Leave the Red Sox,take the cannolis

Still haunted by Len Bias

Leaving Las Vegas

The most common question you’re asked after you spend a week in Vegas: “Did you win?”

Well …

As improbable as this might sound, I actually had a chance to finish on the positive side after six consecutive days of gambling — with bronchitis, no less — which would have catapulted me into the Gambling Hall of Fame (located at Art Schlichter’s childhood home in rural Ohio).

Down about $135 for the trip on Sunday, I made a “$90 to win $75” tease on the Steelers and the Patriots (up to plus-14 against the Rams). After the Steelers covered, I slapped down another “$88 to win $80” wager on the Rams (giving eight to the Patriots), which meant I was trying to “middle” the Pats-Rams game — if the game ended with the Rams winning and the spread falling between 8 and 14, I would win both bets for $155 (the most I could lose was $15).

Couple of problems here. First of all, I was betting on a game involving my favorite team, always a no-no. Even worse, I needed them to lose by a certain number, which meant I was subconsciously rooting for the Rams and fighting those nagging “I can’t believe I bet against my favorite team” thoughts. And even worse, I was setting myself up for the dreaded Double Whammy — the Rams beating the Pats by less than eight, which would mean that I didn’t win any money and I would have to deal with the fact that I jinxed the Pats.

So what happened? The Pats hung tough all game, cutting it to seven with a few minutes remaining. When the Rams drove down the field on the ensuing drive, trying to run out the clock, I was rooting for the Pats, not my bet … but as soon as the Rams crossed the New England 30, the Evil Gambling Side took over and caused me to root for a field goal (and a 10-point lead).

bill simmonsIn the sports book, I was making rationalizations to justify the fact that I was suddenly rooting against the Pats — Interconference games don’t matter. They weren’t supposed to win this game anyway. This was a moral victory just keeping close with St. Louis, etc. — but the fact remains that I turned on the Pats in “Shawn Michaels super-kicking Marty Janetty through a plate-glass window” fashion. All this was missing was WWF announcer Jim Ross screaming, “Noooooo! Nooooooo! Nooooooooo! What is the Sports Guy doing? I can’t believe this!”

Anyway, it came down to one play: Right before the two-minute warning, the Rams had a third-and-3 on the New England 20. If the Pats stopped them there, Jeff Wilkins would have trotted out to kick a 37-yarder and catapulted me into gambling glory. So Warner hands off to Marshall Faulk … who slices through the line, gets the first down and makes it all the way to the 10 before getting tackled at the two-minute warning. Ugh. Close, but no cigar.

So I dropped about $150 in six days on gambling ($148 to be exact). And irony of ironies, the Sports Book ended up doing in the Sports Guy: I squandered about $250 on dumb sports bets over the past three days. Go figure.

Here are the final totals:

    Poker: plus-$125 (plus-$350 on Saturday)
    Blackjack: minus-$60 (plus-$200 on Sunday)
    Sports Book: minus-$213 (4-6 NBA, 0-1 Hasim Rahman-Lennox Lewis, 1-1 NFL)
    Total: minus-$148.

Hey, I’m not arguing. Going into this trip, I was just hoping that my losses would remain under the “$100 per day” mark, so leaving Vegas at minus-$148 feels like a moral victory … kind of like how Bill Belichick and the Patriots felt after hanging close with the Rams for four quarters. Things have a strange way of coming around when you’re in Vegas.

***** ***** *****

Some leftover notes from the Rahman-Lewis fight, which was the whole reason ESPN.com sent me to Las Vegas in the first place:

  • I keep seeing Rahman at Thursday’s press conference, totally confident, telling the press how he refused to sign any multifight extensions — because his market value would shoot even higher after he defeated Lewis again — as Don King sat beside him, smiling, waving a U.S. flag and probably thinking to himself, “What a dummy.” Poor Rahman. He had his 15 minutes, he had his one chance … and he blew it. Probably cost himself $30 million-$40 million.

    (If you tape the fight on HBO this Saturday, check out Rahman’s face as he’s coming out before Round 1 — he looks totally overwhelmed. The fight was over right there. The guy put too much pressure on himself, and it ended up destroying him. Lewis just finished the job.)

  • Here was the press room food spread for the fight: One-pound german hot dogs, sauerkraut, chili, hot dog buns, nachos and cheese sauce. And you wonder why the weight of the average sportswriter is 285.3 pounds.

