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My mother, who is 84, is mad about football players. She lives, off and on, in a Pittsburgh hotel where visiting teams sometimes stay—professionals in town to play the Steelers, and collegians there to play Pitt.
A few years ago I phoned my mother from New York and told her that the next day I was going to watch the Giants play their first home game—in Yankee Stadium against the Washington Redskins. She told me it would do me a world of good to get some fresh air for a change. Then she asked me who I thought would win, and I told her that, according to the experts, the game should be just a wholesome workout for the Giants.
"The Redskins are such a nice family team," she said. "Johnny Olszewski, their fullback, has three children." I told her that the Giants' fullback, Mel Triplett, was the father of eight. "For heaven's sake!" she said. "I never knew that." The size of Mel's family seemed to awe my mother. I suggested that on the basis of such vital statistics the Giants should score two and two-thirds times as many points as the Redskins would. "You may be right," she said, "though personally I doubt if they'll come out ahead by such a wide margin."
If you recall the game I saw, it was quite an upset. The Giants had won their first three games on the road—against San Francisco, St. Louis and Pittsburgh—and the game with the Steelers had been a real cliffhanger. Later the Giants' coach, Jim Lee Howell, said, "Every time we see that Bobby Layne, he scares us to death." Perhaps winning the cliffhanger took something out of the Giants. At any rate, the Redskins wouldn't hold still, and the score was 24-all.
After dinner I called my mother and congratulated her on her picking. "Oh, I knew it would be like that," she said. She knew it would be 24-24? "Well, no, but I somehow had the feeling that the Giants wouldn't come out ahead by a wide margin. So when I was offered 10 points, I considered it my duty to accept. A very nice gentleman here in the hotel gave me the points and the Redskins. Wasn't that sweet of him?"
Who was this nice, sweet gentleman? "A Mr. Blancheflower, but he has the oddest nickname. They call him the Belfast Chicken." Was the Chicken staying at the hotel? "He isn't actually registered here, but I see him every time I pass the cigar stand." Now for the Big One: How much had she bet? "Three." Three dollars? "No, $300. It was some old birthday money I'd put by to have some fun with some day."
In all my life I had never known my mother to make a bet, and I would have worried if she had risked money on there being a U. S. Grant registered at Grant's Tomb. Had Mr. Blancheflower paid off? "Why, of course. I told you he was a gentleman, didn't I?" Phew! So she had, and so he was. Well, now that she had had her fun, she could bank it first thing in the morning, couldn't she? In the savings account, repeat, savings account. "But I can't do that," my mother said. "I've already put the whole $600 on the Philadelphia Eagles."
The Eagles had opened that year against the Cleveland Browns and got their brains kicked out. They next squeaked past the Dallas Freshmen, but had to block two point-after-touchdown attempts to do it. In their third game they managed to beat St. Louis and look terrible at the same time. That coming Sunday they were playing Cleveland again. The score in the opener was Browns 41, Eagles 24. This time it was bound to be worse.
"You know, that's what everybody thinks," my mother said, lowering her voice and giggling like a girl owning up to some amorous escapade. "You should see the lovely points I'm getting. Did you notice that the Eagles beat Detroit today? What do you think of Detroit?" I told her they went 3-8-1 last season, and that this fall they had already dropped three straight—just another ball club. "Don't be too sure," she said. "They have such pretty names: Yale Lary, Night Train Lane, Nicholas Pietrosante. And you know Joe Schmidt is one of our Pittsburgh boys?"
I said it was a pity the Eagles couldn't borrow all four of them to help out in Cleveland next Sunday—at that game she had bought a $600 ticket to. "Oh, I've put only $300 on next Sunday's game," she said. "The rest I've put on the Eagles to win the semifinals." By semifinals my mother meant merely the championship of the league's Eastern Conference.