I'm a loser. There's really no other way to put it. This probably doesn't shock most of you, particularly those who know me personally or those who tend to send in letters to the editor, most of which generally begin or end, not surprisingly, with "you're a (place expletive here) loser."
I've known for some time now what I am, and I've tried to live with it, but it can be difficult. This needs clarification. It's not that I'm an indigent slob living in a cardboard box next to the Dallas Observer's trash bins. It's quite the opposite; I have a good job, an easy life. By most accounts, my existence is simple in its everyday demands and affords me a good deal of nap and snack time. It's hard to ask for more than that, though I wouldn't mind having more cash flow--I wouldn't need Mark Cuban money; the Newy Scruggs tax bracket would be plenty Big Time enough for me.
The trouble lies, rather, with the indisputable fact that I'm profoundly unlucky in nearly every facet of my professional life. (If you're into schadenfreude, this is the column for you.) Specifically, I am the world's worst prognosticator, which is awfully unfortunate, because I'm the sports columnist for a weekly publication and, worse, I'm a degenerate gambler.
First things first. The paper is delivered on Wednesday and Thursday, but because of magazine-like deadlines, my story is read by my editor for the first time on the previous Friday. That means that if I write a Cowboys column, and then the Pokes play on Sunday, I had better be sure that my topic will hold. I'm always sure it will... at first. Then my luck, or lack of, kicks in and, usually, I'm screwed.
Some examples: Last week I wrote a story on Troy Hambrick. In the initial version, I hammered him for running like a little sissy girl and pointed fingers at anyone who backed him last year or this preseason. There were many I-told-you-sos, and it was, on the whole, a brutal indictment of his abilities. Wrote that on a Friday. I figured I was safe because, in the first two games, Hambrick ran like he had hemorrhoids, accumulating just 53 and 60 yards, respectively. I figured if I could bash anyone without fear, it was Hambrick. Wrong. On Sunday, against the New York Jets, he tied a career-high with 127 yards, leaving me with no choice but to rework my story and curse whatever vengeful, hateful god has it in for me.
This happens to me all the time. It's not that my opinions are necessarily wrong--because I still think Hambrick is subpar--it's that my timing is, well, unlucky. It occurs so often that it's become a running office joke. We call it the Gonz Curse. It's kinda like the Sports Illustrated jinx--where players who make the cover fall into a slump--except it happens more often.
Some more for-instances: Last year, the week that I decided to smack offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet around, the Cowboys racked up more than 400 yards of offense; when I wrote about La'Roi Glover and the improving defense, they surrendered 37 points; a feature story on the Cowboys and quarterback Tony Banks was massively overhauled because, the day before it went to press, Banks was cut. Again, if we had run those stories one week earlier, they would have slid through without incident.
It's not just football that gives me fits. I said the Stars would play deep into the playoffs shortly before they were smoked in the first round. I lauded Oklahoma hoops and said they'd go deep in the NCAA tournament (they got bounced by Syracuse). I spit on the University of Texas' team and said it would go nowhere (the Longhorns reached the Final Four). I told everyone that Penn would upset Oklahoma State in the first round of the tourney. (Nope.) I did write that the Rangers would be an embarrassment, but that's about as close to a layup as you get.
So what do I know? Not much. But I do know enough to realize that something has to give, and fast. I decide to call someone who might be able to explain why there are billions (trillions?) of people in this world, but I had to be born Johnny Mush.
"I don't know if anybody knows the answer to that question," Dr. N. Shirlene Pearson, SMU's director of statistical consulting, tells me. "To calculate odds on the scale you're talking about is not something you can do on the back of an envelope." She starts explaining something called the Bernoulli trials, and some other math stuff that is crazy complicated, and suddenly I'm wondering why I'm not lucky enough to get a statistics professor who speaks English. "Wiser sages tended to believe that there's no such thing as luck. It's how people make use of the opportunities presented to them. Maybe it's not just your timing. Maybe it's your wording."
OK, so I'm a poor wordsmith, and even less adept at picking my spots. But no such thing as luck? I've never won an office pool, a raffle or a game of bingo. I'm a guy who, a few years ago, was heading out to the bar with some buddies when, for some reason, I said, "Hey, wouldn't it suck if my car got broken into tonight?" Then it did. If that's not proof enough, what is?
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I suppose it wouldn't be that bad, this whole no-luck thing, if it didn't also cost me money. A lot of it. That is, for good or bad (mostly bad), I'm a gambler. These days, my game is poker, but I won't bore you with bad beat stories because everyone has them. Before I got into Texas Hold 'Em, I bet on sports. I used a bookie in Philly by the name of Leo. Leo loved to hear from me because, I'm pretty sure, my bets put his kids through college.
Last year I waited until Game 15 before placing a hefty wager on the Mavs (remember, they won their first 14). Before that, I never bet on the Yankees, because where I grew up, you hate all things New York. But when they played the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series a few years ago, I thought the Yankees were a sure thing to pull out Game 7. And they were--for eight and a half innings. The one and only game I bet on baseball's best team, they blew a ninth-inning lead when baseball's best closer, Mariano Rivera (who has a .079 career playoff ERA), surrendered a few runs. In the process he lost the World Series and, worse, more than $500 of my money. The grand sum I forfeited to Leo over the years could have financed a car dealership or a private plane; instead I drive a beat-up Honda Civic and fly coach to exotic locales like the Jersey shore.
"You're always one step behind," Leo says, laughing. "I've never seen anything like it. You could bet on the Harlem Globetrotters, and somehow they'd lose to the Washington Generals."
The Generals, huh? I wonder how many points they're getting.