"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Al Michaels' gambling reference a faux pas

Al Michaels, voice of sports
NBC hyped the Sunday night Vikings game by focusing on Brett Favre. No amount of hype can really package a pre-season NFL game effectively. Most of the people who tune in to pre-season games are just starved for football. That circle includes me.
Pre-season games give us a frame of reference. Until Sunday night, though, I never realized that these games attract a fair amount of gambling interest. This revelation came at the very end of the Vikings' contest at San Francisco. I was watching live, which indicates just how football-starved I am (that I would watch this yawner to the end).
By the usual standard there was nothing dramatic about the ending. When I say "usual standard," I'm talking about how the typical fan watches - the healthy, proper perspective. There is another perspective in the shadows though. It's the way gamblers watch these things. And I listened in disbelief as the game's broadcast voices, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, acknowledged that perspective, boisterously in fact. Michaels got it started so he's the one with explaining to do.
Let's sketch out the background: The 49ers led by three points with nine seconds left. But if you had bet on the Minnesota Vikings, you were feeling good because the game's "pointspread" was 3.5 with the 49ers favored. Thus if the game ended with the score 13-10, the Vikes' bettors could collect.
But on the game's final play, rookie quarterback Joe Webb dropped back to pass but couldn't get the ball away. He also couldn't get out of the end zone. Safety. Two more points for San Francisco.
Absolutely no big deal, right? That's what I was thinking. Not Al Michaels in the NBC broadcast booth, though.
I really don't think Michaels was going to say anything to give away the gambling angle. Instead he slipped and did something that reminded me of a scene in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (Marlon Brando).
Michaels laughed.
We all think laughter brings joy but sometimes you have to explain its meaning. Laughter can be denigrating, fun-poking or irreverent in an improper way. In the movie, a ship hand chuckles about something involving the ship's commander and he fails to explain himself adequately, and is punished harshly.
When Al Michaels delivered his burst of laughter, it seemed out of place because nothing on the screen seemed to prompt this. I was instantly curious.
Michaels probably realized that the laughing might be misunderstood, as being directed at the awkwardness of a rookie quarterback (an African-American) getting sacked in the end zone. So he had to give an explanation even if he would fare no better than that ship hand in the movie.
By disclosing gambling interests, I think Michaels ran the risk of getting in trouble with the powers that be. Michaels was in the booth with Cris Collinsworth, the old Cincinnatti receiver. They are both proven announcers but even their talent was a stretch for selling a game in which Favre played just one series of downs.
Immediately after the game-ending safety, Michaels laughed and then said to his broadcasting compatriot: "You know why I'm laughing, don't you?"
(Well, I didn't, and I apologize for seeming like a prude. - BW)
Collinsworth: "Yeah."
Michaels: "Of course you do, Collinsworth. There are some people happy and some not so happy."
Seriously, this is very uncool. The NFL wants a firm line drawn between the sport and the people who gamble on it.
And I should add that I'm really not a prude. I used to put down sports bets in Las Vegas during my occasional jaunts there. I prided myself on my gambling approach. Rather than having to sweat and think at the blackjack tables, or manage piles of chips in other games, I placed a few well-thought-out sports bets and would then spend time poolside or in the cocktail lounge. Several hours later I would check back.
Everyone has their own approach.
So while I place no taboo on sports gambling, I feel strongly that this is a world apart from the real games. And no one would agree more wholeheartedly with me on this than Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, or his counterparts in other sports.
How big a deal is this? It's so big that baseball found it appropriate to clamp down on Pete Rose in such a way that the game's all-time hit leader would never get in the Hall of Fame.
Anyone with some experience in sports gambling understands that punishment completely. Why? Because once you place money on a game, you view that game from a completely different perspective from those who just want to enjoy the game. One of my companions to Las Vegas (an old high school classmate) once said "have you noticed that when you bet on a (baseball) game, it feels like your life savings are riding on every pitch?"
Sports gamblers know this all too well. Some popular advice is that when you bet on a game, don't watch it! A safety at the very end can cause a complete reversal of fortunes.
Fans who watch games for the "right" reasons can resent the intrusion of comments related to gambling. I don't blame them.
It has been years since I placed a sports bet, and I really don't care about that shadowy world of gambling anymore. So when Michaels felt he had to accent that angle at game's end Sunday, I was taken aback and resented it.
It took a couple of seconds for it to sink in. Because I just couldn't believe it.
I read the next day that "Al Michaels will usually reference the pointspread during telecasts."
But simply referencing the pointspread in a sober way isn't a cardinal sin, because the spread tells you something about how the teams compare.
But laughing and talking about how "some people are happy" crosses the line.
I wonder if Goodell contacted NBC executives in the wake of this. I suspect so. I even wondered if some harsh punishment could be meted out vs. Michaels. Collinsworth only got involved after Michaels dragged him into it.
Maybe there is a bigger question here: What kind of loser bets on NFL pre-season games?
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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