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The French Girl and the Giants in the Super Bowl

August 17th, 2009 · 1 Comment · NFL, Paris, Sports Journalism, The Sun

I bet on sports, basically, never. I’ve never placed a bet in Las Vegas. I haven’t spent one minute in/at a sports book. I don’t know a bookie. (Or, at least, I don’t think I know a bookie.) I can’t tell you what the point spread is on any game I’m not covering, and I look then only to see who the gambling public believes is the underdog. OK, wait. I do recall making a couple of bets at official, legal sources. At $2 each at the window in the press box at a couple of race tracks — Churchill Downs before the 1980 Kentucky Derby and at Santa Anita a few years ago. I lost both times.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t heard a sports gambling story. Just not as many as those of you who are real gamblers have.

One pertains to a former colleague of mine and “the horse that saved Christmas.” If he gets started on the story, you better have a half-hour to spend, because it’s that epic in the telling. I think Chris McCarron looms large; he tended to bet jockeys more than horses. The gist of the story: My colleague was down to his last $20, or whatever,  at the track and some long shot came in and he was able to buy gifts for everyone, after all. Not quite as heart-warming as “The Miracle on 34th Street,” but there you are.

The other sports gambling story I know … was one I heard the other night here in Paris.  About the Super Bowl and the French woman who bet big on it … despite knowing less about American football than I do about existentialism.

Let’s call her Marie. She is tres francaise. Born in France, lives in Paris. The most French person I’ve ever known. Luckily, her English is good or we would be reduced to pantomiming conversations, which is pretty much what I do in France. Aside from the stray pleasantry, that is, and the mispronounced restaurant orders.

Oh, and we were in a restaurant, when she told the story. Waiting for the entree as the single waiter literally jogged from table to table in a fairly crowded, fairly big restaurant.

She had been meaning to tell me this story for more than a year. Maybe because my wife and I took her to a prep football game a couple of years ago, and she loved it. The cheerleaders and the band and the crowd. And even the game, but less so.

Marie likes to gamble, occasionally. Which I didn’t know. And she got a gambling jones on the afternoon of Feb. 3, 2008. The day Super Bowl 42 was to be played between the unbeaten New England Patriots and the New York Giants.

Turns out, I was covering that game. In Glendale, Ariz.  Rooting against the Patriots, because I’m sick of Boston teams, and I didn’t want those guys to go 19-0. We’d never hear the end of it.

Turns out, Marie was invested in that game more than I was. Far more.

Marie apparently has a system for sports betting. Which is interesting in and of itself because there isn’t much sports in France to watch or gamble on. But somehow, for some reason, she heard about the building up the Super Bowl … and weighing the odds.

She is attracted to games, she said, in which one team is a heavy underdog. Like, say, the Giants on the eve of Super Bowl 42.

New England went off at 12-point favorites. Marie was intrigued. By the Giants.

Apparently, she was looking at that point spread all day, here in Paris, which is nine hours ahead of Glendale, Ariz. That is, the game kicked off at about 12:30 a.m. Monday in France, and she wasn’t going to stay up and watch it …

Except that … as the day went on, she kept upping her bet on the Giants. It started out fairly small, but by the time kickoff rolled around, she was in for 250 euros — or about $350 at today’s exchange rates. So now she was a Giants fan. As well as a Giants investor.

To my knowledge, the only football game she ever had seen, before that, was the high school game we took her to. She said, the other night, that she didn’t know the Patriots hadn’t lost a game in 18 tries … and she was cast into the slough of despond when she heard the French-language broadcasters suggesting the game might not be close, the Patriots being that good, and all. Well, actually, unbeaten. “This,  I did not know,” she said as we poured the Cairanne.

So, now she is nervous. She’s just plunked down a big chunk of change and hasn’t really checked out the game … and have I mentioned? She bet the Giants to win. The “whole game,” as gamblers say. Not just to cover that 12-point spread. To win. Over the unbeaten, 18-0 Patriots.

So, she goes ahead and watches the game. Right down to the final minute, which went off about 4:30 a.m. in Paris.

The Patriots had scored with 2:42 to play on a Tom Brady touchdown pass to lead 14-10. Things looked dire for the Giants and Marie’s 250 euros. The Giants took over on their own 17, needing a touchdown.

Which reminds me. There are three main ways to become a fan of a sports entity. You live in the same town as the team; your family roots for the team; or you have wagered a substantial amount of dough on a team.

Marie was from that third category of fan. She instantly was a huge Giants fan. As big a fan as anyone who grew up in Manhattan with Dad rooting for Phil Simms in front of the TV. She was as big a fan as anyone watching the game on either side of the Atlantic.

When describing her thoughts, during the last-gasp, 12-play, 83-yard drive that ensued, well, it’s not at all clear she at any point was sure what was happening … other than the guys in the blue helmets were getting closer to scoring. She remembered the name “Eli Manning.”

She did not, however, remember the name “David Tyree” — the backup receiver who made the clutch (and classic) one-hand-against-his-helmet catch on third-and-5 at the New York 44 with 1:15 to play. The 32-yard gain that made the upset quite possible.

She seemed, vaguely, to recall the over-the-shoulder catch Plaxico Burress made on a fade route four plays later, a 13-yard touchdown play with 35 seconds left.

Most of all, she recalls her euphoria. Millions of Americans can relate, I imagine.

“It was so exciting,” she said. “I was so nervous. And then the Giants win at the last moment!” She still enjoys telling the story. That’s clear.

And she recalls getting a payday in excess of 1,000 euro on her 250 investment.

“I have been waiting to tell you that story,” she said. “How I watched the whole game and my team won at the very end.”

So, she takes the underdog, doesn’t really know how big an underdog it is until after she’s in for a lot of money, stays up all night to watch her investment … and it comes in. A pretty good gambling story. In any language.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Doug Padilla // Aug 21, 2009 at 1:43 PM

    I hear “The Horse that Saved Christmas” is interesting. But have you heard about riding a freight train, or bringing the dog into the casino? Now those are tales worth the time.

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