Let me preface everything you’re about to read by saying I am not a person who is filled with hate. Strong dislike? Sure. Occasional disgust? You
betcha. But hate? I may say the word often, but I don’t mean it.
So who am I exactly? I’m a sports fan… Wait, wait. What precisely does a “fan”
entail? You know what, forget it, that’s another discussion with an endlessly open forum. But I’m a guy who likes sports a whole heck of a lot. By nature, by trade, and by George, I’m a Baltimore native and, hence, a supporter of all of our sports teams. Or, better yet, both of them.
Growing up I was always attached to the Orioles. In my teens, the Ravens arrived, and the latter has delivered me two championships while the former hasn’t won one since a year before I came into existence. And, as a matter of fact, the Orioles’ shortcomings essentially led me to why you and I are here.
In the winter of 2002, the nation was still recovering from the aftermath of 9/11. Sports, as it has always been, was a way to heal. So like just about everyone watching Super Bowl XXXVI, I was rooting for the underdog, Cinderella New England Patriots. Come again? Yes, underdog and Cinderella, against the big, bad St. Louis Rams. Seriously? Yes, there was a time when this parallel universe was a reality.
When the Patriots shocked the world (but not themselves, as Adam Vinatieri reminded us) and beat the Rams, 20-17, I was elated. If my Ravens, as defending champs that year, couldn’t win it all, let me and football fans
everywhere have a happy ending to a football season marred by a horrible tragedy.
Fast forward two years, however, and I was singing a completely different
tune about those same Patriots. I cringed when Vinatieri booted aside the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII in February, 2004, and was too inebriated to fully grasp their dynasty status until the next day when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles a year later. But one thing was well known at that point: I hated the New England Patriots.
Pretty soon, my disdain for the Patriots had expanded to the other pro sports teams in the region. Remember that just three months earlier, the Red Sox had ended their 86-year “curse.” At first, it was a minor annoyance to a college kid. But as the Orioles and Ravens continued to mire themselves in mediocrity, I turned my attention elsewhere. Namely, to the other things that drew me to sports. In football, it was the parity the league seemed to be
experiencing at the turn of the century.
Now bear in mind, not I – nor anyone – should believe that sports are “fair” in any way. But call me crazy. I got a kick out of the first full football season I ever watched, 1999, ending with the most fairy tale finish ever (you know, the one where the guy who was bagging groceries a short time ago ends up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy). And a year later, the Ravens won it all. Life was good, and football was even better.
And then came the Patriots. The same Patriots who brought us Spygate, the coach who hates the general public, the quarterback who is such a perfect specimen you have to wonder if he’s human, the team that bends (but apparently doesn’t break) almost every rule in the book, like using illegal footballs in an AFC championship game and claiming injured players off waivers to keep them from putting those players on injured reserve. You know, those guys.
It was always painful to see them win. When Boston sports as a whole took on a monopoly-like status – the Red Sox winning another World Series in 2007, the Celtics’ Big Three title in 2008, the Bruins bringing the Stanley Cup home in 2011 – it became almost unbearable. The constant media drooling. The “B” is for “bandwagon” hats, shirts, and fanny packs everywhere. The inability to avoid a reference on your local news, let alone Conan or Leno (and where do you think they’re from?). If I was going to keep watching sports with any kind of delectation, a more intricate plan than “acceptance” needed to be put into place.
Everyone has their own views on gambling, but this is hardly the time or place to delve into the morality aspect. After all, it’s permitted me to continue to watching sports at a tolerable pace.
You know the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” Well, I simply dropped an “a”from the word “beat” and found the magic formula. See, to some, sports are entertainment. To others, they are a welcome distraction. To a select group like myself, they are a bit like religion.
Initially, “spite betting” was done in small increments. After all, a poor college student living alone in a foreign country didn’t have more than $50 to throw around on a game. The year was 2007, and it started out innocently, with a few small wagers on regular-season games. Then for kicks, it was $100 on the World Series, which the Red Sox won without breaking a sweat.
Of course, I was reminded a few months later in the Super Bowl that nothing is guaranteed. Ah, you remember that Super Bowl don’t you? When the Giants denied the Patriots the perfect* season. (No, that asterisk is not a typo.) That year had a happy ending, but there would be more battles to be won (by Boston teams, presumably).
So the dollar amounts gradually increased, but never to an exceedingly high amount. Even the Celtics and Bruins wins and Patriots AFC championship and near-Super Bowl win in early 2012 against the Giants (thank you again, Big Blue) only netted three figures. But that all changed with the worst-to-first Red Sox of 2013.
There was something strange I felt after Boston finished in last place in 2012. Was it joy? Of course. But what was it really? The prevailing emotion was paranoia, perpetuated by the Sox’s flurry of free agent moves that offseason. The franchise had missed the postseason three straight years, including an epic collapse in 2011 after a similar barrage of moves the winter prior. Something was amiss, but I was sure the Red Sox wouldn’t a-miss the playoffs in 2013.
Okay, by now you’re probably wondering why another Boston victory parade would grind my gears so much. Fair question, but with no adequate answer. But read on… So, as the season played out in my mind, worst to first, return to glory, yada yada yada, I decided to play my hunch. And what better time, when the whole world was writing them off and Vegas set them at 30/1 to win the World Series. So what would $400 really be in the grand scheme of things to have the powers that be prove that there is not, in fact, a Boston sports conspiracy.
So with that $12,000 prospect floating, the Sox did what they hadn’t
done in recent years: start fast. But it wasn’t until another horrible tragedy hit that set the wheels in motion. “Boston Strong” became a mantra for the community, and it wasn’t long (and by that I mean instantaneously) before it became an unofficial rallying cry for the Red Sox, whose fans were undoubtedly feeling another curse coming on after six long, hard, banner-less years at the Fens.
And so the season wore on. As the Orioles dropped back to the pack after a magical year, the Red Sox were off and running. Another night, another hero. Walk-off thrillers, comebacks, celebrations galore.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime. With the Red Sox undoubtedly playoff-bound at the very least, I would not suffer any financial loss, because I could simply hedge my bet with such a disparity between initial investment and prospective payout. With each passing round, I was guaranteed something for a season of misery. After treading lightly through the American League playoffs, I took Big Papi’s epic, game-tying grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS as a sign that I was going to be proven right.
Once the World Series arrived, I was actually staring at a jackpot closer to $20,000, so I was able to pad my stats, so to speak, with $5,000 on another loathsome team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Still, I never once thought I was going to lose, because I was putting my faith in the ultimate sports winners.
And so it was. A win in a season of loss. Was it a fluke? Apparently not, because the Patriots made me look brilliant once again. No, this won’t happen every year, and there could be some drawbacks. Except that there haven’t been, and the strategy has been flawless from a personal standpoint.
Sports are never fair, but for yours truly, this is as close as I’m going to get.