"I really liked the Lakers," he says. "The Royals had [Oscar] Robertson, but that was about it. The Lakers had [Jerry] West and Chamberlain, and they were playing great." The Lakers were favored, but Forte was convinced they could beat the spread. He had already bet heavily when he walked onto the court just before the tip-off to look things over one last time.
"I saw Jerry West sitting on the bench," Forte says, "so I went over to shake his hand and said I hoped he'd have a great game, and he said, 'I don't think so, Chet. I probably won't even play.' He had a shoulder injury that had just tightened up on him. Jesus! I ran back up to the booth to find a telephone and started calling. I had to bet enough on the other side just to cancel what I already had down.... Without West, the Lakers were dead. Then I bet Cincinnati up until I would cover what I'd lose on the vigorish [the 10% extra a bettor pays on a losing bet] and still win a pile. The Lakers blew the Royals away. Covered easily."
Forte didn't get the message. He kept betting, kept on believing that he had, if not inside information, then superior insight. Which resulted in more losses. But it didn't matter. Because if he lacked the touch as a gambler, he had it as a director. In the booth, doing live TV, he felt invulnerable. And he lived like he was.
Conspicuous consumption was part of the ABC style. The crew flew first-class, took suites in the best hotels, ordered the left half of the room-service menu and the right side of the wine list, and moved around by limousine, which in those days was unusual and ostentatious. They were the best, and they flaunted their success.
There were parties and women. Forte would arrive at the stadium before the game to make his final preparations and engage one of the cheerleaders in conversation, telling her how he was going to put her face on prime-time television and make her a star. After the game he would meet her for dinner.
Celebrities were drawn into the orbit of Monday Night Football. Actors, entertainers and starlets wanted to be a part of what Meredith called "Brother Love's Traveling Freak Show." Forte recalls, with some amazement, a party in Atlanta. "Kris Kristofferson was there, and Meredith, and probably every good-looking woman in Atlanta came by to hit on those two. I just sat there in the weeds, picking off the strays."
On one occasion in 1973, Forte and producer Don Ohlmeyer invited two women into the truck before a game in Dallas. Forte sat in the director's chair, one of the women in his lap. Ohlmeyer was next to him in the producer's chair, the other woman in his lap. A few minutes before airtime, the truck door opened. Forte turned around just in time to see Arledge backing out and closing the door behind him.
"Jesus, that was Arledge," Forte said. "Get these babes out of here."
In New York the next day, Forte walked into Arledge's office feeling like a kid sent home from school. "Uh, Roone, listen," he said. "About last night. Why didn't you stick around?"
Arledge shrugged. "There wasn't anyplace to sit."