Tuesday, August 11, 2009

then you're crazy

There were many sport fans who looked forward to Sunday night August 9th because after six months of deprivation an NFL football game was broadcast. For true zealots this meaningless exhibition game provided an instant fix and, moreover, signalled the beginning of a stream of games that would help pass the time between August and February. Such fans count the months between the superbowl and preseason football like an inmate counting the days before a release from jail.

I watched only parts of the game because, at the same time on Sunday, the Boston Red Sox were on the air playing and losing to the Yankees. I thought that, perhaps, the Sox might even score a run during their game a feat that they could not manage to accomplish in fifteen innings on Friday and nine on Saturday. The Sox did muster a score in the 8th inning on Sunday, but managed to lose regardless.

I switched channels during the Red Sox disappointment to catch snippets of the football game. At one point I saw that the Titans were ahead of the Bills by a score of 21-9. The next morning I saw that the final was 21-18, a peculiar result given the 21-9 earlier score. I figured either that the Bills must have kicked three field goals to get to 18, or kicked one field goal, scored a touchdown but missed the two point conversion--this combination would also yield 18 points.

Neither was the case and what actually occurred is central to a point made in the Madness of March.

Last night just before I succumbed to slumber, I flipped the remote to the NFL channel. There a replay of the exhibition game was being broadcast. When I tuned in, there were only 40 seconds or so left on the clock and the score was 21-16. The Titans had the ball. I was almost positive that I had heard the final to be 21-18, so with 40 seconds left to go the only way the score could get to 21-18 would be if the Titans somehow were to give up two points to a safety. But the Titans were at midfield.

With only a few seconds left, the Titans faced a fourth down. The score remained 21-16. The Titans got into punt formation and I understood before it happened what would occur.

The game was a meaningless exhibition game, but even so the Titans wanted to simulate a real situation. With the score 21-16 and only a few seconds left, there was only one way the Titans could lose. If they punted and the Bills ran it back for a touchdown, or blocked the punt and ran it back for a touchdown, the Bills would win.

So what the Titans did, intelligently, was have their punter take the hike and run the "wrong way" into the end zone. This play would give up two points, but exhaust the clock. Therefore the Titans would win. The two points given up to the safety were meaningless.

They were not meaningless everywhere. Last night I heard broadcaster Al Michaels call the play and say something to the effect of "Well there might be some people who consider that safety significant, but if you do then you're crazy."

Even before he said this, I wondered if the safety would affect bettors who had wagered on the game. It had. The spread was 3 points. That safety resulted in a tie and a push.

Michaels was suggesting--and not incorrectly--that anyone who bets on an exhibition game is crazy. He is not incorrect for two reasons. The first is that exhibition games are so unpredictable. You never know what players are going to play and for how long. Second, maybe there is something a little off kilter about your hobbies if you feel you must place a bet on an exhibition game.

In watching games for several years now with an eye toward how bettors are affected, it almost never seems to me as if the coaches are concerned with the spread. It was a good football move to take the safety. Coach Jeff Fisher would have pleased those who bet on his team to punt the ball away, but I don't think who bet on what was a concern to him.

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