SPORTS: Norm Nose Sports - 2006
That?s why, despite everything in his prodigious nose and Polish values telling him no, he finally said yes to The Ticket (KTCK-1310 AM).
?When I was at KLIF, The Ticket annoyed the hell out of me,? says Hitzges, who grudgingly made the intra-company radio move in 2000. ?I did not want to come downstairs.?
Betting on the lesser of two evils, however, was a five-star no-brainer. Joining the shtick-filled, 13th-floor station that delighted in mocking his numerous idiosyncrasies was, in the wake of KLIF?s decision to dump sports, a more appealing alternative than sitting silent six months because of a ?non-compete? clause in his contract.
?I wanted to explore my options,? Hitzges recalls. ?But it was made very clear to me that if I did that I?d have a legal problem.?
Six years later, chalk up another winner onto Norm?s gambling ledger.
America?s first full-time sports-talk radio host at a time when P1s and sound drops were just a twinkle in some program director?s vas deferens, Hitzges is these days more prominent, powerful and popular than ever. He raises money for the Austin Street homeless shelter, vacations in the Galapagos Islands and can walk into any bar this side of Cheers and be serenaded with ?Norm!?
Listen carefully; the 63-year-old has even befriended his 13-year-old enemies.
?I hear some stuff on The Ticket and think to myself, ?My Lord, I?d never put that on my show,?? Hitzges says. ?My tolerance has softened, but I also finally realized these guys have a work ethic as diligent as mine. They just work on different things. Far different things.?
Norm?s ultimate acceptance of radio?s dark side was made easier after decades living nefariously through sports gambling. For the last 30 years Hitzges? on-air ?Picks of the Pole??which debuted on KERA radio in ?75 as an alternative to Jimmy the Greek?have both revved his adrenaline and caused civil war between the little Norms on his opposing shoulders.
?As a Christian, I?ve been in a moral wrestling match since the day I started,? Hitzges says. ?I understand people listen to me, take my picks and go gamble. But I don?t like that.?
Seems a strange sentiment?hypocritical even?coming from a gambling guru who gives out his weekly selections for free on the radio and at his Web site (normhitzges.com) but charges $30 a month to join a ?Clubhouse? that offers detailed analysis of games and consensus picks gleaned from his network of handicappers. But Hitzges has evolved into a legendary personality grandfathered above accusation, evidenced by pro teams? coaches and owners appearing on his 10 a.m. to noon show and tempting league rules by tiptoeing around the fuzzy line between being interviewed by a radio icon and associating with a known gambler.
?The business of analyzing sports may be populated with thieves at a higher percentage than any other business,? Hitzges explains. ?I call them scamdicappers. If you?re going to bet, I?d rather you get real information and real research. That?s what I provide.?
To understand Hitzges? seemingly twisted rationale, realize that gambling was always woven into the fabric of his family. When his father passed away in ?99, Hitzges went to New York?s Saratoga Springs Race Track. Later, at the funeral, he placed the un-redeemed winning tickets inside Dad?s jacket.
?When he got to where he was going,? Hitzges says, ?I wanted to make sure he had a ticket to cash.?
Hitzges says he has never been a bookie, doesn?t have an online gambling account and makes his occasional bets through a liaison. While admitting a negative lifetime balance??I?m down, without question,? he says?he?s kept his habit from deteriorating into an addiction.
?There are times when I?ve said, ?Wait a minute, you?re betting eight games. This is crazy,?? says Hitzges, whose biggest payday was a $17,000 cash take-home from Lone Star Park in 2001. ?But this is my hobby. Some people drink $200 bottles of wine. I analyze sports.?
A far cry from going 22-1 in the 2003 NFL Playoffs or 19-8 during last year?s college bowl season, Hitzges? picks were 48-53 through September 17, including a horrific 8-23 week that spawned a tense on-air exchange climaxed by Ticket personality Gordon Keith offering to make better picks flipping a coin.
?I work on my picks, but sometimes my work is wrong. Brutally wrong,? Hitzges says. ?I?m not picking games out of a hat or reading tea leaves. In 30 years I?ve had only five losing seasons, so I must be doing something right.?
Through excruciating gambling defeats, a hip replacement and surgery to remove a spinal tumor that?s left him with minimal nerve sensation below the knee in his right leg, what Norm hasn?t lost is his passion for radio and wagering. Gambling is why Hitzges studied trends while in intensive care and once phoned in picks from Peru. Radio is why Hitzges says to bet against him retiring anytime soon.
?Strange as it is to have my identity tied to a microphone, I don?t know what in the world I?d do,? he says. ?I guess I?d play golf and fish and pick some games, but I do all that now. I am what I am.?
That, you can take to the bank. ?Richie Whitt