Tuesday, February 05, 2008
The New York Giants pulled off what many are calling the biggest upset in Super Bowl history. Nope. I know better. That’s because I was a major participant in a much bigger upset. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you all about it.
Boston Latin was, and is, the most prestigious high school in the city of Boston. It is the Harvard of high schools. Founded in 1635 - one year prior to Harvard's founding - its list of attendees includes many notables: Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Leonard Bernstein, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Arthur Fiedler, George Santayana, Robert Treat Paine, and Joseph P. Kennedy, among others.
In order to attend Boston Latin, one must pass an entrance examination. In 1968, I took that examination and passed it.
(That was a pretty big upset in itself, but I digress.)
I’ll tell you an amazing thing concerning that examination. In my Dorchester neighborhood, there were ten of us who were regularly together with each other – we played baseball, football and hockey; went bowling or to the movies; in more scholarly pursuits, we played chess, went to the library, and attended our neighborhood schools. Of those ten boys, four passed the Latin School examination. This means that 40% of the group I hung with went to Latin, whereas the citywide percentage of public school attendees who made it to Latin was about 8%.
Further unto the above, at that time only one other high school required passage of an examination for entrance. That was Boston Technical. Of the six remaining boys who didn’t pass the Latin exam, three passed the Tech exam. That’s 70% of us who were, according to the test results, in the top 15% or so of male students in the Boston school system. One of our ten attended Catholic schools, so he was already planning on going to Don Bosco. He didn’t even attempt the tests. Take him out of the equation and the percentages become even more ridiculous.
(One maddening thing about the Boston Public School System is that there are a dearth of figures of this type available. I had to do some retrograde analysis to come up with the figures I'm using. If they're wildly incorrect, feel free to enlighten me.)
All of that background is given as proof that there were no dummies from my neighborhood. We were arguably the most innately intelligent group of boys within any two-block area of Boston. Of course, innate intelligence doesn’t always translate into real-world success. Take me for example. Nor does it guarantee that a person blessed with such intelligence will not do something entirely dopey once in a while. Again, take me for example. Take, for instance, the first bet I ever made on a Super Bowl game. Before I tell you about that, though, some further background is needed for you to fully appreciate the circumstances.
My Dad was a football fan. He had been a quarterback in high school and then played some semi-pro ball. When Boston became one of the eight cities given a franchise in the American Football League in 1960, my Dad automatically became a fan. The Boston Patriots (now, of course, the New England Patriots) became his favorite team.
He enjoyed watching NFL and college games on TV, but the AFL was HIS league. And, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and the AFL canceled their games for that week while the NFL played theirs, that sealed the deal. My father forever after considered the NFL classless and unpatriotic (no pun intended.) The AFL could do no wrong in his eyes.
Now, back to the future. I’m in my first year at Boston Latin. It was the only high school in the city that offered a six-year curriculum, so I'm in the 7th grade. I’m 11 years old. And the New York Jets of the AFL are playing the Baltimore Colts of the NFL in Super Bowl III.
The first two Super Bowls had been won, in convincing fashion, by the Green Bay Packers of the NFL. They weren’t really exciting contests. Green Bay, and thus the NFL, kicked the asses of the AFL teams all up and down the field. Going into this third Super Bowl, it was expected that the outcome would be very similar. Baltimore had been installed as an 18-point favorite over the Jets. Nobody outside of the most ardent AFL supporters gave the Jets any chance to win the game.
Well, my Dad was an ardent AFL supporter. As his son, so was I. He loved the Patriots and cursed the NFL. Again, so did I.
In my class at Boston Latin, there was a 12-year-old making book on the game.
(Yes, a 12-year-old bookie. It was Boston Latin; we were ahead of the curve.)
This kid was sharp. He knew that just about everybody in school was an AFL fan. He went around telling everybody that the Colts would win. He insulted the AFL at every opportunity. He played us like Rachmaninoff played the piano. He goaded us and prodded us and infuriated us, and he got what he wanted. Everybody – and I mean everybody in the class – bet on the Jets. And...
(This is the genius of it. I still hardly believe he suckered us in like this, but he certainly did.)
He got all of us to take the Jets STRAIGHT UP. No point spread. No odds. Nothing to even the playing field. He had managed to get around $500 worth of action on an 18-point favorite without having to give the 18 points. It was a bravura performance.
Of course, if you’re any sort of student of football history, you know that he lost his ass. The New York Jets beat the Baltimore Colts in what was, to that point, the biggest upset in professional football history. That one game, more than any other thing, resulted in the NFL and AFL merging to become the National Football League we know today. It made Joe Namath a legend. And it won me ten bucks that I had no right in the world to have won.
I’ll give the kid this: he was no welcher. He paid off every cent of what he had lost. I have little doubt about him having won it all back, with interest, later. I’m sure almost everybody he paid became a sucker for other propositions. I might be the only one who really beat him in the long run. That’s because while my Dad was a rabid AFL fan, he was no dummy. And I was no dummy after he educated me.
We’re sitting there watching the Jets pull off this miracle. I knew my Dad bet on football. It was hard not to know, even at my age. If he had a bet on a televised game, he surely wasn’t quiet about it. He cheered when good things happened and cursed - loudly - when his team screwed up. He obviously had a bet on the Jets. So, when the Jets went ahead by 13 points, I couldn’t help bragging. I told him that I had a bet on the game, too.
He was in a good mood because the AFL team was winning. He was in an even better mood because he was winning. He turned and gave me a bemused look. I suppose he might have thought I had bet a quarter or a pack of baseball cards or something similarly consistent with being an 11-year-old. When I told him I had bet ten dollars on the game, his eyes popped.
"TEN dollars?" he asked, incredulously. I only got an allowance of five a week, and that had to cover my school lunches, carfare, and other expenses. And he probably hadn’t bet much more than ten dollars on the game himself.
"Yup," I said, proudly.
"How many points did you get?"
"Did you get 18 points? 19? You didn’t just take 17, did you?"
"I don’t understand. I bet on the Jets to win. Why do I need 17 points?"
It dawned on him that his son was an idiot.
"Jesus Christ! You... NO points? Jesus, Mary and Joseph! NO POINTS?!?"
I still didn’t know what he was talking about. He realized this and then he gave me an earful. If the Jets had been losing, he would have skinned me alive. As it was, he had been enjoying the game immensely, knowing that he had an 18-point cushion in addition to the actual lead the Jets had over Baltimore, but now he knew that his son was facing financial ruin – ruin that HE would likely have to cover somehow – if the Jets didn’t win the game outright. His enjoyment had been diminished significantly. Now he was sweating the game – for my sake.
Of course, the Jets won. I won. My Dad won. The AFL won. And I learned everything an 11-year-old could possibly want to know about point spreads, odds, the inadvisability of betting sums larger than what you could afford to pay off, and other invaluable nuggets of information that would stand me in good stead later on in life.
The biggest upset? No, it wasn’t the Jets beating Baltimore, nor was it me winning the bet, although that was something. It was the fact that I won the bet and got paid. I mean, this kid had taken $500 worth of action. He was 12, for goodness’ sakes. Where in hell did he get the cash to settle up with all of us?
(Maybe his dad, now that I think of it.)
Soon, with more better stuff.