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Saturday, Dec. 28, 2002
It was all Corporate Partner and Good Buddy Stu’s idea.

But I might soon be a rich man because of it. Not really rich, not millionaire status. That’s not rich, that’s just moving into a different level of accounting practices.

I’m talking about $600 rich. The kind of rich where you actually get cash in hand. That, my friends, is true money. A fat wad of bills. Play money. The kind that burns a hole in your pocket. The kind where you wake up two days later and wonder where the hell it all went.

Stu had a theory back in August. Having made a pilgrimage to the Sports Bar down the street, he joined the rest of the regulars at the Watering Hole with grim news. “Fat Boy down at the Sports Bar put up his football board. He’s gonna start the betting pool early this year. Sounds like he’s already got fifty people ready to sign up. Might be a thousand bucks in it for the winner this year.”

(I’ll interject here, for the sake of enlightenment, that a football board / betting pool is little more than an advertising scheme used by the local bar owners to guarantee customers. You pay your $30 entry fee, get a sheet of peel off stickers with the names of all the NFL teams and each week before the games begin you select one of them to win. You stick it on the board for the appropriate week. Then, traditionally, you sit down and have a beer at the bar, thus fulfilling the advertising purpose of the board. After the games somebody marks through the names of the teams that lost. End of the season, the one with the least amount of losses wins the lions share of the pot. Sounds easy? It isn’t. Going undefeated for the season, using some real dogs for winners, is almost unheard of. Also unheard of is being raided by the state ABC commission, since the whole thing is as illegal as all get out, but I suppose it could happen.)

The regulars were a bit miffed. The general consensus was running along the lines of “I hate going down there every Saturday and posting my pick. I remember last year Fat Boy had to run out to the bank and get the winners money ‘cause he spent all the entry fees on cigars at that Halloween party that got out of hand. Why can’t we just have one here, for crying out loud?”

And thus did the light come on over Stu’s head.

I caught him in the shop the very next day, worrying over a fine piece of sign-board sized ash plywood with a router, grooving intersecting lines in it to form a grid pattern. “Now let me guess,” I said. “You’re building a life sized model of an Excel spreadsheet? A Gantt timeline chart for all our many projects and completion schedules? Wait, I got it, you’re tuning up the router for that tradeshow we’re supposed to be in, right?”

“No and no,” he replied. “Football pool. Me and Chief Mo got it all worked out last night. Got Patty printing up the team stickers as we speak. $30 to get in, we limit it to 30 people, winner gets $600 and we lock the cash up in the Watering Hole safe ‘til December. We’ll show Fat Boy how to run a pool. Say, do you think ash might be a bit much for this sign?”

I allowed that it was a very nice sign indeed. Fat Boy had a sign that was so amateurish, a mere sheet of cardboard that someone had drawn lines on. And while it seemed to suit its purpose, it was summarily outclassed by Stu’s handiwork. It looked stunning, hanging on a wall in the Watering Hole. And the patrons flocked to it, cooing over the polished surface and ponying up their $30 to Chief Mo, who sat writing down names in a special notebook purchased for the occasion and industriously stamping PAID next to each one as the cash flowed in.

I was one of the last to enter. I’m not big on gambling, I hate giving up money that disappears into some dark hole, never to be seen again. But they ganged up on me, pleaded that “We just need two more to finish up the pool!”, and I somewhat reluctantly handed it over. And was presented with a sheet of stickers and had my name stuck up on the board with a string of empty squares stretching out from September ‘til December.

That was August.

Football season started off with a flourish and opening day came and went. The Watering Hole happens to be a Steelers bar, for reasons never quite explained, although Steelers fans packed the place out on game day and made the Greek owner most delighted with the purchase of food and drink. The addition of the board made for happy wrangling about wins and losses, and the agony level of a board member with an apparent loser was loud and profane.

Come Monday, the bartender took a highlighter in hand and marked off the losers. The regulars would come in and pause before the board, tsking over losses and gloating over wins. I happened to survive the first week, which somehow managed to be a virtual train wreck for a lot of the entrants.

I got past the second week too. In fact, I got through the month of October with no losses at all.

I’ve spent a lifetime watching football. I’ve got a bit of history about it, a bit of knowledge.

