|Super Bowl Gala
Attracts Oakland Faithful, But Raiders' Performance Dampens Spirits
If Darth Vader was bent out of shape after dealing with
the antics of Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, how do you think he
felt after Chucky and his Buccaneers had their way with the boys in silver
and black? Supported by minions paying homage to the Star Wars character
and other bizarrely dressed followers, this Oakland team failed miserably
in trying to execute its credo, as espoused by Vader himself: "Just
This year's 48-21 loss in the Super Bowl was a crushing denouement for
the 31/2-point favorite Raiders and their top-rated offense vs.
the league's best defense, owned by the Tampa Bay Bucs. The NFC champs
simply showed no compassion for their counterparts in the AFC.
T.B. coach Jon Gruden -- whose intense facial expressions remind some
of the diabolical children's doll, Chucky, who gained notoriety from
a series of scary films -- had his troops primed and ready to exploit
the enemy. He joins Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan as one more ex-Raiders
coach nursing a grudge against his former boss, Oakland owner Al Davis.
Neither head coach could stand the incessant meddling and criticism directed
at them from the owner's box.
Las Vegas sportsbooks were pretty consistent in posting the game at Raiders
-4, right up until game day, when Raiders' center Barret Robbins was
declared out under mysterious circumstances. Backup center Adam Treu,
last year's starter, was considered enough of a liability to drop the
line by a half point.
Meanwhile, offshore the number had been 3.5, and fell to 3. The
variance between basic numbers posted by Vegas and offshore is attributable
generally to the greater proportion of sharp bettors doing business with
Caribbean- and Costa Rica-based books. Vegas services more square action,
particularly with so many California bettors pushing their Raiders' money
across the ticket windows.
A brief observation illustrates that point. With action heating up over
the weekend, on Saturday we looked to bet the Bucs on the money line
and found it had dropped to +1.30, the result of heavy wiseguy action.
But by Sunday, the hordes of Raider Nation had made their presence known,
and the money line on Tampa Bay went up. We got it at + 1.52 at the Orleans.
Super Sunday is as close to a non-denominational national holiday as
can be found unless, of course, you consider pro football a religion.
And in Las Vegas, where even National Organ Grinder Week gets hyped,
both the natives and visitors feel the Big Game is a perfect excuse to
We watched the game at a cheerfully raucous gathering that was nowhere
near the biggest in town (as if that would be an attractive incentive),
but was quite possibly the best. Jay Martin's Big Game Party held at
Sazio's in the Orleans drew a crowd that filled the Italian restaurant.
Right about here, a little disclosure is in order. We were comped to
attend the party, but it could be considered tradeout for the advertising
that ran in Players' Choice, the sports betting tabloid we publish. Martin,
a professional handicapper, is also a friend.
About 80 percent of the throng was pro-Oakland. Maybe that was because
the drawing card was ex-Raider Greg Townsend. The defensive end is the
team's all-time sack leader, and aside from his Hall of Fame caliber
credentials, Townsend possesses charisma and graciousness in copious
quantities. Ex-jocks are de rigueur at Vegas S.B. galas. Some of them
show up, tell a few anecdotes and then disappear or hang out with the
Others grit their teeth and get through the event in order to collect
But Townsend, whose smile would make Tom Cruise jealous, was a hit even
before things got started when he joked with the gathering crowd. He
signed autographs, high-fived with Oakland fans woofing for victory,
posed for pictures and even bucked up the crowd at halftime when he assured
the grim Raider contingent that coach Callahan was saying the right things
to get the team psyched to overcome its 20-3 deficit.
One of the Raiders faithful shed his shirt and asked Townsend to autograph
his back, whereupon the acolyte said he would have a tattoo stenciled
over the signature.
After the game we spoke with Greg and asked him what position he'd be
playing in the NFL today, given his listed weight of 260 pounds. "I'd
still be playing defensive end," he insisted, noting that he had
played against much larger opponents when his weight was 235.
We also wondered what it was about his makeup that let him interact with
everyday folks so easily, without the high maintenance stroking that
is required for so many arrogant, self-centered and clueless jocks. "My
mother brought me up that way," he responded. Nice job, Mrs. Townsend.
Another positive element of the party was the eats. Instead of so-called "stadium
food", Sazio's put out a high quality, crowd-pleasing Italian buffet.
It consisted of penne pasta with sausage, traditional lasagna, chicken
wings and drumettes with tangy dipping sauce, and four kinds of pizza
made fresh throughout the party. St. Pauli Girl and Peroni beers were
the beverages of choice.
Once the game got underway, Raiders fans were noisily full of themselves
when a Brad Johnson pass was intercepted in the game's first few minutes.
They should have seen the handwriting on the wall when the turnover,
giving Oakland great field position, resulted in only three points.
As the game progressed, Raiders boosters got a little less boisterous,
and their demeanor gradually took on a desperate "whistling in the
dark" sort of tone. Although both offenses were choppy, the Tampa
Bay defense was slowly and with increasing effectiveness taking control
of the action.
As the game started slipping away, with the outcome painfully obvious,
some Raiders backers were reduced to cheering meaningless penalties incurred
by the Bucs.
But it should be noted that despite the weird dress worn by Oakland aficionados,
these are simply fans whose devotion to a team transcends rooting, and
is an endorsement of a sort of lifestyle.
They take the team seriously, and get a personal kick out of being outrageous
in pursuit of a rewarding and fun activity -- backing the Raiders and
showing the same irreverence that the team and its management show to
others, including the NFL. By the fourth quarter, despite a mini comeback
by Oakland, the fans were bucking each other up with calls of, "Wait
'til next year."
And so we bid adieu to football. As we look back on our original and
lame choices for the S.B. -- San Francisco and Miami -- we welcome a
respite from the intensity that comes with backing our opinions with
Baskets is in full swing for many bettors. But as for us, we'll take
a break until the 2003 baseball season's first pitch is thrown.
Less Is More
Sportsbook Scene has been MIA for quite some time. We will continue to
chronicle stories that impact on sports bettors, but will do so without
being as prolific as we were in the past. Given the preponderance of
administrative chores we now must handle, inspiration to write is a sometimes
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08/22/02 | 10/16/02