According to Chad Clarke, the Atlanta Falcons and the Boston Patriots, which between them have won only seven of their 23 games, are the best teams in pro football. Chad Clarke is a bettor, and the Falcons have beaten the point spread eight times in 11 games, while the Patriots have covered the spread in 10 out of 12. As you can see, the great thing about Chad Clarke's league is that you can win a game there that you lose in either of Pete Rozelle's leagues. For example, the Falcons dropped a 17-7 game to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL but won the same game in the Beat the Point Spread League because they lost by only 10 points, not by more than 15, as the bookies had it. In the AFL the Patriots have lost twice to the New York Jets this season, 23-14 in Boston and 23-17 in New York, but in the BTPSL the Patriots won both games because the Jets were favored by 14 and 17, respectively.
"The biggest game of the pro season so far was Boston-Oakland," Chad says. "The Patriots were 17-point underdogs, and they were losing by 18 in the final minutes. The pressure was really on them not to lose by more than 17 points so that they could pick up another victory. With 2:55 left, they kicked a field goal and lost by only 15. That was a real squeaker."
In the colleges Chad disagrees with the polls that rated Ohio State No. 1 for nine weeks. "For my money, Stanford is No. 1," he says. "Sure, Stanford lost two games and tied another, while Ohio State lost only once. But in beat-the-point-spread play Stanford was 8 and 1. [Its 21-7 victory over Washington was off the board, most likely because of the suspensions and defections of Washington's blacks.] That school's a real powerhouse. If a father had bet on Stanford every week he could send his kid there."
For gamblers like Chad Clarke, who in real life and under his real name is in the advertising business, betting football is a serious matter. "You need a good scouting report and a solid game plan if you expect to beat the bookies every week," he says. "Most people who lose money betting on football games just don't do their homework. For instance, if some college quarterback is having fights with his girl friend, I know all about it."
Chad spends almost $1,000 a season for information and another $300 on phone calls to informants and bookies. He subscribes to a dozen football publications, buys the special services and has his informants, like Clyde in Buffalo. "I've never met Clyde," says Chad. "I just dial this number and ask for Clyde. I don't know his last name, and for that matter I don't even know if Clyde really is Clyde. We were introduced over the phone through a mutual business acquaintance. All I do know is that the guy has a fantastic record. He's a speed and weather nut. He likes speed and weather every time."
The bettor's week begins on Monday when he gets his ready list. For the football player, the ready list is a selection of plays that the coaching staff expects to use most often that weekend. For the bettor, the ready list is a selection of games that his bookie will be handling. This particular week there were 44 games on Chad's R.L.—31 college and 13 pro. Alongside each game was a row of five boxes. The bookie provides that space so the bettor can keep track of fluctuations in the spreads during the week.
Chad called his bookie Monday noon for a report on the early college line. The bookie started with the 31 college games: "Miami six, North Carolina State 13½, Alabama six...." A minute or two later he concluded with, "Houston 2½, nothing yet on Baylor-Texas A&M." The bookie's line on two of the games—Alabama by six over Clemson, and LSU by 10½ over Auburn—galvanized Chad into action. "I like to get a couple of token bets down on select games very early in the week, even though I don't have my scouting reports," he says. "Alabama was perfect. The Bear had lost two in a row, and I knew he wasn't going to lose three straight. Also, it was SEC against ACC, and the SEC is at least a touchdown better. In the LSU-Auburn game I figured LSU would win, but I didn't expect my Cajun boys to win by more than 10 since they were playing in the afternoon. [LSU usually plays its home games at night, which the oddsmakers consider an edge.] I also knew the spread would come down from 10½. So the half point was a big thing."
That night Chad called his bookie. "Give me Alabama, Auburn and North Carolina, all for six," he told him. In this case six meant $600. On Tuesday Chad called the bookie to get the early line on the pros. "The 'Skins seven, Eagles 4½...," the bookie said, concluding with "and the Cowboys a big 15." One game, the Jets as 18-point favorites over the Patriots, struck Chad as a sure thing. "I'll take Boston right now for five," he told the bookie. Chad isn't a great Jet fan. "They're a good team, a winning team, but they're not a class team yet," he says. "The other week they waited six seconds before they called a timeout late in a losing game. An alert team doesn't do something like that."
Chad's scouting reports began arriving in the Wednesday mail. "This is the Gold Sheet," he said, holding up a yellow newsletter. This week the Gold Sheer, which is printed in Los Angeles, led off with an aphorism: "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong...but that's the way to bet."