It got bad around the ‘Hole. Once a dozen games had come and gone, the frontrunners were apparent. And I perked up a bit and realized that hey, I was actually in the running for the grand prize. After week 12, there were only two of us who were undefeated. We were regarded as wizards, football handicappers who spent untold hours poring over nfl.com and prognosticating

Me and Cookie. Who happened to be the cook at the Hole. A young guy, actually. But he happened to have a real live bookie as a roommate. And of course, he spent a great deal more time in the Hole, studying the board and the trends and analyzing who had used this team or that. It got to the point where I would come into the place and he would cry “Hey Outfoxed! You’re gonna lose this week I just know it! You’re done, I tell ye, done! You haven’t got any good teams left!” This from the guy who picked Cincinnati in the only game they’d won to that point.

He’d been doing this for several weeks, and for several weeks I just kept putting up a winner and so did he. Running a complacent second was Angie, one of the bartenders who happened to be a pretty shrewd forecaster herself, although she’d been burned in the first month and had two losses, but some great teams left to pick from.

Cookie picked the Jets in Week 13. They were playing the early game and lost, and I had the magnificent satisfaction of watching him (with tears forming and a trembling chin) approach me. “Oh Jesus I lost! Oh no, aauughhhhh!” and so on. There was much weeping. And I went home to watch the afternoon game, confident that my home field Saints would blow out the lowly Vikings and continue my perfect season.

Naturally the Saints folded like a bad lawn chair in the final seconds and I registered my first loss too.

Then last week, in a fit of mental illness or something, the Cook picked Miami against those same Vikings in Minnesota. I let him, since I had Oakland at home, and Oakland at home in December is a lock.

The Cook went down in flames. I won and was left with only one loss on the board. And the ever more confident Angie was tied with the Cook for second, with two losses each. Remember now, we’re talking about $600 for first place here. Second place gets $200, and a hundred for third.

Stu? He bet with his heart instead of his head, and ran up 4 losses early on in the season. He turned his attention to other pursuits such as savagely defeating me on the billiards table or demonstrating how he could toss a quarter into a draft beer from 20 feet away. We all have our little hidden talents.

Now you just know that I really don’t need the $600. I mean, it would be nice and all. But since the bulk of that would probably be spent on new sunglasses or CD’s or multiple trips back to the same Watering Hole where it was earned, it could reasonably be argued that it would be $600 worth of foolishness. Cookie – he wants to put it toward buying a car. Angie wants to pay bills. These are youngsters who actually need the money, as opposed to blowing it all on riotous living. Like some people would.

However.

I’m in it for the glory.

Years from now, when the regulars snuggle up to the bar and recount past days, they’ll always have me to fall back on. “Remember the year when Outfoxed won the first football pool up here? What a cagey bastard he was, only had one loss. Had it all figured out from the first week. Wonder who finished second that year. Anyone remember?”

It’s the glory, I tell you.

And come tomorrow, when the Broncos finish their season at home against Arizona with a staggering win, I’ll be the one sitting at the bar with all those fives and tens in my hand. I saved the Broncos all year for this one particular game. They’re gonna win. Angie’s going to finish second. She’s been sweet and demur in her quest, deferring to my vast knowledge base to help her pick a few games here and there. She’s usually pretty sweet to me anyways, being a bartender who works for tips, but she’d likely love me for my insufferable grumpy nature in any case. And the Cook? A distant and howling third.

I’m betting on it.

I need each and every one of you to root for Denver this week. Prayers would be appreciated. Intercession with the Almighty as it were. Let me suggest a sample prayer.

“Lord, please let the Broncos win. They have virtuous Rocky Mountain values, and are fine upstanding young men. They are playing the Cardinals, and everybody knows they’re from Arizona, which should tell you that they just don’t deserve a victory, since they get to go home to warm weather and sunshine while the Broncos will be suffering in the cold and snow of Denver. And suffering is all about the penitent, and the penitent shall inherit the earth, while the warm weather people just get a better tan. Bless us oh Lord, and let the Broncos triumph on this Sunday. Right after church. Which is where we’ll faithfully be for the next 52 weeks if you grant us this request. Amen.”

That should do it.

Otherwise, I might get stuck with a tie-breaker. Where I have to pick the number of points scored in the Monday Night game. A numbers racket. Sounds like gambling to me.

And you all know how I hate to gamble.

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