Monday, August 27, 2007


Gambling and Sports-Football

The old gambling gossip has not been heard around the halls of the National Football League for some time. There are controversial stories that are emanating from Michael Vick’s behaviour in the Southern States that have many officials slightly nervous at this time.

Vick’s involvement with dog fighting has been quite well documented; however, his involvement with the type of gambling that goes with the dog fights still is somewhat murky. Lots of allegations; however, up to this point, nothing has been decided, nor proven.

The NFL is trying to clean up its image after a couple of seasons of controversy. Most of the problems stem from alcohol and substance abuse, and are not related to gambling.

In 1963, future Hall of Famer Paul Hornung was suspended from the NFL for one full season for “betting on games and associating with undesirable persons”. That decision came as a complete shock to football fans, especially Green Bay Packer fans.

He was their “Golden Boy”. (In fact, his autobiography published in 2004 is entitled Golden Boy). He teamed with Jim Taylor to form a backfield combination called “Thunder and Lightning”. Many experts considered Hornung to be the best short yardage runner ever to play the game.

He won the Heisman Trophy in 1956 as the most outstanding player in United States College football. Folowing an outstanding high school career, he decided to attend the University of Notre Dame. He was the quarterback who could run, pass, block, tackle, and yes, he was the team’s punter as well! He played both ways on a losing team, and is the only player in history to win the Heisman while playing on a losing team.

In 1960 in the NFL, in just 12 games he scored 176 points-as a halfback and a kicker. That record stood until LeDainian Tomlinson scored 180 points on 30 touchdowns in 2006.

He was always a fan favourite, but drove his coaches to distraction. Lombardi fined him several times for missing curfew. He also was labelled as a bit of a “loose canon” for his activities off the field. One of his quotes: “Never get married in the morning. You never know who you might meet that night.”

Also suspended with Hornung was Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions.

Karras grew up in Gary, Indiana, and excelled at football throughout high school. His father George was a Greek immigrant who got his medical degree in Canada. Alex Karras was heavily recruited by American colleges, finally deciding to attend Iowa. The team went to the Rose Bowl in Karras’s sophomore year.

Always outspoken, Karras made no bones about the fact that he was not thrilled with California: “Pasadena was the most boring town I have ever been in. I remember one guy on the team got a date. It was me, and she was 67 years old.” In his senior year, Karras excelled. He was a first team All American, and was second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. He was selected in the first round by the Detroit Lions.

He had a stint as a professional wrestler before attending his first camp with the Lions. (Several football players have gone that route, either before or after their careers on the field: Bronko Nagurski, Angelo Mosca, Gil Maines, to name a few.) He even had an offer to sign with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Karras also wrestled during his year under suspension in 1963.

Karras’s troubles were linked to his part ownership in a famous Detroit bar named Lindell’s. Commissioner Pete Rozelle warned Karras that the bar was the source of gambling and organized crime. At that point, Karras admitted to betting on NFL games.

The following year, after his reinstatement, he once refused when asked by an official to call the pre game coin toss. Karras told the referee; “I’m sorry, sir. I’m not permitted to gamble.”

Karras worked for three years as a commentator on Monday Night Football, and also starred on television as the father in the show entitled Webster. He is best known, however, as the slow –witted thug named Mongo, who knocked out a horse with one punch in the movie Blazing Saddles.

Lenny Dawson led the Kansas City Chiefs to victory in Superbowl IV, and also won MVP honours in that game. On the Tuesday evening before the game, it was announced on the Huntley-Brinkley Report that Dawson was one of several football players who was going to testify before a Grand Jury investigating gambling in Detroit. Other players named along with Dawson included Joe Namath, Karl Sweetan, Pete Lammons, and Bill Munson.

Nothing came of it-no summons, no apology, no word. Just speculation.

As long as there are games, there will be gambling. You can bet on almost anything in Las Vegas. There are also bookies in almost every city and town who will take your bets illegally as well. It is an easy, very lucrative business. The nature of the activity is greed, and it will be around forever.

Professional athletes are learning that the scrutiny by the media and by the public is almost overwhelming. There is very little that an athlete can do without someone looking over his or her shoulder, often with a cell phone and a camera. Discretion is the better part of valour.

International sport has been tainted with gambling scandals in the past few years-cricket, soccer, and even tennis.

Go ahead. Fill out that Pro Line form. But don’t ask me for advice. I wouldn’t know where to start. I will be sitting in Section 314. I can enjoy the game perfectly, without a little on the line.

James Hurst
August 27, 2007

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