One page of the 12-page Gold Sheer was an annotated Pigskin Prophecy. "GA. (HC) 38-KY. 13—Ray finds SEC not showing any mercy for ex-N.Damer," was a typical entry. Another page had Nationwide Key Releases, or games the Gold Sheet said were sure things, like USC over Georgia Tech, Notre Dame over Tulane, Missouri over Colorado and Mississippi over Houston. (Two of the sure things lost and only one, Notre Dame, beat the spread.)
The Gold Sheet also provided last week's game statistics, last year's game statistics for the coming weekend's opponents, pro selections, a special Handi-Football Ratings chart, a Ticker noting key injuries, a Gridiron Log, with the records of all major college teams, an analysis of college trends, and a unique Looking for an Angle section. One angle that week was that Frank Howard, the Clemson coach, graduated from Alabama in 1931 but hadn't won a game against an SEC school since 1961. (Clemson lost to Alabama that weekend, too.)
Later, the Sports Weekly Football Newsletter arrived from North Charleston, S.C. Speaking of Mississippi State the Newsletter reported: "QB Pharr took his squad over TexTech last wk and can do same thing here IF FlaState is looking forward to SoCaroU next week. Look for tuff game w/home side pulling it out." The Newsletter also picked its guaranteed winners in both the colleges and pros. "Notre Dame [over Tulane] by no less than 30," the sheet said, "and Baltimore [over San Francisco] as we have to believe the Colts have found themselves at last." (Notre Dame won by 37, but the Colts lost.)
Chad studied the Notre Dame line. "Everybody's big on Parseghian this week," he said. "That's natural. Parseghian will keep his starters in as long as possible against helpless Tulane so he can run up an impressive score for the pollsters. He always runs the score on the little guys."
The actual countdown to kickoff begins Friday noon when Chad's CKO—Confidential Kick-Off—arrives at his office, airmail special delivery, just before lunch. CKO, which is also printed in Los Angeles, costs $5 a week. For his $5, Chad gets CKO's top six college picks and Late Flashes on various pro and college teams.
This particular week the picks were: Southern California over Georgia Tech, Stanford over UCLA, Alabama over Clemson, Brown over Colgate, Cornell over Yale and Oklahoma over Kansas State. The Late Flashes included such dynamite as, "DUKE continues to be decimated with additional injuries. Now star RB-Asack is thru for year following knee operation wounded in Maryland game. Both backup RBs were forced into action despite own personal ailments. Asack is key man in keeping defense honest and allowing QB-Hart time to throw."
Chad frowned when he noticed the selection of two Ivy League schools, Brown and Cornell. "I avoid the Ivies," he said. "They're too unpredictable. The quarterbacks sometimes spend Friday nights writing their theses instead of studying game plans."
Armed with this information, Chad called his bookie for the latest point spread: "C. here. What you got, Mr. B?" The bookie read off the latest spreads, skipping certain games on Chad's ready list with the explanation that those games were now off the board. One such was Notre Dame-Tulane. "That's gone from 22 to 29 this week," the bookie said, "so we dropped it." Chad told the bookie he would call back shortly.
Next Chad phoned a special service in Colorado that provides him with updated reports on all big-name teams and also offers its top-four selections for Saturday's game. This week the Colorado service liked Minnesota (underdogs by seven points) against Michigan, Michigan State (favored by six) over Iowa, Alabama (favored by seven) over Clemson and Kansas (favored by six) over Iowa State.
Chad telephoned Clyde in Buffalo and told him what the Colorado service's selections were. Clyde snickered. "If they knew so much they wouldn't be peddling the stuff," he said. Clyde, however, was high on Alabama. "I called the Tennessee score except for the last touchdown," he said. "Now I think Alabama will blow Clemson right out of the tub. I like Kansas, too. They're fast. They've lost some games, but Rodgers won't let them get flat. He's that type of coach. Why does the service like Minnesota?" Chad said he would call the service Saturday morning, then call Clyde at 12:30 and let him know.
Later Friday night Chad called his bookie again. "I want Minnesota, Southern Cal, Kansas and Mississippi State—all for five," he said. "And let me have the Crimson Tide again for another six. In the pros let me have Vince Lombardi's Skinnies over the Steelers, Denver over Houston and Boston over New York again. All for five." The bookie said thanks and hung up. "I really like the "Skins," Chad said, "because Terry Hanratty's starting for the Steelers for the first time. That should be a couple of touchdowns' advantage right there."
On Saturday morning Chad called his Colorado service for an update. "Why are you so big on Minnesota?" he asked. "Chad," a voice said, "we understand Michigan is kind of down after losing to Michigan State big. Also, Minnesota has Carter and Mayer back, and both are ready to run well. This lets Bowser move into the secondary, where he's needed the most. And remember that Hagen got 300-plus yards against Ohio State." Chad said, "Oh, I didn't know that. Now what about Kansas?" The service said, "Kansas' regular quarterback is out, but the backup, Phil Basler, is better anyway. We like them big."
