BETTING THE OTHER WAY / Bet On Crazy by Peter Nolan Smith

Betting on the Superbowl has been an American tradition since the first game in 1967. Betting was another part of that tradition and for two weeks before the Big Game the diamond dealers and jewelers had been wagering bets on pools, the point spread, the over-under, which teams scores first, and the MVP. Some claimed to have a system, but Richie Boy and I bet the Superbowl according to the Manny Principle, which was that his father, Manny, had never won a bet on the NFL’s final game.

1990s championship game posed the 49ers against the Broncos in New Orleans. All week Richie Boy’s older brother, Googs, Domingo, and I had been badgering the diamond dealer for his pick and on Friday afternoon we intensified the pressure.

“Who you like?” Richie Boy liked to get things out in the open.

“Anytime I tell you, I lose.” Manny told us on Friday.

“But if you lose, we win.” Googs had won $1000 betting on the 49ers 19 1/2 point advantage over the Chargers.

“And I didn’t see a penny from any of you gonifs.” The sixty year-old Brownsville native wasn’t superstitious, but this losing streak was a long-running joke amongst his friends and family. “You’re invited to watch the game at my apartment. There’ll be food, booze, and a big TV, but you want to make a bet, use your head not mine.”

Manny sat at his desk and didn’t speak to us for the rest of the day. Richie made two sales on diamonds memoed from the Randolph firm across the aisle. Domingo and I spent the afternoon schlepping orders from the polishers to the setters to the polishers again and back to the store.

At closing we locked the goods in the safe and Manny paid our salaries. Normally we were out the door a second later, but not tonight.

“C’mon, Dad, give us a break.” Richie Boy was pleading on bended knees, which wasn’t easy since he had popped both ACLs in Jackson Hole the previous winter.

“What break?” Manny leaned back in his chair.

“You know.”

We weren’t the only ones waiting for his prediction. Mr. Randolph had his hearing aid turned up to 10. The Jamaican guard was eavesdropping at the counter and we all turned our heads to a knock on the door.

A tall man was standing outside. It was Uncle Seymour. The guard unlocked the door. Manny took one look at his lanky brother and said angrily, “You don’t come to see me here all year and now you show up like a long-lost shoe.”

“Don’t have a cow.” Seymour was a die-hard gambler. “I was only passing by.”

“Passing by, my brother, the ex-cop, passing by on the way back from the track.”

“Ain’t no racing this time of year.” The ex-cop loved the horses and donated a smaller share of his pension to OTB. Seymour turned to Richie Boy. “He’s not telling us, is he?”

“No.” Richie Boy shook his head. “The old bastard thinks he’ll win, if he doesn’t tell us.”

“Win?” Seymour laughed as only an older brother can laugh at his younger brother.

“What?” Manny was hot. “You think I can’t win on this bet?”

“Manny, I love you, but you haven’t won a Superbowl bet since the Jets lost to the Colts.”

“That’s not Manny’s fault.” I had to defend my boss on this point. Maybe he’d give me his bet and I could double up on the $500 in my pocket.

“Ass-kisser.” Googs called them as he saw them.

“No, Manny was fucked by a fixed game.”

“They don’t fix the Superbowl.” Seymour’s statement was more a question than a challenge.

“No, four years ago I’m sitting at a hotel in Paris. I run into Bubba Smith of the Baltimore Colts who’s promoting POLICE ACADEMY and I ask him after a few drinks, “How you lose that game to the Jets?” At first I thought he would take off my head, instead he whispered, “They got to the quarterbacks.”

“Quarterbacks?” Seymour remembered his name.

“Both of them.” The bookies had threatened to kill their families. Manny’s streak was intact according to my reckoning.

“They fixed the quarterback?” Manny had won a G on that bet.

“Why you think Joe Namath was so confident. He knew the fix was in.”

“It was only one game.”

“What about 1979? All the smart money went on Pittsburgh to cover the 3.5 spread, then the bookies stretched it to 4.5. You might remember the game but Dallas trailed 35-17 with 7 minutes left, but somehow come back to score 2 TDs and beat the spread, fucking everyone who bet the Steelers.”

“I lost that bet too.” Manny pounded his desk. He hated the bookies.

“I won.” I knew Manny thanks to his brother working with me at Hurrah, a punk disco on West 62nd Street and had bet my salary on Seymour’s recommendation of the Manny Principle.

“Dad, you’re gonna lose. Nothing you do can stop you losing the Superbowl.” Googs was in debt to his car dealer. “I win and I’m good for the winter. Think of your kids. Me and Richie.”

Manny eyed us all. Domingo and I were almost family. “No.”

“Dad,” Richie Boy spoke with a soft tone that he used it to close deals. “How much you gonna bet. $500? $1000. You tell us your choice and we’ll make good your loss.”

“A real hero.” Manny waggled his head in defiance. “You want me to lose.”

“I don’t want you to lose, but you’re going to lose.” Richie held up 10 C-notes. “You lose every year. Not on everything. Just the Superbowl. We’ll make good for you.”

“You want me to bet. I lose the bet and then you pay me the money.”

“Simple. You come out ahead.”

“What makes you so sure that I won’t win this year.”

“Manny?” Richie Boy, Googs, and Seymour shrugged sympathetically in unison.

“I can’t win with you guys. I bet the Broncos.” He threw his hands in the air and stood up to get his coat.

“You bet the Broncos?” Seymour demanded incredulously, since the 49ers had lost their two regular season games by only 5 total points. “You know something we don’t know.”

“Only that John Elway is going to win a Super Bowl.” Manny pointed a finger at his son. “Okay big shot, just remember what you said, because this year I’m winning big.”

“Right.” Richie Boy and I nodded to each other and left to place our bets on the 49ers.

That Sunday we went to Manny’s apartment in Grammercy Park. He had a spread from Little Italy on the table. The couch was big enough to take Googs, Seymour, Richie Boy, his wife from Buffalo, and his two high school friends; Werthel and RD.

“You watch. Denver’s gonna win.” Manny poured us wine.

“Better not.” Googs had everything riding on San Francisco.

“I can’t wait to hear your tears.”

Of course there was no weeping or gnashing of teeth. The 49ers blew out Denver.

“Thanks, Manny.” We were richer men for ignoring his advice.

Richie Boy paid his father $1000 for his loss and we drank the rest of the wine toasting Manny, but the diamond dealer was in too good a mood for my tastes and when we went out onto the balcony for some air, I asked, “Why you in such a good mood?”

“Because I bet the 49ers.” He checked to make sure no one was listening to this news.

“But you told us that you bet the Broncos?”

“And you believe everything someone tells you?” Manny liked answering a question with a question. “Don’t believe nothing and don’t tell anyone this either.”

“Why you tell me?”

“Because no matter if I tell you not to, I know you’ll tell your friend Richie that I bet on the 49ers and I want to see his face on Monday.”

“But you took $1000 from him?”

“No, he gave it to me.” Manny looked over his shoulder and smiled, “Everyone’s much happier thinking I have a curse. Why spoil their good time?”

I felt bad about saying nothing to Richie Boy about his father’s bet that day, because he was so happy, but Monday would be a different story and I wanted to see his face too. Like I said I was almost family.

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