Lamar Hunt had extra lights turned on in Dallas' Texas Stadium last week so SPORTS ILLUSTRATED photographers could better shoot the pro soccer finals in color, but it is unlikely that he expected the pictures to show an upset of his Dallas Tornado, which is what happened (page 16). We can only hope that he was cheered by what the Philadelphia Atoms' victory implies about the state of the sport in America. The astonishing success of a team that has consistently started more U.S.-born players than any other in the league, under the direction of the league's only American-born coach, is the most heartening sort of evidence that soccer is alive in this country and very well indeed.
As for another kind of football, on page 64 of this issue begins an excerpt from Larry Merchant's new book, The National Football Lottery. Merchant is a sports columnist for the New York Post by vocation and a small-stakes bettor by avocation. Or he was until last year, when he used a $30,000 advance from his publisher to gamble in the style of his most outrageous fantasies. The resulting book is a diary of Merchant's experiences from a week in Monte Carlo (for emotional training) through the NFL season and the Super Bowl. He finished well in the black.
Of his plans for the 1973 season Merchant says, "I wouldn't bet that much money again. It's an intense emotional experience, but it's a poor substitute for being able to feel about real things." He plans to return to his old ways by betting $100 on one game each week. "I'll double up as long as I'm winning," he explains. "Let the hundred ride as long as I dare. I won't be risking a big loss and I can test my theory that with only one game you'll hit a higher percentage.
"I enjoyed the high stakes in some ways," he says. "I was terribly involved, turned on all the time. I could feel myself feeling on a number of levels, and I was made aware of emotions I didn't know I had." For example, Merchant discovered he had a dislike for the Giants that bordered on hate. "As a columnist it was difficult to admit to myself that I didn't like the Giants, but as a gambler I found that I couldn't invest a piece of myself in them. I had a strong built-in prejudice."
Out of this realization Merchant evolved his Theory of Emotional Betting. Contrary to all established theories, he says to go ahead with emotional bets because "winning with a team you want to win, or betting against a team you want to lose, is a primary sensual experience. But you must admit your prejudices and indulge them realistically.
"You find out more about yourself when you win," Merchant observes. "I was startled at my anger at losing even when I was thousands ahead. I learned that when I was naturally buoyant from winning my expectations of other people were too high. And I discovered that people respond to you differently when you're winning, and then say you have changed."
We asked Merchant to offer a few predictions for this season. "The Bengals," he says, "won nine games against the line last year and should do the same or better. The Steelers and the Raiders are sometimes good bets because their strong defenses often hold teams to a touchdown or less and they beat the spread. The Redskins and Dolphins could be so popular that the spread dictates betting against them."
Of course, if you have a built-in prejudice against betting on the Bengals, the Steelers and the Raiders, and for betting on the Redskins and the Dolphins, you may be in trouble.