When I was a freshman in high school, my social studies teacher, Mr. Stiegler, recounted a story to our class about lifelong sports fandom triumphantly rewarded. For years, including every pathetic campaign during the 1970’s, he placed a five-dollar bet on the 49ers to win the Super Bowl. It was a symbolic gesture: he rooted for the team, and naturally wanted to see them win the title, even if in his heart he knew the gesture really only amounted to flushing an Abe Lincoln down the toilet every August.
When Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and Dwight Clark stunned the country in 1982, Mr. Stiegler was five hundred dollars richer.
The story was inspiring. My good friend and classmate Nelson Wong was likewise intrigued, so as soon as we turned twenty-one, one of us, sometimes both, would place five bucks on the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series. On occasion the bet was a bit more (we were both in possession of five-dollar heartbreaks in 2002, but Pudge Rodriguez’s ’03 fistpump in my face cost me twenty bucks and a shot at two hundred), and the bet location often had a lot to say about the odds. Most of my money was dropped in Tahoe, but the odds were generally better during Nelson’s formerly regular treks to Las Vegas.
Most years the odds hovered around the 10-1, 15-1 range. Except in 2010. I couldn’t tell you what the preseason odds were for the Giants to win it all last year, because I didn’t make my bet. And neither did Nelson. 2010 marked the first time since we had both come of age that neither one of us made the symbolic wager. I didn’t go to Tahoe last year. Nelson’s been busy. No big deal.
And the Giants, of course, won the World Series.
Do I regret not making the bet? Am I bitter? Hell no. The only thing weighing on my conscience is this current dilemma: I’m in Tahoe now, and I have access to the sportsbook… but I’m maybe a little more superstitious than I deserve to be.
The goddam Phillies are the odds-on favorites to win it all, at 2-1. We’re in northern California, the Phillies are dealing with Utley’s mystery knee, Domonic Brown isn’t replacing Jayson Werth without a hand, Cole Hamels is overrated, and Cliff Lee is, well… don’t get me started on Cliff Lee. Two to one? Please. Followed by the Red Sox and the Yankees. The Giants roll in fourth at 10-1 odds. No respect for the defending champs. The East Coast Bias is a Hydra, and no one had the good sense to set fire to the nine ESPN writers who unanimously picked Charlie Manuel’s team to sweep through the postseason last year. It’s like they’re taunting me into forking over the cash…
But, again… a bit superstitious. Not sure what to do…