Sal’s Pals: Where the Wild Card Is

We made it. After 17 weeks of Hypothetical Betting on the Hypothetical SuperContest our journey has come to a somber end. Last week I needed to go a perfect 5-0 in order for me to finish the gambling season with a winning record. My picks went 2-3, and my final record against the spread came to a semi-embarrassing 40-45. I did not come close to winning the Hypothetical SuperContest. That honor would go to CH Ballers, who went a remarkable 64-20-1 ATS on the year. That is a ridiculous run, and his $1,500 investment of actual dollars netted him a return of $736,575 and the title of top bettor in the land. Many, many congratulations. I apologize for not writing about his streak sooner, but as my bets turned dismal, it became painful to see the names of those succeeding around me. I’m sure in future years when I am a better bettor I’ll pay more attention to the leaderboard; it was just a down year.

Since I missed the chance to give proper recognition to one great bettor during the hottest streak of his life, I want to make sure that I do not miss the opportunity again. That is why this week (and throughout the 2014 Playoffs if his streak continues) the gambling department of TwH will be honoring the one and only Cousin Sal.


You may know Cousin Sal as the writer, performer, and prankster from Jimmy Kimmel Live!. For me, Cousin Sal is the regular Monday guest on the BS Report podcast with Bill Simmons. It would be very difficult for me to fully convey to you how much I look forward to each one of these new episodes. Simmons and Sal have been guessing the lines for seven years, and their passionate, animated conversations about gambling are at least 63% responsible for my desire to write about, talk about, and think about gambling every season. Cousin Sal even writes a prop bet column for Grantland every Thursday in which he gambles with “jermajesties,” a currency he made up for the purposes of writing about gambling on the Internet.

I had never heard of the Las Vegas SuperContest until Cousin Sal and Bill Simmons started entering it three or four years ago. Thanks to them, we’ve now had two full years of Hypothetical SuperContest columns. Last year, when I was attempting to follow and write about football from across the Atlantic, listening to the duo was a reminder of home, their “Andre the Giant” and “Mike and the Mad Dog” bits a comfort to me as a stranger in a strange land.

But now, Cousin Sal has found a tertiary channel to media impact. For the past six weeks Sal has picked three games against the spread as a segment on SportsCenter. So far, he has gone a remarkable 15-0 with three pushes. In some turn of universally pleasing cosmic energy, Sal has perfectly timed his greatest streak as a gambler to coincide with the moment that his picks would get the most exposure possible.

This is the dream. I would commit to ten straight seasons as bad as this one if I could have the greatest streak of my life broadcast on a massive platform. But Sal’s hot streak still hasn’t been given the attention it deserves. Despite garnering a few articles from Business Insider and Hollywood Reporter, Cousin Sal said on a recent BS Report that his SC segments were still getting cut short.

Thusly, the 2014 TwH Playoff Picks column will be dedicated to Cousin Sal. Last year, I gave myself $530 hypothetical dollars to bet with in the playoffs, as that is how much any reader of mine would have made if they trusted my every pick and put $110 down on each game. This year, I’m going to start off with $1,500 in hypothetical dollars in honor of the Cousin. Over the course of the playoffs, I will bet my investment as if I were actually in Vegas with the goal of going 11-0 and making as much money as possible.

Oh, that’s the other thing: I’m actually in Vegas right now.

After a weird night on a bus and an even weirder taxi ride, I arrived in Las Vegas to see The Roots play on New Year’s Eve and hang out with my Pops as he finishes up work here. After a killer opening to 2015, I decided to stay in Sin City and cross another item off of my Las Vegas bucket list: Wild Card Weekend at Mandalay Bay. So far my bets are going just about as average as my column picks were this season. I have not yet lost all of my money, but I definitely have more than a little less than what I got here with. My bankroll is low enough that I fear using it as my gambling money is this column, for fear of bankrupting my self and having to take a hypothetical loan just so I can keep writing a column through the playoffs.

