It may be time to call my old Pittsburgh pal, "Guido." Guido ran a little corner market near my office in the Oakland area of the Iron City when I lived there in the 1980s. He sold smokes, magazines and newspapers, a few deli items, various overpriced household products — and he had a little sideline: If you wanted to play the daily number or place a modest wager on the Steelers, Guido was your man.
I thought of Guido this week, when I read in USA Today that the oddsmakers had made California State Northridge, the University of Memphis' first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament, a 500-billion-to-one shot to win the national championship. That means if I called Guido and put down a $2 bet on the mighty Matadors, I'd stand to win a trillion dollars if they won it all! That much juice would do wonders for my depleted 401(k) account. Of course, I'd have to root against the Tigers, and I'm not sure I want that on my conscience. Also, my track record on sports betting is not exactly stellar.
You see, I bet against the Tigers once before — in 1996, when the football team played Tennessee at the Liberty Bowl — and I lived to regret it.
The Tigers of the Coach Rip Scherer era were generally a woeful bunch, and Tennessee, led by All-American Peyton Manning, was heavily favored, to say the least. My boss, Ken Neill, a diehard Tiger football fan, got 10 of his friends to bite on a $10 bet at 10-to-1 odds. In other words, he'd pay $10 if the Tigers lost; we'd pay $100 if they won. The rest, of course, is history. The Tigers pulled off an upset for the ages, and Ken came out $1,000 ahead. The bastard. (Actually, he came out $900 ahead, since one of his suckers, er, friends, managed to grab one of the goalpost flags and settled the bet by handing it over. It still hangs in Ken's office, a reminder that nothing is certain — in sports or life.)
So, I'll be rooting hard for the Tigers this week, despite the temptation to try to take home a cool trillion bucks. I'll leave the gambling to the pros — the Wall Street geniuses who screwed up my 401(k) in the first place.