A heckuva Monday mood after Week 16 

December, 28, 2009

Yesterday was a magical day for me. And since this is the Monday Mood column, I can say that my mood is splendid.

For longer than the Indianapolis Colts have been blowing historical seasons by sitting starters, I've had a head-to-head, against-the-spread NFL betting contest with my best friend. I don't want to embarrass him, so let's just call him Matt and say he lives in Marin County and is a big-time muckety muck in the tech industry and drives a ridiculously nice Audi with an engine as powerful as a Porsche's; that way, he can have a high-performance vehicle and put the kids in the backseat. Oh wait, that's all true.

Anyway, most years I lose to Matt -- usually by a game and usually in the last week of the season. It is a crushing, heart-wrenching, want-to-snap-at-your-wife-and-kids way to lose, especially every year and especially to your best friend, who will talk about it incessantly -- like the time he beat you in one-on-one in his driveway by hitting a Danny Manning-at-Kansas fadeaway from the corner, practically under the eaves of his garage where the shot is impossible to block.

The beauty of our little contest is that no money changes hands. It's all about pride and bragging rights. At the end of the year the winner sends the loser a second-place trophy. The more outrageous the better. After I had one particularly bad season, Matt sent me six metal, bobble-head football trophies for losing in six different categories: Overall, most weeks lost, fewest wins in one week, etc. They now line the office in my house and my young sons like to play with them by making the heads bob back and forth. Every couple of weeks they'll ask me what the trophies are for -- they forget a lot -- and my wife will start laughing. She thinks mine and Matt's contest is idiotic. The fact it costs the winner a small fortune at the end of the year means she might be right.

But this season I've been killing it, all year. I'm sure it has to do with all the gambling reporting I do. Unless you're my kids, you can't help but soak up all the knowledge the wise guys and bookmakers share every week. At one point I was up 13 games. And while I've been up big before, I have a Cubs-like ability to collapse when it counts. But not this year. Heading into this weekend's games, I was up by nine. Matt is convinced I'm not just learning from the sharps, but actually having them make my picks. Silly man. He's just looking for excuses.

This was a crucial weekend. If I held my ground or better, I'd feel pretty good going into Week 17. Matt and I pick every game on the schedule. Usually we are on different sides in eight or nine tilts, and on average one of us ends up ahead a game or two for the week. Blowouts, though, do occur, and it's not unheard of for either of us to pick up three or four games in a weekend. I couldn't afford that kind of collapse in the penultimate week of the season. Then my head would be spinning for the final games. Gambling is nothing more than a mind game.