Can Football ’’Experts” Pick ’em? Don’t Bet On It

When the NFL strike ended, your betting fever returned with the force of a Bill Bates tackle. But this time, you started with a clean slate, determined to load up and recoup those earlier losses. Then came that devilish wind in the Meadowlands.. .a freakish tipped pass for an interception in Miami. . .two absolutely illegal calls by the #@*!&C* refs in the Raider game. . and you’re in debt to your bookie again. You’ve got a bad case of pigskin prognos-ticosis.

In search of those can’t-miss winners, you flip open the ports pages of the local dailies, seeking wisdom from the likes of Skip Bayless and Frank Luksa of the Times Herald and Randy Galloway of the Morning New. These guys live and breathe sports. If anybody knows whether to take the Oklahoma Sooners, a forty-four-point favorite against the Fighting Game Hens of Comish College, these guys know. So you scan the News’s “Pro Selections” and the Herald’s “Pick-It Line” and get ready to follow suit.

“That was your first mistake,” says Randy Galloway, a News staffer for twenty-one years. Galloway has been picking more than 200 games a season for the past five years and his accumulated wisdom, he says, can be squeezed into this nutshell: “The line makes fools of us all.”

The “line,” for the uninitiated, is the official oddsmakers’ betting line set in Las Vegas, which both local papers reprint each day. Galloway knows that when the wizards of Vegas install one team as a favorite and the other as an underdog, they do all they can to make every game an even-and attractive- matchup. He used to bet games with a bookie fifteen or twenty years ago, but no more. “Now the bookie lives in the South of France,” he says. “I still live in Grand Prairie.”

And Galloway says it doesn’t help much for the sporting press to know who’s got momentum and who’s running a new double-wing slantback attack and who usually wins on artificial turf following a Monday night road game with a team that has never won its division in an odd-numbered year.

“We know our stuff, but the oddsmakers know their stuff, too,” Galloway says. As proof, he offers his own yearly records: he’s finished over .500 three times and under .500 twice. His best win-loss record for a season put him at six games over .500. No real bettor could move into Ross Perot’s neighborhood on winnings like that; remember, most bookies charge a 10 percent “juice” on each losing bet. That means .550 is just the break-even point. Unless the pigeon-er, bettor-can win more than that, he won’t make a penny.

Of course, there’s a major difference between sportswriters picking for fun and real gamblers picking for funds. Galloway and the others “pick the card” each week, meaning a writer makes selections on all fourteen pro games and twenty college contests, “Nobody trying to make a living at this would ever pick all fourteen games,” Galloway says. “Maybe you’d make one big play and a couple of smaller ones. But fourteen games? The percentages say we’re dead meat.”

Like the Cowboys, Galloway is coming off a horrible year due largely to one 3-11 week followed by a Black Sunday on which he fell to 2-11. And like Tom Landry, he has no brand new system designed to bring in more winners this year. “It’s a dart throw,” Galloway says. “Sometimes I look at my record and think, ’People out there are living and dying on this?’ “

Skip Bayless of the Times Herald has similar fears about being mistaken for an expert in such a risky business. “Three years ago I almost opted out of it,” Bayless says. “I was afraid that people would put too much credence in what I said.” Bayless, like Galloway, is a scarred survivor of the betting scene. “I went cold turkey years ago. I’m out of it. It’s total insanity”

As for the public’s belief that sportswriters can sidle up to Landry or Randy White and get the inside stuff, forget it, Bayless says. “The Cowboys players are the last ones to know what they’ll do in an upcoming game.” Even the injury reports may deceive. Often, Bayless says, a team with a key player injured may gut it up and play harder to compensate for the loss. A backup who’s been languishing on the bench may hear opportunity knocking and perform miracles.

Bayless’s colleague Frank Luksa admits he’s no more omniscient than his fellow forecasters. “I analyze power ratings, condition of the field, previous games, all-time records, and the solunar tables. Nothing seems to help,” says Luksa, who is happy to finish around .500 each year. “I’ll tell you how I’ve done over the years. We had a guy call up here a few years ago and ask whether Luksa was in cahoots with the bookies.”

Odds-ly enough, Galloway has a grudging admiration for the bookies who fleece millions of willing victims. “That line may be the last bastion of accuracy in America,” he says. “Year after year, you can’t trust the White House, you can’t trust the stock market, but that line is usually right, week after week.”

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