Wichita State over the Buckeyes?
Syracuse beat Miami?
Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father?
Having spent the early years of my life sucking in stale racetrack air, surrounded by a gang of oily, second-rate, minor league gamblers in a small West Virginia town, I should know better. I should know that betting on sports is a losing proposition. Throughout my teenaged years, I watched as men spent their family’s grocery money on “sure thing” five-to-one shots then watched those limping mules fade at the wire, destined for the dog food factory. The track rats placed the blame on the jockey, the horse, the trainer or the Gods above, but never on themselves. Minutes later, there they were, at that same window, throwing another twenty on another horse that could not lose.
We sports bettors are not gamblers, per se.
We’re not the type of people who will walk up to a roulette wheel and place our life savings on “red”. However, give us Georgetown against Florida Gulf Coast University in the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament and we’ll check that bank balance.
We should know better.
The reason sports fans bet on sports teams is a simple one. We think we understand tendencies and patterns. The Steelers are a running team. The Bengals have no run defense. Put one hundred dollars down that someone in black and gold will go over one hundred yards.
It seems simple.
Tendencies and patterns are not simple, of course. Neither are they predictable. You may roll a pool ball down a perfectly level billiard table toward the corner pocket. Nine times out of ten you will be able to make that ball disappear into that pocket. Unfortunately, while you are concentrating on the pattern that ball makes across the felt, you forget that you ate a chilidog at lunch. A gas pain from that chili dog sends a momentary signal to your brain which makes your wrist pause for a millisecond too long, forcing the late release of the ball, sending it to the right of the pocket, where it bounces off the cushion and returns to you, mocking. You forgot about the chilidog. It wasn’t part of the pattern or tendency of your pool game.
It’s amazing how often we think we can predict peoples’ behavior. Try this simple test: think of that most relevant person in your life, be they wife, husband, boyfriend, sister, pool boy or probation officer. Can you predict that person’s actions based on their past tendencies or patterns? You know the wife has a Tuesday night class. You know that she’ll be home at nine. Would seven o’clock be a good time to dress up like Aunt Jemima, complete with blackface and apron, and masturbate to a Shirley Temple record? Sure! That is, until the neighbor kid comes by at seven-twenty with those Girl Scout cookies.
We should know better.
We can’t possibly predict how a person will behave, so why would we ever believe we could predict the behavior of twenty-four of them running up and down a basketball court?
We don’t for a moment believe that we can actually predict the behavior of a racehorse, a boxer, or a team of sled dogs. We don’t think we can visualize the final score of the Super Bowl, the Final Four or the World Cup. We don’t.
We do, however, think we’re smarter than all the people in our office. Seriously. While we may not be very good at picking the winners in the NCAA tournament, we’re better at it than that dolt in Sales. That guy has been known to wear two different colored shoes to work. We may have no belief in our abilities as sports experts, but we have full belief that the cold witch in Human Relations could not tell the difference in a basketball and a golf ball if she had to pass each through her colon. Come on.
And that’s why we stand here today proudly still wearing our Aunt Jemima outfit (slightly soiled), ready to move into the Final Four of this basketball tournament. Sure, the team we picked to win it all is gone, as are three of our final four. Absolutely, our picks, chosen with such confidence just a week ago, have taken those seven days to mature and grow rancid.
Does that mean we’ll vow to never again bet on sports?
We may be stupid, but we’re not the stupidest one in the office.
Fourth from stupidest, to be exact.
And that’s good enough for us.
Now. Who do you like in the seventh race?