Plus, it’s way easier for me emotionally to make my bets public with $1,500 hypothetical dollars than to invite you all to watch as my bad picks destroy not only my ego but my wallet. I mean, do you remember the World Cup? That was brutal.

So anyway, I am here in fabulous Las Vegas with $1,500 hypothetical dollars and an undisclosed amount of actual dollars available to bet with. I have four picks to make. As I sat watching Oklahoma State destroy my three-game parlay on the big screen at Mandalay Bay last night, my eyes wandered to the lines for the Wild Card games. They are really good lines.


My initial reaction to these lines was that I could go either way on any game. I get both sides and while there are definitely sides that I prefer, not one bet on this board is jumping out to me as easy money. I shot out a text to a few friends, asking if they had ten minutes to talk gambling. TwH compatriot Rory Masterson was the first to reply. I asked him to guess the lines as best he could, in hopes of comparing his guesses as someone unfamiliar with the lines to the reality of the spreads. If he thought the Steelers would be favored “by like six and a half” (he did), then does that make me think there may be a bit of value on Pittsburgh because the line is three points less? Definitely at least a little bit. We were basically having the same conversation with my friend that Cousin Sal has with Bill Simmons every week; we just didn’t record it and post it to iTunes to become one of the most downloaded podcasts on the Internet. But don’t put it past us: Rory and I might start doing that pretty soon.

Anyway, Rory does pretty well guessing the lines. We take an extra moment to talk about the Cowboys, as we both had seen a stat about Matthew Stafford on the road against teams with a winning record (Hint: not good), and even though I wanted to take the points, that fear of hating myself for taking Lions on the road was daunting. I decide I probably want to bet the Cowboys, but then look to see that I had ended up selecting all of the favorites, which was no way to go 11-0 in the playoffs. As we continue talking, Rory mentions that he recently had a dream involving Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray. I asked him to tell it to me, and it was so good I asked if he would mind writing it up for the column.


Editor’s Note: This is an actual dream that really, actually came to me one night. I had not taken in any illicit substances or alcohol because I had work the next morning, and I’m a good little boy. I don’t know what I ate.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. If that is true, my faith lies squarely on the bulky shoulders of one DeMarco Murray, All-Pro running back for the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL’s leading rusher this season. For one night in the middle of December, DeMarco Murray carried the burden of all my greatest hopes and most disastrous failures, lumbering with them through my unconsciousness like a boy in a village sent to fill a pail of water.

Allow me to try and do this justice: the game features the Cowboys visiting the Carolina Panthers, the incumbent team of the city in which I reside. The game is nationally broadcast on Fox, with the too-even-keeled Joe Buck announcing. There didn’t seem to be a color commentator (sorry, Troy Aikman), but Buck’s voice came in loud and clear: “…aaaaaaand here’s Murray, charging up the sideline, and he will score!” Our hero proceeded to run through the back of the end zone and out of the players’ tunnel, eventually emerging outside the stadium.

Continuing his pace, he quickly made his way to Interstate 485, a 59-mile loop which surrounds the greater Charlotte area. Continuing his charge, a helpful escort consisting of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police guided him, and all roads were blocked off on both sides. If I recall correctly, the dividing wall wasn’t even in the middle of the road. Through all of this, Buck continued his monotonous drone, even introducing the Sheriff at one point (his real name is Irwin Carmichael, but in my dream he became Sheriff McCalister or something to that effect). The Sheriff kindly directed Murray off the interstate and into a bordering cornfield.

My view for all of this was somewhere between a really disadvantageous video game angle and a floating helicopter. The best proxy I could concoct was that it reminded me of the older Grand Theft Auto games, the originals for the PC that featured exclusively overhead game play. I found a better screenshot from a more recent edition that is just a little closer. Imagine that little red car is actually a Dallas Cowboy, and that the police are escorting him instead of pursuing him. Close enough for rock and roll:

Murray never once broke stride, nor did his pace decline. When he got to top speed, he stayed there, like Bo Jackson in Techmo Super Bowl. Without defenders breathing down his neck, and minus the broken hand which would raise questions a week after my dream aired in my head’s television, Murray was free to gallop to his heart’s content. No Tony Romo interception would stall this drive. Murray ran for 1,845 yards in the regular season, which is good for a little over a mile total. I can’t say for sure how far he ran in my dream, though it was certainly farther than that.

