the day was very snowy, and that is usually not conducive to much offense.

I actually made a fairly sizeable bet on this “over” And two more touchdowns were scored by Cleveland, which was up something like 31-0 at this point. Early in the fourth quarter, Cleveland was driving for what would have been another TD, winning my bet. But they turned the ball over deep in Giants territory. Now I was worried, because the game result was determined; and NYG could not move the ball, and Cleveland did not need to. I got up from my seat and started walking nervously around for a while. But then NY threw a pass, and it was intercepted and run in for a touchdown. I had won!

I don’t usually do this, but I came back to my seat pumping my fist in the air. Now, it is impossible to lose an “over” bet, when the teams have scored more than the total. They do not subtract points. So I could of course actually relax for the rest of the game? Well, no.

Because the field and stands had turned icy. The notorious New York fans, at least some of them, decided to take out their displeasure, by breaking off large chunks of ice stuck to the seats or ground, and hurling them on the field. They did this to the extent that suddenly the officials waved the players and coaches off the field, and stopped the game.

Immediately some of the sportsbook bettors began shouting, “Forfeit!” The officials could easily have decided that for safety reasons, they would just call the game with about five and a half minutes left. Cleveland would be the winner; but for betting purposes, I believe that all bets would be canceled. I am not positive, but I think that even “over” bets which had won, would count as no bets.

So that would mean that I had not won this sure win after all. I had never seen an NFL game called, but this could well be the one. I sat there just staring at the TV screen; you couldn’t hear the announcers, because they usually turned that off because of the noise in the sportsbook. This went on for what seemed a very long time; and the longer it went, the more likely that they would just call the game. But finally, I saw that they were sending the teams back out on the field. Apparently they had removed most of the fans who were throwing the blocks of ice. Then I had to wait until the game got played long enough to make it official. And it finally did, and I won the bet, but not after going through all of this.

So the lessons are: sometimes you can not even be sure of winning when you have categorically won. Or, do not bet at all, do something else with your time. 🙂 Well, I thought that you might vicariously enjoy this story, even if you have no interest in sports, and even less in pointspreads. Oh, and none of this was good for my social life, spending all the weekends at the sportsbook. So after four straight seasons of doing this, and because I was also worn out from it all, I stopped, and had more normal weekends, though I still watched many of the games. Go, Bruins.

Postscript: UCLA played a great game, against an undefeated team which was a 15 point favorite. We could certainly have won the game. But we won two other games in the tourney in overtime, and another game by two points. This time we came as close as you can to winning, with the potential last shot in regulation, called a charging foul. And fhen Gonzaga banks in a three-point shot from 35 feet to win it in overtime. The difficulty with college basketball is that you cannot expect to be in the same spot next year. Players leave early, other teams get great freshmen. Getting here is very hard, unless you are one of those programs which gets great talent every year, which we have not been doing, but maybe this game will help. These kinds of games stay with one, but it is a lot better than having middling seasons.

3 Responses

  1. Go Bruins, indeed!

    I will be listening to the Westwood One broadcast on the radio. I’ve listened to all the Bruin games in the tourney so far, since my team has been, um, absent. It’s been a fun ride for UCLA. Some very exciting games. I hope they give the Zags a good run for their money. Is that a betting phrase? Maybe? I never will understand gambling but you know that already.

    Enjoy the game, William, even if you can’t relax. On any given day, any given team can win.

    • Thank you, Beata. I am not all that nervous, I do not expect us to win, though I think we will play reasonably competitively. It was a great run to get this far, but I don’t know if we are equipped to do it very often. I was not in favor of the current coach which UCLA hired, but he certainly has gone an excellent job in this tournament. Yes, “run for their money” can certainly be used in referring to any sport or even political contest. I am sure that it is derived from horse racing.

      • It was an amazing game, one of the best ever in college basketball. The Bruins were so close, but no cigar. Those games are the hardest to get over, no matter what anyone says. If only…

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