It’s good!

Another National Football League regular season is in the books, and all in all it was a good one as far as I’m concerned.

Sure, the New York Giants didn’t make the playoffs, which is definitely a disappointment.But two things must be said here. First, as each season passes, I tend to follow the Giants a little bit less than the previous year — although I did take great pleasure in last year’s Super Bowl run, I suppose. And, secondly, it’s not just the Giants I follow less with each year. I can attest to not watching a full football game, from opening kickoff to final whistle, this entire season. When you have two young kids, a wife, responsibilities in a home you own and a busy job, where’s the time for a three-hour-plus football game?

But — I still read about football, in newspapers and online, to keep track of which players and which teams are doing well. Those are musts if I’m going to be competitive in fantasy football (which I rarely am) and my annual weekly wager with a buddy back east.

I’m pretty confident that I’ve written before about what my friend, Jim, and I simply call “The Bet.” Each week, over the course of the entire NFL 17-week regular season, we pick — using established Las Vegas point spreads — our winners of the games. The sum of the bet has stayed the same for more than a decade, but let’s just say the amount has gone from a small stipend of a few bucks to a total that, while not exactly back-breaking for the loser, is quite a bit more meaningful.

This season marked the 21st year of The Bet, and it went down the wire. I had a two-game lead on Jim going into the final week, thanks to a pretty respectable won-loss record of 125-115 vs. the points. Jim, though, was determined to make the final week interesting, as we ended up having eight “differences” (games in which have a different team covering the spread).

Five of the differences were in the early games, and I was well aware that with a two-game edge, wining four of those five differences would clinch this year’s Bet. Jim actually picked against the Giants for the first time all year — even though he was going to the game in-person (not actually a bad pick for a team that had been horrible the last couple of weeks yet was still favored, somehow, by eight and a half points), but that contest ended up in a 42-7 NYG rout of the Eagles. Each of the other five games, though, remained more or less in doubt to the end.

The Steelers, favored by 6 1/2 points over the Browns, led by seven for a good chunk of the second half, then got a late TD to record a 24-10 win over the Browns. That was difference number two in my column. The next of the key games to end was Houston and Indianapolis, and that went Jim’s way as the Colts earned a 28-16 triumph despite being 4 1/2-point underdogs. Wins by the Bengals (3 1/2-point favorites over the Ravens) and the Panthers (4 1/2-point ’dogs against the Saints), however, clinched a check coming way from New Jersey — a good thing, since I hate coming out on the wrong side of The Bet two years in a row.

Come next fall, there is a pretty decent chance that Jim’s son will be entering his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I’ve already vowed that, if this happens, I’m going out to attend a Badgers football game and to watch a Bet difference with Jim. But even if this doesn’t happen, I’m certain the annual wager will continue, along with what has become one of most my valued friendship. And that, naturally, is far more important than football.

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