Like all good, supernatural things, Murray’s colossal takeover of the Charlotte transportation system had to find its conclusion. The downfall was literal: in the cornfield, Murray fell into a trap door, not unlike those used in theatrical productions. He collapsed to a soft landing, and I fell after him, following him into the darkness. That’s when I awoke.

I know not with what weapons the Lions will fight, but the Cowboys are sure to feature DeMarco Murray prominently for as long as they can. Analysts and fans have been foreseeing an eventual breakdown, pointing to the fact that such an incredible and audacious rushing year must surely lead to consequences.

I’m no analyst, and I have no dog left in this fight. Where have all the cowboys gone? Step into my dreams, Paula Cole. The only entity I will choose to believe in this postseason is DeMarco Murray, for reasons stemming directly from watching him inexplicably and beautifully trudge up an interstate near my house in a dream. If my subconscious thinks he is capable of stopping traffic, who am I to argue?

Back to your regularly-scheduled and accurate forecast of this weekend’s professional American football conquests.

When I read the story of Rory’s dream, I think that it can only mean one thing. Somehow, the Cowboys and Panthers may be destined to meet in the NFC Championship Game. The Cowboys will be at home and heavily favored, but of course, it will be a trap game. The Panthers will at least cover and may even win the opportunity to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, much to the befuddlement of sports fans everywhere.

So I now knew that I at least had to pick the Cowboys, as DeMarco Murray is apparently some sort of chosen one who is currently carrying out universal energy and infiltrating the dreams of sports fans. This still left me with three games left to pick as I sat at my computer, attempting to write this article. So I did what is sometimes necessary for young men to do in times of confusion: I asked my dad.

“Who do you like for the games this weekend Pops?”

“I don’t even know who’s playing.”

I read off the games to my Pops, thinking to myself that as long as he picks the Cowboys, this is the way to go. For once Tyler, could you just listen to your father?

Pops made his picks:

“Cardinals, Steelers, Colts, and, what was the last one? Cowboys.”

Those translated to our picks, I’m betting with the vig in order to keep our numbers clean.

$105 on Cardinals (+6.5) over Panthers to win $100

$100 on Steelers (-3.5) over Ravens to win $105

$115 on Colts (-4) over Bengals to win $100

$110 Cowboys (-7) over Lions to win $100

Dad pauses for a moment after his last pick, then adds, “That’s off the top of my head. And I don’t have any idea what they’re record is.”

“Word. That’s perfect.” I reply.

“What’s that called? When it’s off the top of your head?”

“Clairvoyance.” I say, unsure as to how much I am actually joking. Regardless, Pops laughs.

Moments later, Cousin Sal appears on SportsCenter to make his playoff picks, and in a beautiful moment seemingly made to bring my article full circle, makes his one pick this week: the Arizona Cardinals. He tries to keep that as his only pick, but Kenny Mayne informs him that the producers are demanding he pick at least one more game.

Cousin Sal, dreaming the same dream we are, decided to back the Cowboys as well. I can’t tell you what a relief it is that sometimes the ends of these articles write themselves.

So those are our picks for the Wild Card weekend. It’s currently 4am in Las Vegas. I need to get some sleep, but I wanted to say again how grateful I am to have this space for writing about gambling and making judgements on the facial hair of professional athletes. We’ve now officially completed two seasons of the Hypothetical SuperContest, which is super cool. Thank you to all that made it possible, especially to my boys (Rory, Ray, JR, and Joe) and anyone who took the time to read the words I write. I really enjoy having a platform from which I can make picks, and I’m already looking forward to 2015.

Until next week, Happy Sundays.


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