  • One bitter disappointment for me: Mandalay buried me with my press credential, shoving me in the auxilary press box on the fourth floor of the stadium. I ended up watching the fight in my little mini-press box, about 900,000 rows from ringside, along with a maintenance man from Otis Elevators and two PR people who became really excited when Penny Marshall was introduced. Just shoot me. You’re better off watching the fight from home than watching a fight from that far away — I couldn’t determine whether any of the punches were doing any damage (although Lewis’ final knockout blow was unbelievable to watch, even from that far away).

  • Maybe the most enjoyable thing about being there was hearing the crowd — how the level of excitement starts to rise as you approach fight-time, a palpable buzz. Very cool.

    Kurt Warner

  • One other memorable moment from the fight: Jewel sang the National Anthem and tried to go for the “Tender, barely-audible” routine, like she was singing “Who Will Save Your Soul” or something. Big mistake. The crowd was loud enough already, and once people realized that they couldn’t hear her, some fans started heckling her and screaming stuff like, “Louder, Jewel!” and “Put your voice into it!” They immediately were “Shhhhhhhhhh’ed” by the Moral Majority — people who were apoplectic that somebody would shout something negative during the national anthem.

    Then something neat happened: Since nobody could hear Jewel, everyone in the crowd decided to just sing along. It ended up being one of those quirky “Everyone in the stadium banding together” moments that make sports so endearing. My favorite part of the whole night.

  • These are the celebrities who were introduced before the Rahman-Lewis fight: Drew Carey, David Spade, Montell Williams, Tom Arnold, DeMarco Farr, Jimmy Johnson (second biggest cheer), Sugar Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya, Serena Williams, Sammy Hagar, Reggie Jackson, Rosie O’Donnell (roundly booed), Johnny Ruiz, David Schwimmer, Floyd Mayweather, Carrie Fisher, Bernard Hopkins, Paul Reiser, Tracy Ullman, Penny Marshall, Meg Ryan (third biggest cheer), Sidney Poitier, John McEnroe and Arnold Schwarzenegger (biggest cheer).

    I mean … look at that list again. Good Lord. Couldn’t they have gotten Sammy to sing “Over the Top” before the main event? Does Montell Williams still quailify as a celebrity? (Can I get a ruling on this?) And how does David Schwimmer ever get introduced in public without at least 10 people lobbing bags of urine into the ring?

    Sports Guy’s lists

    Favorite casinos

    1. Mandalay (Best lighting, best crowd, best sports book)
    2. Venetian (Classiest place, biggest rooms, good sports book, good lighting)
    3. Hard Rock (Hippest crowd, best music, coolest atmosphere)
    4. Treasure Island (Easiest place to get a $10 table, nicest dealers, the House That Sports Guy Built)
    5. Rio (Best people watching)
    6. MGM Grand (Sprawling, best bang for your buck)

    Least-favorite casinos
    1. New York, New York (The kind of place you see guys wearing sleeveless white T-shirts and girls with big hair — hey, sounds like New York!)
    2. Excalibur (yikes)
    3. Aladdin (just a disaster)
    4. Caesar’s (too passé)
    5. Luxor (kind of place where the blackjack tables have cigarette burns on them)
    6. Bellagio (kind of stale and stiff)
    7. Mirage (too dark, too stiff)

    (By the way, after they introduced everyone, I spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out the most awkward possible three-way conversation among the people in that group and decided it would involve Bernard Hopkins, Serena Williams and David Spade. Not sure why. Fun game to try if you’re bored. I bet you get sucked in.)

  • Speaking of celebrities, I finagled an invite for me and my posse into Lennox Lewis’ post-fight party, which was held at a restuarant called Aureole (at Mandalay). Unfortunately, because I had to file a post-fight story for ESPN.com, we didn’t make it into the party until about midnight; most of the celebrities had fled the premises by then. You know the party is officially losing steam when you walk in, and the first celebrity you see is Tom Arnold … and he’s leaving. We also saw one of the Wayans brothers (either Shawn, Marlon or Tito). Maybe the highlight was when Hopper and I had this exchange:

    — Hopper: “This place is loaded with hookers, bimbos and old Jewish guys.”
    — Me: “Sounds like my prom night!”

    (One thing about those parties: The number of groupies and professional harlots is simply staggering. You can totally understand why so many athletes and celebrities eventually knock people up … these women were dressed to the nines and ready to roll. They all looked like they were auditioning for the “J-Lo Story” or the “Lil’ Kim Story.”)