Chad next called Clyde with the Colorado report. "Weather could be important at Minnesota," Clyde said. Chad agreed and said he would call Clyde back in a minute. He clicked the phone and got another dial tone, then dialed an airline reservation office. "Yes, ma'am," he said softly, "I'm flying to Minneapolis on your flight this afternoon, and I'd like to know what the weather is out there." The reservation clerk reported that it was partly cloudy and mild with little wind and the temperature in the high 50s. Chad thanked her, hung up and called Clyde again. "I guess I'd have to go with Minnesota now," Clyde said.
With kickoff time rapidly approaching, Chad called his bookie again. "What you got, Mr. B?" he said for about the 50th time that week. The bookie quoted some late odds changes, and Chad noted them on his ready list. "I'll call you right back," Chad said. Now he studied the odds, the scouting reports, CKO, the Gold Sheet, the Football Newsletter and everything else he could find. Then he picked up the phone and called his bookie.
"O.K., here's what I want," he said. "Minnesota, Mississippi State, Kansas, North Carolina State, Colorado, South Carolina and Kentucky—all for a dime [$1,000]. Alabama again for four, the same for Michigan State and Washington. Let me have Florida for a nickel and California for two. What about Notre Dame?" The bookie said he wanted 26½ points. "O.K., let me have Notre Dame for a dime." As he turned on his television set to watch the Michigan State-Iowa game, Chad had placed 21 bets on 16 college games.
"Clyde said this would be a 'break' game," Chad said as the Iowa players were being introduced. "The only reason I bet it was that it's the game on TV." Chad watched a Michigan State player drop a touchdown pass, then went for his transistor and some Scotch. He turned the television sound down and turned on his radio for college scores.
As the TV game progressed, out-of-town scores were flashed on the screen. "That's wrong," he said, pointing to a score that had Kentucky leading Georgia 13-0. "I just heard on the radio that it was 10 to nothing for Georgia. Kentucky can beat Georgia, but not by 13 to nothing." He watched and listened. "I love you North Carolina," he shouted, listening to an early score that had the Tar Heels routing Wake Forest. "You know, the only thing exciting about this TV game is the out-of-town scores."
At halftime Chad called his bookie to check on the USC point spread. He had bet USC at 21½ over Georgia Tech Friday night, and if the spread dropped to 21 or lower he wanted to bet it again. No luck. USC was now a 22-point favorite. "Can I get a second-half bet on Michigan State-Iowa?" Chad asked. Michigan State was losing 9-3 at the half. Chad thought Iowa would win the game and that he would therefore lose the bet he had made earlier in the day, but he also figured Michigan State would outscore Iowa in the second half. Chad wanted to place a get-even bet on Michigan State. The bookie said he would give him Michigan State plus a half, and Chad said he would take it for the same money—four—he had bet earlier. "The only time you can bet with my bookie at halftime," he said, "is when the game is on television."
Michigan State outscored Iowa 15-10 in the second half but lost the game 19-18. So Chad wound up losing $40, as he had to pay the vigorish (the 10% surcharge on losing bets) on his original bet. He won his bets on North Carolina, Alabama (three times), Colorado, South Carolina, California and Florida (all of which won), as well as Mississippi State (twice) and Auburn (both of which lost). However, he lost bets on USC, Minnesota (twice), Washington, North Carolina State, Kansas (twice) and Kentucky. That night at a dinner party, Chad called New Orleans and discovered he had won his Notre Dame bet, too. "Parseghian sent Theismann in to direct the final touchdown drive," Chad said. "Notre Dame won by 37."
So for his college bets Chad had a 13-9 record. On Sunday he called his bookie to check the final pro spreads. Nothing fascinated him, so he didn't bet. Instead, he went out to Shea Stadium to watch the Jet-Patriot game. Boston lost but beat the spread, and Denver lost its game but also beat the spread. Washington, Chad's fourth pro bet, beat Pittsburgh, but by only the seven points which the bookies had projected—a standoff—making Chad 3-0-1 in the pros. For the week he was 16-9-1. He bet $16,700. He made $2,970 after paying the vigorish.
"I can make more money playing the stock market," Chad said Sunday night. "But I like the action. As Jimmy the Greek once said, 'The next best thing to winning is losing.' "
STANDINGS IN THE POINT-SPREAD LEAGUE
San Francisco 6-5
Los Angeles 5-6
New Orleans 7-3-1
St. Louis 5-6
New York 4-7
Green Bay 5-6
New York 4-8
Kansas City 8-3
San Diego 5-7
The records reflect the number of times a team has beaten, failed to beat or tied the point spread. A tie is no bet. One game—Kansas City-Denver—was off the board because of key Kansas City injuries.