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HARD LUCK LOSERS:

DEFEAT SNATCHED FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY

Mush bets. We’ve all made them, and once you’ve been mushed, you never forget the name of the athlete or the game you had your money on when a fluke play turned a winning ticket into a loser (or vice versa) just as the clock ran out. As a professional gambler, I’ve seen every imaginable way in every sport to win, lose and draw. The toughest games are the ones in which everyone watching the game has the script, but one of the players in the game forgets to follow it. What you get is a bizarre ending with half the sportsbook trying to tape back together the tickets they had just ripped up, and the other half looking for a tall building to jump off. I welcome all readers to send in their best mush bets of all time, and hope that my list jogs your memory a little… as if you could ever forget.

Robin Ventura’s Grand Slam That Scored 1 Run, 1999 NLCS.

With an over/under of 7 ½, the Mets and the Braves went to the bottom of the 15th tied at 3. The bases were loaded and Ventura came to the plate and did what only Lou Gherig did better…hit grand slams. That makes the total 10 and I’m off to collect on my OVER wager. Not so fast. How foolish I was to think that just because someone hits a grand slam it means everyone scores. After all, this is the NLCS, and celebration is much more important than playing the game. Sure, Ventura was mobbed by his teammates as he rounded first and never scored, but there were three other guys on base that surely came in, right? Wrong.

Todd Pratt, who was on first, got so excited at the prospect of winning that he quit running just past second base and ran back to hug Ventura. Why wait for sloppy seconds when you can be the first to pile on a teammate? What about Roger Cedeno and John Olerud on second and third? Even the cameras caught them scoring before the field was mobbed by teammates. That makes the final score 5-3 and I still cover my Over. I wish. It seems the home plate umpire was only interested in seeing the winning run score in the bottom of the fifteenth, so after the first run scored, he turned his back and walked away, never confirming what the cameras saw, namely, that John Olerud had scored as well. Crew chief Ed Montague rules the final 4-3. In my mind, home plate ump Jerry Layne still owes me the $100 for blowing that one.

Duke v UConn: 2004 NCAA Final Four.

This one actually went in my favor, so I will have to go on record as saying I handicapped the game to end this way. With Duke getting 2 points against the Huskies, Emeka Okafor hit a free throw with 3 seconds left to put the favorites up by 4. With no chance to win as time expired, a dejected Duke squad threw the ball into play and then headed for the showers. Chris Duhon took the in bounds past and threw up a running shot from half court as time expired. While most teams would have just dribbled out the clock and started crying, I suspect Duhon must have known that it is always more important to cover than to win, and tossed in the prayer. Final score 79-78. Cameron Crazies cover by one.

Thanksgiving Day: Miami Dolphins v Dallas Cowboys, 1993.

I had Dallas with a healthy money line bet on this one, and why not? They were home, it was snowing and getting colder by the minute, and their opponent was the warm weather Dolphins. With 15 seconds left in the game, Dallas blocks a Pete Stoyanovich field goal and everyone in the stadium knew the game was over. Except Leon Lett. Ol’ Leon ran after the missed field goal and dove on it like it was a live grenade at an orphanage. Had he not touched it, the ball would have been ruled dead and the Cowboys take over. Instead, Lett dives on the ball, forcing it back into the hands of the Dolphins as it squirts free in the snow and Stoyanovich gets a second chance to nail the winning field goal from the one yard line, which of course, he does. To this day, I still get nauseous at the sight of Thanksgiving turkey.

Sugar Ray Leonard v Wilfredo Benitez, Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas, 1979.

This fight figured to be a brawl to the finish. Both men had courage and an unflagging ability to never stay down on the canvas, never quit. With that in mind, my renowned ‘insider’ friend Mr. X and I traveled to Las Vegas to put down more than the rent money that the fight would go the distance. We didn’t care who won, as long as there was a decision. True to form, Leonard and Benitez fought 15 rounds, toe to toe. Leonard had dominated Benitez the entire fight, and had him decisively outpointed. With 10 seconds left, Dr. X jumped up and yelled “The money is in the bank!” Almost on cue, Leonard dropped Benitez to the floor, and with 6 seconds left, the referee stopped the fight even though Benitez was on his feet waiting to finish. Apparently, the referee felt, with Leonard so far ahead on points, there was no reason for Benitez to take another punch and he called it a day….WITH 6 SECONDS LEFT IN A 15 ROUND MATCH. Mr. X and I had a quiet ride home that night.

The NBA: No Baskets Allowed.

My NBA mush bet lacks the clarity and detail of the other knives in my back, and I will refer to this period as ‘The Jack Daniels Years’. Although many examples come to mind of garbage time threes and missed free throws, the biggest NBA mush bet of all time (for me anyway) involves the 2003 Utah Jazz, an opponent known only to the Elias Sports Bureau, and a point spread I can’t recall. What I do recall is feeling ecstatic when the scrolling ticker at the bottom of my CNN screen informed me the Jazz had gone to Overtime. This was great news as the total in regulation had fallen 8 points short of my expectation. But hey, what two teams can’t score 4 baskets in overtime to cover my OVER? The answer is the Utah Jazz and whatever team they played that night, as the offensive explosion resulted in a 4-2 OT output. That’s right….5 extra minutes of basketball and 3 baskets scored and my OVER still came up short.

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