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For several football seasons I have missed something that annually went hand in hand with autumn afternoons, press releases on the mighty elevens and the AP and UP Top 20—the football bet card. From the first kickoff of the season until the last bowl game, the football bet card was an indispensable piece of equipment for would-be gamblers. I haven't been able to locate any lately, though, and this reflects a remarkable triumph for law and order. Have the nation's police managed to shut off the plus-six, minus-three and, even, 10 bucks for $1 if you pick four out of four correctly? It disturbs me to live through another season without measuring the skills of Utah State vs. Wyoming plus four; Army plus 35 vs. Notre Dame; TCU vs. SMU plus three. I am nostalgic for the days when my world teemed with football cards and my involvement with them was fraught with trauma.
In 1936 when I was a sophomore at the University of Illinois, a senior fraternity brother asked me to help him peddle football cards around the campus. I was often broke and there was a 10% commission, so I grabbed the opportunity with alacrity.
He and I dashed from fraternity to dorm to locker room to barber shop and campus hangout, taking bets from 25� 'to $1 on four, six, eight, 10, 12, 15 and 20 games.
The payoff was $10 for $1 if the bettor picked four winners out of four games, and graduated to riches beyond contemplation for greater numbers of correct selections. We never worried about our part in the illicit scheme because we were only the salesmen and printed on each card was the legend: "For news information only." We were home free with our commissions because " Chicago" paid off and the disclaimer about information set our minds at ease about trouble with the police.
" Chicago" paid off after Monday verification, and each Tuesday, with our commission heavy in our pockets, we began collecting quarters, halves and dollars for the upcoming week, blissfully unaware that we were breaking nearly every gambling statute in Urbana—not to mention Champaign, Champaign County, the State of Illinois and the entire U.S. as well.
We were as indiscriminate as we were innocent, and we counted among our customers a law professor, the assistant dean of men, an inebriate Spanish instructor, several football players and even a few members of the university police force. We were thrilled with our riches because our spare time was netting us $35 to $40 apiece per week, truly magnificent incomes. Neither of us was able to select winners, but we did so well on our betting business that we didn't even try very hard.
The mechanics of our operation were simple. Before 5 p.m. on Friday, we would hurry to the Western Union office in downtown Champaign and wire all the bets to a Chicago address. " Chicago" stipulated that the time stamp on the telegram must read 5 p.m. or earlier.
Once the money was carefully dispatched, we returned to the Deke house, had dinner and began a delightful football weekend.
On Saturday afternoons, as the scores poured into our ears by radio, we pared our cards quickly and efficiently. Because a loss or a tie eliminated a bettor, we usually had reduced the winners to a meager list in a few hours. By nightfall we had the East, Midwest, Mountain and West Coast results, and the losers were legion. About $60 went to the winners.
One Friday evening, we arrived at the Illinois Central station's Western Union office, purchased a money order for $749.50, wired the bets and prepared to live it up that night. We could afford it. Each of us had realized $37.47 for just a few hours of work. As R. Browning said, "All's right with the world." We had been a few minutes later than usual at the WU office, but we were unconcerned. No biggie.