The Washington Redskins were playing the Denver Broncos. Amon Paterson attended a Super Bowl party that started hours before the actual game. Doritos. Dip. A refrigerator and several ice chests, laden with beer. Chicken wings back when “hot” was the only flavor. A big pot of oyster stew.
Gamblers. Lots of gamblers.
Amon had no money riding on the game. He was a Washington fan who was also superstitious. He had no money on the game because he thought it would give the Redskins bad luck. Not everything was bad luck. For instance, it wasn’t bad luck to drink.
Otherwise, what was the point?
The first inkling Amon got that the betting might have been out of hand was when Harry Ridges and Peanut Brill made a last-minute call to their bookie to bet on the coin toss. They had money on everything. They took Denver and gave three and a half points. They bet “the over” on a combined total of fifty-one points, bet on Washington rushing for the most yards and Denver leading the passing output. Neither cared who won the game. Both cared who won the money. In general, that meant the Broncos.
Mainly, Amon watched it all with amusement. He thought, Man, these guys have got a problem. I’ve heard of compulsive gamblers, but this is the first time I’ve seen it, up close and personal. Nothing personal, boys, but I hope you lose your asses.
Amon tried to joke, but they took everything seriously. No bets were off.
“I bet you ten dollars the ref points the wrong way on at least one penalty during the game,” he said.
“You’re on,” Peanut said. “I say the ref gets every one right, only let’s bet fifty bucks, just to make it worth keeping up with.”
“I was just kidding,” Amon said.
“Yep,” he said. “Want another beer while I’m up?”
“Yeah. Get Harry one, too.”
The Broncos pulled out to a quick 10-0 lead. The Washington starter, Doug Williams, exited the game with a leg injury and was replaced by Jay Schroeder. Harry and Peanut exulted. They were counting their money. Amon just shut up and drank.
The game turned around dramatically on Williams’ return. The Redskins took over. After being blanked in the first quarter, Williams led them to thirty-five second-quarter points. The game had seemed over. Now it was over, the other way. Harry and Peanut went from bragging about how much they were going to win to fretting about how much they were going to lose. A thousand on “the line.” Two hundred on the coin flip. Five hundred on John Elway passing for the most yards. Two hundred on turnovers, of which the Broncos had three. Three hundred on first downs. All they won was a measly hundred on the Washington rushing attack.
Apparently, everyone there had bet on the game except Amon. For a dozen of his friends, it involved an average of fifty bucks, maybe. Most seemed to have bet on the Redskins. Most drank in a spirit of good cheer. They toasted victory. Harry and Peanut drowned themselves in ruination. Amon almost felt sorry for them. Sitting on a couch in the living room, he realized why gambling didn’t work. No one could leave well enough alone. No one could take their winnings and stop. What kept the bookies in business was the tendency of gamblers like Harry and Peanut to keep betting until they lost. It didn’t matter how much they got ahead. They were going to lose it. Amon saw that as if it were etched in stone.
Amon was still happy the Redskins were going to win, but the plight of his friends, both of whom he had known all his life, dampened it a little. He didn’t rub it in.
The two doomed bettors came back to life, Lazarus-like, when they realized they could reduce their debt if the two teams could combine for only seven more points in the second half. It was unlikely that the demoralized Broncos were going to score again unless the Redskins inserted their extra-point team on defense. The second half was played with both teams going up a down escalator. Football was a more gentlemanly game back then. Joe Gibbs just toned down the offense into run mode, and Timmy Smith ran the Broncos and the clock. The third quarter was scoreless, but the Redskins were the only team moving. With five hundred important dollars riding on the two teams scoring more than fifty-one points, Harry and Peanut needed a touchdown. They were no longer Denver fans. Nor were they fans of the Redskins’ kicker, Ali Haji-Sheikh, which was probably convenient since neither knew how to say his name, let alone spell it. A field goal wouldn’t help.
In the fourth quarter, the Redskins drove down the field one last time, and not even Gibbs’ conservative play calling could slow them down. Smith took a handoff from Williams, up a sieve in the Denver defensive line, leaped into the air, and landed in the end zone. Harry and Peanut tried to get up and exchange a high five, but they missed because they were too drunk, and then they realized they needed Haji-Sheikh to kick the extra point. They liked him now.
It split the uprights. The final score wound up being Washington forty-two, Denver ten. Harry Ridges, whose nickname was “Ruffles,” and Peanut Brill, whose real name was Ronald, played against type as the happiest men in America, all for the heady rush of losing a mere 1,600 dollars on the Super Bowl.
Apiece, as Amon later heard.
Apparently, “Ruffles” Ridges didn’t have it to spare. Five weeks later, he got picked up trying to sell pot to an undercover cop. Amon had never known him to smoke pot. Then again, who advertised it? He figured some bookie forced him into it, and that it sure beat broken kneecaps. It got plea-bargained down. He never served time. Amon didn’t really know if they ever quit betting. He never went to another Super Bowl party.
I had to kill all this time somehow. I hope you find this piece of short fiction timely, and I hope you don’t find yourself in Ruffles’ and Peanut’s predicament. I also hope you’ll visit my non-fiction site, www.montedutton.com, and consider buying my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1