Tuesday, November 1, 2011

By the skin of my pig

OK, that post subject sounds slightly perverted, but rest assured I am talking about football, narrow victories, etc.

It was a good weekend, this final Saturday and Sunday of October. The Wolverines won, the Giants won, the Steelers won, and there was much rejoicing. And, as is often the case, much satisfaction in the mean-spirited anti-rooting parts of the brain as well. The Steelers beat the Patriots and the last points they put on the board were 2 via safety, which was a fine coup de grace in the overall humbling of New England. The Redskins, playing in Toronto against the Bills – a scenario which the Bills participate in every year but which always managed to result in Bills defeats in the past – were goose-egged. And rounding out the NFC East (where my rooting interests primarily lie) the Cowboys and Eagles played each other, the only downside of which was that they couldn’t both lose. Best-case scenario was that the Eagles would win, keeping the Cowboys two games behind the Giants, and that is indeed how it went.

But funny enough, when the dust had settled from the Sunday night game, I realized that I had somehow managed to position myself in a four-way tie for the Week 8 lead in the NFL pick’em pool. I actually had a reason to care who won the MNF game; more to the point, I had a decent shot at winning the week outright. Of the four of us at the top of the heap, I was the only one who had taken the points with Kansas City, while my three opponents were betting on Sand Diego to cover the spread. If the Chargers won by 4 or more points, the prize money for the week would go to whoever of those three had come closest to guessing the total number of points scored during the course of Monday Night Football. But if the Chiefs won, or even kept it close, I would be the uncontested victor. I was glad that I had picked the underdog and my fortunes rode on them, because with absolutely no other rooting interest in the game it’s just more fun to cheer on the unlikely.

But even though I was quietly cheering along, I couldn’t even stay awake to the end of the third quarter, due to the cumulative effects of pilfered-Halloween-candy-coma and a slightly brutal schedule stretching back to Saturday (which I will expound upon at greater length later on). But I checked the pick’em pool website first thing this morning and saw that the Chiefs and I were both winners. (It wasn’t until I got to work, walked through the lobby past a tv tuned to ESPN, and read the ticker that I even knew the game had gone to overtime.)

It’s funny how my week-to-week performance in the pool rattles around in my head. I grew up watching football with my dad (and all the other adult male relatives on major holidays) and clearly I internalized it as an essential component of masculine identity, not just watching football but understanding it and being able to analyze it thoughtfully and converse on the subject critically. So if I got anything out of all those years of exposure, I should theoretically be able to predict winners and losers with something better than coin-flip accuracy, and when I do I feel vindicated and when I don’t I feel abashed. Part of my brain is telling me I just got luckier than everyone else this week with my wild guesses, but still, it’s kind of a relief to know at the season’s halfway point that I have something I can point to as justification for getting into the pool at all (namely the fact that my cash winnings will basically cover the expense of signing up in the first place).

Lest you think I’m being too hard on myself by downplaying my achievement as nothing more than emerging as the luckiest guesser, I should point out that I only got nine games correct when all was said and done, which marks the only time all season that the weekly winner has been in the single digits in the W column. A dubious distinction, that. It also means that everyone else in the pool had even fewer games correct, and it was therefore an unusually rough and unpredictable week in professional American football. I suppose that still doesn’t necessarily make the case one way or the other, so take it for what it’s worth.

The other nice thing (in addition to the money) about winning out the week is that it slightly improves my overall standings for the season. I was also aided by the fact that my godfather, who has been and remains in first place, finished with a low-end 5 wins this week, so I caught up to him a bit, though he still has a pretty commanding lead. At this point I am tied for seventh place overall – tied with my grandma, I hasten to add. The lady loves football and gambling, bless her.

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