Football games and off-track betting too

November 26, 1998

My Green Bay Packer-loving friend Dave and I decided on Sunday to head up to the Chambersburg off-track betting parlor, where through the wonders of satellite technology, we could watch seven NFL football games at once and, more specifically, the Packers-Vikings II showdown in Minneapolis - not to mention a full bank of horse-racing monitors from tracks across the country.

In tow on this obscene tribute to sporting excess were our friend and colleague Julie (more of a baseball fan, really) and Dave's wife Joy (technically not a football fan, although we preferred to think that she, like most women, secretly loves sports).

Let me say here that I consider myself to be a '90s kind of guy. But there is some primal, ram-butting thrill upon entering an OTB that begs, nay, requires you to check your sensitivity at the door. I only lacked for a baseball cap, a two-day growth and maybe a shotgun.


Julie was able to take some solace in watching the Redskins and Joy, to her infinite credit, put up with the whole affair with amazing patience. She sat through the afternoon with a tranquil but vaguely pained smile, the same sort of expression Job might have adopted on noticing the onset of his seventh boil.

Not that I was in any condition to notice. Imagine, seven screens of football, nachos drenched in oily, yellow fluid, racing calls piped in over the loudspeakers, smoke thick as week-old pudding, the alluring melody of guys hooting and jeering, the smell of beer-soaked napkins and the chance of losing large sums of money all rolled into one. In fact, I can't think of a better place to take a first date.

I did have a scary moment once when I looked up and saw all the games in front of me were simultaneously in commercial. I began to heave and gag and flop like a boated fish until Dave rescued me by pointing to the left and urgently saying "It's OK, it's OK. Jacksonville and Pittsburgh are still on the corner screen."

"Whew," I said, my breathing returning to normal, "That was close."

It was at halftime that I began to place a series of bets on a parade of New Age horses which had the annoying habit of leading through the entire race until they came to the stretch run, where they were apparently overcome by powerful emotions of charity and compassion for their hooved brethren and disdain for competition and one-upsmanship - preferring to drop back to dead last rather than risk stirring feelings of inadequacy among their kin.

It was while I was out betting one of these saddlewearing doves that Dave won the halftime doorprize drawing - and received a Budweiser pennant and a 100 percent T-shirt that said "Just Bud Me."

Now Dave is a natty dresser, but he was obviously humbled by the recognition that his wardrobe of tweed blazers, button-down oxfords and Shetland sweaters would have remained forever deprived without the presence of a red-on-white "Just Bud Me" T-shirt.

With his luck strong (except where the Packers were concerned) I urged him to pick a horse. He cast a disinterested glance at the monitors and said "Eight at Aqueduct." I placed the bet and the stupid horse won by 10 lengths. It paid $17, the exact amount of our food bill.

It was all a little too perfect, the Minnesota Vikings (best banner: Our governor can beat up your football team) having won by two touchdowns.

And yet. And yet as I sit here, all I have is my memories, while Dave is no doubt kicking back with a brandy and cigar, thumbing through some leatherbound edition of Shakespearian sonnets, wearing a smoking jacket, ascot, crushed velvet trousers - and a T-shirt that says "Just Bud Me."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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