  • That reminds me, when my buddies were waiting in line for me at Aureole, Paul Reiser and Penny Marshall stormed by them and had this exchange (as they skipped past the line and headed into the party):

    — Paul: “Are there gonna be hot chicks at this party? There better be (bleeping) hot chicks at this party.”
    — Penny (rolling her eyes): “Yes, Paul, there are going to be (bleeping) hot chicks at this party.”

    (You have to love Vegas.)

    ***** ***** *****

    Time for a gambling story:

    On Saturday afternoon, I’m playing seven-card stud and staying alive in what’s shaping up as a gigantic pot. I’m holding two kings, two queens, a jack and a 10 and looking for either a full house, a flush (one more heart). It never even dawns on me that I could have a possible straight.

    So I’m dealt the nine of hearts. Boom. There’s my flush. Impossible to beat unless the people I’m going against have a full house. I’m rearranging my hand and …

    Hey …

    Wait a second…

    Arnold SchwarzeneggerKing, Queen, Jack, 10, Nine.

    All in hearts.

    Straight flush.

    Three things you need to know about a straight flush:

    1) It’s the poker equivalent of a pitcher throwing a no-hitter.
    2) Only a Royal Flush can beat it (and that’s a once-in-a-lifetime hand).
    3) Straight flushes are so rare that the house actually gives you money when you get one.

    Now …

    I’m trying to keep my eyes from bugging out of my head. I bet $5, desperately hoping that someone will raise me and remembering that I might never have a “sure thing” hand again. The guy to my left folds. The grumpy, unhappy guy across the table decides to call, throwing in $5 and turning over two aces and two kings. Yeah, right. I take my sweet time dropping my cards down, King-though-Nine, all hearts.

    “That’s a straight flush!” says the dealer.

    You betcha. The house ended up paying me $265, I raked in another $85 with the pot and wound up cashing in $350 in chips. And the best part was watching all the unhappy people at the table looking pissed because the preppy kid just drew a straight flush.

    Vegas, baby.


    ***** ***** *****

    Some other memories from the week that was:

  • Walking the strip with Geoff and Bish on Thursday (an annual tradition for every Vegas trip) and hitting as many casinos as possible. Of course, we ended up at Treasure Island for a few hours, the place where I lost my gambling cherry in 1996 and the same place where Bish and I embarked on a legendary “no dinner/30 mixed drinks/improbable comeback/eight-hour” gambling binge back in ’99 (which ended up with me cashing in a $500 chip and peeing next to WWF wrestler Undertaker within the span of two minutes — one of the most memorable nights of my entire life).

    JewelAnyway, Bish and I were walking around searching for the table where we staged the comeback and realized that Treasure Island had shifted things around, added a few slot machines and dumped that section of tables. I actually felt a twinge of sadness about the whole thing. And if you don’t understand that … well, you’ve never been to Vegas.

  • Standing at the Mandalay Sports Book and staring at the Miami-Syracuse game on the Big Board. A longtime reader of mine has exhibited an uncanny knack for picking college football games over the years, so when he found out I was heading to Vegas, he sent me something of the “Miami minus-21 over Syracuse — just trust me” variety. But when I headed down to the Mandalay Sports Book to make the bet, the line stretched practically out of the sports book and past the poker room … so I bagged it. Four hours later, I checked the scores: “Miami 59, Syracuse 0.” Haunting. It’s amazing how that always happens at least once in Vegas: The Lost Bet.

  • Waiting in line with my buddies for breakfast at Raffles Cafe on Saturday morning, hung over, hungry and bitter that “selected VIP guests” got to jump us at the VIP Line … when Don King suddenly emerged from nowhere, holding a U.S. flag, wearing a mink jacket, and stormed past our line, the hostess and everyone else to go eat breakfast. As if we didn’t already hate Don King enough.

    Rosie O'Donnell

  • Standing outside the New York, New York casino with Geoff and Bish, looking at the extended metal fence that separates the casino’s property from the street. In memory of Sept. 11, people had covered the fence with T-shirts, hats, banners, pictures and everything else you could imagine, and the fence extended all the way around the front part of the casino, for dozens and dozens of yards. The best part was that we stumbled across it, one of those “Hey, what’s that?” moments that quickly turned to a reverential silence. It’s that cool.

