You Better, You Bet

Now Playing: Should’ve Been in Love, by Wilco. “You been dealing with all of these feelings, Like they got you believing they have no meaning, But they do. Your life’s been stinking, your heart’s been sinking, And you’re too busy thinking to stop. You blink and you’re blue.”

I’m not by nature much of a betting man. When I’m absolutely sure of something, I bet my kids a quarter. And usually don’t make ’em pay, unless they’ve pissed me off that day.

But I have made a couple of bigger bets. As it happens, they revolve around the NCAA basketball tournament, which begins tomorrow (don’t fear, this isn’t really about basketball). That’s right, I don’t count the loser leave town games that started last night. Didn’t watch ’em, don’t care about ’em.

It was during the 1981-82 basketball season. I was working at the Jacksonville newspaper then, and I knew we had a good team. On this particular day, I think it might have been in late January, after we’d lost for the first time that season (to Wake Forest), I was walking through the advertising department. That wasn’t something I usually did – I wasn’t crazy about the vast majority of those folks, as no good newsman is – when I heard one of the advertisers braying about the Carolina loss.

If I didn’t interact with the ad reps, I really didn’t interact with the advertisers. This one worked, I think, for a local grocery chain. He kept on and on about the Tar Heels being no good and – the ultimate sacrilege – added that Dean Smith couldn’t coach. I didn’t know the guy at all.

But I got my back up. I told him we were going to win the championship that year. He said, “You wanna bet on it.” Now this is the ultimate sucker bet, taking one team against the field. But I was mad, and I have a bad habit – that I’m still trying to change – of not backing down when I’m mad. So I said, “Sure.” He said, “How about $100?” Now keep in mind I was a young journalist, without a pot to piss in. $100 was a lot of money for me to risk. But also remember, I was mad – and stupid. “You’re on,” I said, rushing over to shake on it before he (or I) could back down. Keep in mind that I didn’t even know his name.

The sales rep working with him, a guy named Bill Likens, was mortified. Bill was a Carolina fan, too, but I didn’t like him very much. He wore sweater vests, for Pete’s sake. After the client left, he came over to ask what I thought I was doing. And to remind me that if I lost, I had to pay off. I grumbled to him that he shouldn’t worry about my business and a few other things under my breath. He would remind me of the bet several times the rest of the season and again warn me that I had to pay.

Of course, as it turned out, it was a good bet. The Tar Heels won the championship, and the next day, the advertiser came to the office, and stretched his hand into the newsroom. There was a $100 bill in it. He didn’t speak, and I didn’t gloat. Really.

The other bet on the tourney came a few years later, also at the Jacksonville paper. The NCAA tourney had taken off, and we did a tab on it every year that came out in between Selection Sunday and the first games on Thursday. It was back in the dark ages when there was no Internet, so it was good info for our readers. I always wrote a prediction column because I was a huge college-basketball fan at the time.

Anyway, this particular year, I think it was 1989 (actually I looked it up, it WAS 1989 – I just didn’t want you know how obsessive I am), I predicted that Florida State would lose to Middle Tennessee State. It was a huge upset. And the pick angered one of my reporters, Melissa Jaggers, who was an alumnus of FSU. Melissa resembled a young Shelley Long, and she enjoyed being told that. She was married to a Navy doctor named Floyd, and I couldn’t help but think of Floyd the barber on The Andy Griffith Show every time I heard his name (as it turned out, Floyd the Doctor wasn’t a miserable, deceitful wretch – he was a really nice and good-looking guy).

At any rate, Melissa wanted to bet. This time I made the terms (I really was pretty confident, and I didn’t want it to cost her too badly). So I bet pizza for the newsroom that Friday night, when only a few of us would be working. She accepted.

And I got to say, my slices tasted awfully good.


“Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.” – W.C. Fields


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