At 7-to-1, the San Diego Chargers are a good team to take on any day of the week, except Sundays, when they play a 7-3 Broncos team and are tied to a three-way parlay with the woeful Jets and historically awful Browns. People will get nervous when you start counting out bills and talk about taking three sub-.500 teams to cover against obvious favorites; they’ll stand close to the phone and tell their children to gather up all the knives and bury them in the backyard. It isn’t in mental range of the average football fan to accept a trip like that, and even a seasoned sports book might be hesitant to just take your money. Lunatics, as a rule, don’t make it very far in the world of professional football; nine times out of ten they end up on the outskirts of Oakland babbling uncontrollably about Rich Gannon and a 2003 Raiders team that was flogged on national television by their former coach and a four-point underdog from Tampa Bay.
But that was then and this is now; the Chargers covered the Broncos by a half point in Week 11 and the Jets trounced the Rams. Cleveland covered the Cowboys and I embarrassed many people waiting on standby in an airport bar where they wouldn’t accept tips and everyone coughed nervously into their sleeves. The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving have never been good for flyers; it's a dangerous time to be in the air travel business, and most things are best left unsaid when you’re sitting idle at a crowded crossroads of the Western hemisphere. Nobody is comfortable around a surly journalist who seems hell-bent on backing a perennial loser like the Browns and then tying them to two 4-6 teams like the Chargers and Jets.
“But so what?” I said. “The Broncos will choke in the final six weeks of the season and Peyton Manning's lifeless corpse will be dragged through the streets of New Orleans and beaten mercilessly like a piñata by the Ravens who will go on to stomp Jay Cutler like the silly little goofball he is.”
“Jesus, that’s a heavy trip to lay on these people,” said a small New Zealand man sitting next to me. “You’ll throw these poor bastards into a frenzy if you keep talking like that. They’ll be calling for blood.”
“Never mind blood,” I said, “they’ll want the pineal gland. These freaks won’t waste their time purifying all the blood they’ll need to pacify themselves during routine stopovers in Dallas and New York.”
The New Zealander was a short, tanned man somewhere in his late thirties. He had on a giant wool pullover and one of those outback hats made from real kangaroo hide tipped back on his head. He was wearing shorts, an otherwise odd choice in the middle of November, and a pair of worn Converse running shoes. “Name’s Jake,” he said, staring up at the disaster playing out in St. Louis. “They told me not to take the Rams, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”
“Taking the Rams is never right,” I said. “People like you are the reason this country’s economy is in the shitter.”
“Not me,” he said. “My business is recession-proof. A fleet of 40 or 50 Saint Bernards in places like Switzerland and the Yukon, totally self-sufficient and wild.” His eyes lit up, but he never took them off his drink. “They run drugs and confidential documents across international borders around the clock, only stopping in the spring to eat their young when no one else is around to hear them cry.”
And just like that, six or maybe ten Black Ops agents dressed in sleek gray Kevlar swarmed the bar and began beating the man with 10,000-volt cattle prods and menacing-looking clubs. I fell out of my seat, slopping five-dollar gin everywhere when one of them backhanded me across the chest hoping to get in one last good swing before the man blacked out and wouldn’t feel the pain. The rest of the bar continued on with their casual conversation, ignoring the brutal scene playing out as if they knew the whole thing was coming. This was, after all, a criminal, a dangerous felon, and if it meant he wouldn’t be sitting next to them on a 10 hour flight across the Pacific, well then, he deserved to be beaten to within an inch of his life.
“Jesus,” I said, “what the fuck is wrong with you people,” still regaining my balance and swinging my head violently, looking for the second wave. “You’re just gonna let them cart off some helpless dog breeder? Who the fuck is next?” But they had already carried off his limp body and the bar had returned to normal when the waiter came around with a damp rag to sop up the blood left soaking through the hardwood.
I left, without leaving a tip, and made a mental note to never wear shorts in an airport.
This Week's Lines:
Oakland (+8) over Cincinnati, Pittsburgh (-1) over Cleveland, Tennessee (-3) over Jacksonville, Chicago (-2.5) over Minnesota, Atlanta (-1) over Tampa Bay, Miami (+3) over Seattle, Baltimore (-1) over San Diego, St Louis (+2.5) over Arizona, Indianapolis (-3) over Buffalo, New Orleans (+1) over San Francisco, Green Bay (+3) over New York, Philadelphia (+2) over Carolina, Denver (-10.5) over Kansas City.
Last Week: 10-3
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