  • Humming the music from “Rocky” as Bish started to mount a comeback at the blackjack tables (roughly 3:30 Thursday morning), then raising it an octave after the dealer dealt Bish a “21.” Da-da-da… duh DAH duh duh… da-da-da… duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh duh-DA!” He ended up winning $250 in about 45 minutes, until Mandalay summoned Troy Percival from the bullpen in the Asian Gaming Room.

  • Playing blackjack with Mike and Dave at the Hard Rock on Saturday night, when Journey’s “Separate Ways” started blaring from the loudspeaker just as we started to mount a run at the dealer. Strangely inspiring. After every win, I performed the Steve Perry “Pumping my fist, looking intense and leaning against the wall” routine as Mike and Dave played air guitar and air drums, in homage to the video (absolutely, positively the funniest music video of all-time). And we kept winning, right until the end of the song. Vegas is a strange place.

  • Watching the Lakers blow their first game of the season Friday night (I had them in a tease against Phoenix), then watching the guy in front of me rip up his ticket, throw the pieces in the air, aim both middle fingers at the giant screen, scream, “(Bleep) you, Shaq!” and storm off. I think we all felt that way.

  • Getting awakened by Geoff at 9:30 Sunday morning, who asked, “I didn’t wake you up, did I?” and then followed that up with, “I wanna lay some wood on the Minnesota Wild — you joining me?” What a way to start the day.

  • Going to wake up the Hopp brothers in their room Saturday morning, with Mike predicting that at least one of the Hopps had caved and opened a $5 water bottle during the night (Mandalay puts them in your room, charges twice what they charge in the lobby shop and hopes you get drunk enough to drink them — a total ripoff). So we bang on the door, wake them up … and they’re lying in their respective beds with two half-empty $5 water bottles on the nightstand between them. Highest of high comedy. There isn’t a more predictable place on the planet than Vegas.

    ***** ***** *****

    Finally, here’s my random Vegas story of the week:

    I’m going downstairs to buy some cough syrup and pills at 3 a.m. Monday (my cold kept rearing its ugly head throughout the week — and the gambling marathon that lasted ’til 5 a.m. Friday wasn’t helping one bit). I’m half-asleep, in one of those hazy, surreal, “I’m so sick that I’m not even sure if I’m really awake right now” states. I’m wearing my glasses. Everything’s dead-quiet on my floor. I ride the elevator down, the doors open … and I’m in a casino! People gambling, people cheering, people screaming and whooping it up. It was jolting. You forget, Vegas never sleeps.

    Anyway, I buy my cough syrup and end up getting back on an elevator with four people, including a woman who looks like a hooker and asks the guy accompanying her, “What floor are we going to?” Hmmmm. Even Jimy Williams could figure this one out.

    So, the elevator starts going up and the hooker turns to the guy standing in front of me, who’s wearing an Eminem-type club outfit; suddenly she looks concerned, asking him, “Are you OK?”

    Eminem turns a little. He’s bleeding from the nose, the left side of his face is already starting to swell up and the front of his shirt looks like somebody dumped a quart of blood on it. It’s obvious that he just got his butt kicked. As I try to take 15 steps back in a 4-by-6 elevator, he starts mumbling, barely coherent and slurring his words.

    “Dgdgsgshshm,” he says. “Mdbdgfd fhfhfgs glgkfhjs afsfwds dbcdgdsg shshsg fkfkfdkds mndnsmn.”

    (Translation: “Yeah, I’m OK. I got sucker-punched at the club I was at. I’m changing my shirt, then I’m gonna go find those guys.”)

    The elevator stops, the doors open, and Eminem wobbles out, presumably to change, go find his gat and become the lead suspect in the next episode of “CSI.” The doors close, and we start shaking our heads.

    “He looked pretty messed up,” says the hooker sadly. “I hope he’s OK.”

    We have one of those unspoken, “Shaking our head/the world is a crazy place” moments. Then the elevator stops, and the doors open again. “This is our floor,” says the hooker’s date. He puts his arm behind her and gently pushes her out, but not before she smiles sweetly at me and the other man on the elevator and says goodbye. She’s about to go have sex with a strange man and get paid for it.

    Now the doors close one final time. The other guy and I glance at each other and start smiling. The guy shrugs.

    “Vegas,” he says.

    Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.

  • Filed Under: Las Vegas, Series, Sports, Teams, The Sports Guy

    Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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