“Down to three … you can’t bet on [Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony] Romo!!!”
I read the email from my girlfriend’s cousin and couldn’t help but laugh. The trouble was, I had just bet on Tony Romo, his bad back and his Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys were 10-point favorites hosting the lowly and hobbled Washington Redskins at Jerry’s World on Monday night, but the Cowboys blew the game and let the Redskins escape with a victory. Just like Romo must have felt when singer Jessica Simpson dumped him for former NFL tight end Eric Johnson ’01, the result left me sad, alone and on the losing side of my girlfriend’s family’s NFL betting pool.
The pool is a simple “suicide” pool, where everyone pays into a pot and then selects a team to win each week — you are not allowed to repeat picks. This seemed simple enough in principle. Even with as many as six teams on a bye week any given Sunday, that still gives you 13 games, from which you have to choose just one team who must win.
If only it were that simple.
Egotistically thinking myself somewhat of an expert on NCAA basketball — two years of covering the Bulldogs and the Ivy League for this paper falsely inflated my sense of self-worth — last March I decided to fill out a bracket for the family’s March Madness pool (Author’s Note: My girlfriend requested that I do not make it look like her family has a gambling problem. For that reason, I have decided not to talk about my defeat in their annual poker tournament), only to get spanked by my girlfriend’s sister’s German boyfriend who watches basketball about as much as I watch the Home Shopping Network.
Humbled, I decided to consult the real experts for some much-needed advice this time. I scoured the weekly Vegas odds, drudged through convoluted analyses on sites like ESPN and FiveThirtyEight and checked injury reports to make sure my selections were at full strength (I also asked the advice of current sports editor Grant Bronsdon ’16, but quickly learned to look elsewhere).
Despite being a lifelong Giants fan, I refrained from picking them — no amount of fandom would make the Big Blue Wrecking Crew a safe bet this year. Despite my prejudices, I picked the hated Cowboys because they looked like the best chance I had to advance one week further. That didn’t work so well, and I was left ashamed that I had ever rooted for Dallas to win a football game.
With all my focus on victory, however, I realized once I was out that I had lost sight of why the whole betting pool existed in the first place. My girlfriend’s family hails from a small farming town in southeast Pennsylvania by the Delaware border. Over the years, however, they have spread out; now some of them live in California, New Jersey, Connecticut and even London. The tradition of betting on NFL games, World Cups and NCAA tournaments was not born from a predilection for gambling (or even a desire to win money from hapless boyfriends), but to bring everyone together.
Every week, the 20 people in the pool have to call in their picks to the family patriarch — the warm grandfather who reminds me fondly of my own “Poppy” — and every game becomes a natural talking point, sparking discussion and keeping everyone in touch.
As my sisters and I spread out further from our home in Richmond, Va., and begin lives of our own, I am considering starting a Condro family betting pool. At the very least, maybe I could win some money in that pool.