Losing irritates any sane gambler. Going an absurdly unlikely 0-3 can cause momentary episodes of irrationality. No, I would never kick my cat. But I would throw a remote across the room as I watch Matt Ryan avoid a sack by simply handing the ball to a defender and then duck for cover as the defender scores a meaningless touchdown to make me lose my bet by one point.
The good news is that my remote survived. The bad news is that my bankroll may not.
But there is a larger issue. Losing confronts me with the reality that I don’t really like football. Fantasy football, yes. Beating the spread, yes. Watching the funeral parade of large and sometimes morbidly obese men being trundled to the sidelines after inflicting bodily harm to each other? Not really.
And so I think back to February, when I escaped the Minnesota winter by paying a visit to my cousin Jake in Arizona. Jake is a passionate defender of the game, a guy who insists that football has made him the confident and accomplished man he is.
Jake, like many Ashkenazi Jews, can trace his ancestors to the diasporas in or near the Russian city of Minsk. Ashkenazi Jews are known for three things: intelligence, Crohn’s disease and migraines.
Jake, however, managed to avoid one of those traits. In fact, his family’s genome was almost completely idiosyncratic. They were big people — Jake is 6-foot-4 and checks in at about 240, roughly doubling the weight of every Gelfand I’ve known.
In fact, Jake’s family was not entirely bereft of insight. They had quit the family beet farm in North Dakota back in the mid-40s when they heard that a little way station in the desert named Las Vegas was about to blossom into an “open city,” meaning the customary vices would not only be tolerated but celebrated — and exploited.
Jake was just a baby then. Eventually, he leveraged his headline-making high-school football brutality into a job asking questions of and demanding answers from a certain subset of casino customers who failed to cover their markers. Ultimately, his tactics became so extreme that even in Las Vegas he was ostracized.
He wound up in Arizona, where he enjoyed a new career peddling long-term care insurance to the residents of Sun City, a cozy little place where the average age of the citizens is about 78. Jake made it easy for the elderly to buy his policies. They didn’t have to wade through reams of fine print. No need to initial dozens of paragraphs. In fact, they were able to cut through all the usual legalese and then simply write a check directly to Jake. He called it marketing; the state called it fraud.
Jake, who now resides at the Red Rock Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, was happy to see me. I was happy to see the bullet-proof glass that separated us — a shield that stretched from the pocked linoleum floor to the yellowing ceiling of the visitation room.
Jake was in a good mood. Jake picked up the phone and flashed a grin. “The joint ain’t so bad,” he told me. “I get plenty of starch, four or five visitors a year and two hours every day to get swole in the weight room.”
Jake flexed. Many muscles joined the ritual. “Check out the gains,” he said. He displayed his neck muscles, in the process revealing a prison tattoo that seemed suggestive of a football helmet as the ink seemed to expand exponentially.
“Still love the game,” Jake told me. “It’s what gave me the discipline I needed. It’s what made me go all out whenever I took on a job. It’s that passion for winning at all cost that made me a successful risk taker and — and pretty damned rich.”
Some of Jake’s wealth wound up in the hands of lawyers and some went to victims, but he insists that in a few years he’ll be able to enjoy a luxurious retirement. For now, however, Jake is in a penitentiary, and yet he is not actually penitent. His main regret is that his status as a felon prevented him from voting for his hero, Joe Arpaio, in the disgraced former sheriff’s unsuccessful bid for reelection in 2016. Jake doesn’t fault Arpaio for arresting and incarcerating residents of Maricopa County who were suspected of possibly being Mexicans.
“Joe and I are a lot alike,” Jake said. “Both of us were trying to make America great again. Maybe we went a little too far, but the passion was there.”
Jake blanched — actually started to angrily flex — when I suggested that perhaps football had been a ruinous influence because it taught him that forcibly bending others to his will led him to a life of crime and punishment.
“That’s the kind of left-wing propaganda that’s making America soft,” he said. “People don’t even want their boys to play high school football no more. Football, weightlifting and life itself taught me that there ain’t no gain without pain. Today’s concussion is tomorrow’s treasure.”
The guard moved to cut off our visit as Jake shook his fist at me. He was facing a few weeks in the hole but he didn’t care. He managed one last comment before the phone was wrenched from his hand.
“Just look at me,” he shouted. “I played high school football and I turned out all just fine.”
Philadelphia at New York Giants
Last year, the Eagles scored at least 26 points in 10 of their first 11 games. This year, the Eagles haven’t scored more than 23 points in any of their five games. The Giants, meanwhile, have gone under in nine of their most recent 12 games. Eli Manning continues to regress. Carson Wentz seems a bit rusty. Jay Ajayi is injured.
The pick: Giants 20, Eagles 17 — Under 44 1/2 for $40
Tampa Bay at Atlanta
Jameis Winston is back. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it’s definitely inevitable. Maybe it doesn’t matter. The Falcons are allowing nearly 360 passing yards per game and more than nine yards per pass attempt. That’s hard to do while maintaining a pulse. The Bucs got last week off and presumably sought out therapy, both kinds, after allowing Mitch Trubisky to pass for six touchdowns. In 12 games last year, he never passed for more than one TD and had seven TD passes overall. Both teams like to throw the ball a long ways and both passers figure to have time to do it.
The pick: Falcons 35, Bucs 25 — Over 57 1/2 for $40
Jacksonville at Dallas
I was wavering on this one, but the opening line of Jacksonville 1 1/2 is now 3 and the public handicappers are all on the Jaguars, so there seems to be value. Blake Bortles is trying to make up for Leonard Fournette’s absence by doing the running himself, and after watching Dallas brutalize Deshaun Watson last week, I think that might be a bad idea. Dallas, I think, might have the team speed to contain Bortles. It figures to be a low scoring game, and if it is, getting 3 might work.
The pick: Cowboys 17, Jaguars 14 — Dallas +3 for $40