LAS VEGAS -- A lot of people like to knock my "dog-or-pass" betting philosophy, so it was great to hear it supported by none other than Hall of Fame coach Don Shula (via Larry King) last Friday night on the "Olbermann" show on ESPN2.
For those who didn't see it: King, the retired talk-show host, was pinch hitting for Keith Olbermann while KO was moonlighting with the MLB playoffs on TBS. King, who worked in Miami before becoming a national figure, told the story of how he was covering a "Monday Night Football" game between the Dolphins and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 3, 1973. A friend of his had bet $20,000 on the Dolphins minus-5 and they took a 30-3 halftime lead.
Terry Bradshaw rallied the Steelers, and the score was 30-24 in the closing minutes, so King's friend was happy as the Dolphins were still covering the 5-point spread. But then, with just over a minute left, instead of punting from deep in their own territory, the Dolphins took an intentional safety with quarterback Bob Griese taking an intentional safety.
"The Dolphins win 30-26," King said. "My friend laid 5. They won by 4. He lost $20,000.
"Later, I'm flying on a plane with Don Shula going to another game and I'm talking about betting. Don, the great coach, never bet. And I told him what happened with my friend. So Don said to me, 'Now wait a minute. He bet on the Dolphins. We're all jumping up and down. We won, and he lost. That doesn't make any sense.' He said, 'If I were betting' -- and he's not a betting man -- 'I would only bet football if I loved the underdog. If you love the underdog, then you're getting points. But to lay points is insane.'"
That's a big part of the reason I stick with underdogs. You know their goal (to win the game or to get back in it) works in concert with yours. Meanwhile, the favorite's main goal is getting a win, and a one-point victory counts the same as any other. Sure, there are times we see favorites tack on one last score that just so happens to cover the spread. People certainly joke that the coach did it for the alumni in college or their fans in the pros (and I'm not naïve enough to say that that never happens). However, usually the main incentive is to just ensure the victory. But if ensuring that victory means playing prevent defense and letting the opposition get in the back door or taking an intentional safety, the favorite isn't working in your best interest.
OK, so it hasn't been working so well for yours truly so far this season, but I know that it's the right approach over the long term -- and who's going to debate Don Shula on this?
I had another subpar week last week at 3-5. But at one point early in the third quarters of the Sunday afternoon games, it looked like the Broncos were going to pull away and blow out the Cowboys and the Cardinals were struggling with the Panthers. I was 1-4 at that point and starting to fear that I might be 1-6 with just one game to go. So, considering that, 3-5 doesn't seem so bad. Hopefully the turnaround starts this week.
Programming Note: I'm no longer eligible for ESPN.com's "Streak for the Cash" contest, but they've asked me to suggest some plays. This is different from picking games against the spread (especially since they mostly have you pick games straight-up and the games are pretty closer to pick 'em), but it's all about win percentages/odds, so I'll tackle those at the end of the column. Good luck.