In the end, though, with the spread the game ends up a push (a tie, factoring in the spread). But, on an adjacent screen, the Chiefs manage to win handily. After the fact, I remember what Olshan told me before the game started, when I asked how he justified giving up 14 points in order to take Kansas City. “I think K.C. will be in an angry mood,” he says, revealing the way a handicapper’s mind works. “They were embarrassed last week in Denver after giving up a lot of points and yards. This team has the best record in the NFL and one of the best coaches. Detroit has not won a road game in 21 tries. My belief is that if Detroit falls behind, it will get ugly” — and it did. “On top of all that, Detroit has no running attack, but K.C.’s weakness is the running attack.”
Though the Gold Sheeters are ahead by a game, they are far from ready to call it a successful afternoon. They still need to win the last two games if they want to have a better than decent day for their phone clients. While the games go on, desk slapping and the occasional high-five punctuate plays. Olshan actually leaves the room a couple of times, insisting that he can’t bear to watch critical downs. Through it all, he and Sippl and Giordano type like a trio of Johnny Deadlines as production people filter through with tomorrow’s layouts.
Late in the afternoon, after Dallas goes ahead 17-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, Olshan is still bellyaching about a sloppy fumble in the first half. He and Sippl huddle so close to the monitors that you can barely see the screens between them. “We lost a similar game to Washington when the QB ran in a touchdown on the last play,” Olshan remembers, looking away. “That made for a total of 14 points scored in the last minute.”
In the end, the Cowboys cover their spread, and the Oakland vs. Baltimore score is 20-12 (Oakland wins, but the Gold Sheeters can’t care less, as long as the total is below 39). The moment seems loaded more with relief than joy, as Olshan carefully announces, “We’re happy, but we’re not going to break out the champagne.”
Besides, the sweetness of success fades fast when it’s 5 p.m. and you have only five hours until your deadline for the coming week’s issue. The guys turn away from the TV screens, squint at their monitors, and focus on sussing the picks that will keep their gamblers coming back next week, next season and, if Mort’s will be done, next decade.