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Mother Knows Best on the Nicer Points of Football
Joel Sayre
December 17, 1962
Mother also makes bets—on as spooky a system as ever bewildered a son and bankrupted a bookmaker
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December 17, 1962

Mother Knows Best On The Nicer Points Of Football

Mother also makes bets—on as spooky a system as ever bewildered a son and bankrupted a bookmaker

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"You see, they're not giving points on the finals till they know who the other semifinals winner is; but they're giving odds. Mr. Blancheflower tells me it's like getting something down in the winter books for the Kentucky Derby. Well, there were some perfectly splendid bargains to choose from, and I chose the Eagles. After all, your father and I were married in Philadelphia."

What was I to do? If I called her house detective and got him to make the Belfast Chicken give her back her original $300, she would probably stop speaking to me. How about the FBI? Was there a law against teaching an innocent octogenarian to gamble? While I was trying hard to think of some answers, she said, "Mercy, this talk of ours must be costing you a fortune. We'd better hang up, dear. Good night."

My nine weeks' travail began with that Eagles-Browns return game. With 30 seconds left to go in the last quarter, the score Cleveland 29, Philadelphia 28 and the ball in midfield, Norm Van Brocklin threw a long pass intended for Pete Retzlaff. It was intercepted by the Browns, run back to midfield again, and there went my mother's birthday money that she had put by to have some fun with some day.

But, oh, munificent Jehovah, a flag was down on the play! Interference: Vince Costello, the Browns' linebacker, had tripped Retzlaff, and it was the Eagles' ball again. Then Walston, the end whose wonderful face looks as though it was carved out of a walnut, kicked a field goal. Final score: Eagles 31, Browns 29.

Some side dishes

The following Sunday my mother introduced what she called a side dish. The Eagles weren't playing that week, so she put $300 on St. Louis to beat the Giants in their return game at the Yankee Stadium, and they did, 20-13. I was worried green, of course, over the pick. "We all had such a lovely time at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904," she explained.

Every Sunday the Eagles would double my mother's money, and the side dish became a regular added attraction. How she could smell out an upset! Despite my stern and repeated warnings that Paul Brown was a genius, the most dangerous coach in pro football, a winner of 11 titles in 14 years, and therefore in betting to be avoided like the pest, my mother loved to beat Cleveland. She side-dished against them in their three regular season losses, their tie with St. Louis and even their defeat in the runners-up postseason playoff by Detroit, that just-another-ball club of mine. "I never cared for Cleveland," she would say. "It's so terribly drafty in winter."

I had not been betting on any games myself because I had been so busy shivering in the stands or sweating before the set and dying for Dear Old Mother. But near the end of the season I did have one bet. I won't name my pick; all I'll say is that I put a great deal of effort on it. This team represented a town never exceptionally drafty in winter, and it was one my family had always had happy relations with and pleasant memories of. Some of the gladiators had romantic names, and on the squad there was fatherhood in plenty. Most important of all, perhaps, it would have been a big upset if my pick had won. Instead, alas, it got creamed. I didn't tell my mother of my bet, but asked her if she could account for the creaming. She reflected for a moment, then said, "Their general manager carries a revolver."

After the Eagles had won the championship by beating the team she never calls the Packers, but always the Green Bays (and whenever she does, it always makes me think of pool tables), I asked my mother how she had been able to make such a dazzling pick so early in the season with only misleading evidence to go on.

Well, in the first place, she had heard or read that Norm Van Brocklin was a model family man. As she put it, "Busy as he was, and worried to death, naturally, he still found time to show those little girls of his over our state battlefields." That swayed her mightily, but the clincher was when she learned—through Heaven knows what channels—of the tattoo that Chuck Bednarik carried on his colossal right arm. It is a winged heart topped by a rising, or maybe a setting, sun (Chuck himself isn't certain which), and in the center of the design is etched the word MOTHER. With two such boys as that on the team, how could the Eagles possibly lose?

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