Expressway: In a Super Bowl pool? Avoid my numbers!

A "roulette pool" box grid for the 2007

A "roulette pool" box grid for the 2007 Super Bowl between Chicago and Indianapolis is shown at a sports bar in Coram. (Credit: Newsday/ Bill Davis)

Sunday is Super Bowl XLVIII and with all the hype come hot wings, Bloody Marys, spinach dip, and a sum of money being wagered in "box pools" that probably equals the GNP of half of Central America.

Many Americans will join this great sporting tradition. For $2 at the office, $20 at a local pizzeria, or perhaps $50 at a favorite bar, they write their names in one or more of 100 squares on a grid. The vertical axis has the name of one team, and the horizontal axis the other. After squares are filled in, numbers zero through nine are randomly assigned to each row and column. Winners are chosen based on the score at the end of each quarter and the game itself.

Some will get into more pools than Michael Phelps. But of the millions of participants, I dare say that nobody has had worse luck in these pools than me. For this, I blame "the curse of the CBS cameramen."

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Before 1973, NFL broadcasts were blacked out in the host team's city, even if the event was sold out. If a Long Islander wanted to see a game on TV, it was necessary to drive more than 75 miles away from New York City. Otherwise, you listened to Marty Glickman call Giants games on WNEW radio, or Merle Harmon call Jets games on WABC and then WOR.

But there was another way: On Nov. 5, 1972, I went to a pub in Holbrook whose antenna could pick up telecasts from New Haven, Conn. On that day, Washington was playing the Joe Namath-led Jets at Shea Stadium, and Denver faced the then-awful Giants at Yankee Stadium, both at 1 p.m.

The barkeep ran a pool for the Jets game. I was fairly new to this type of betting, and bought a few boxes. Then as the game was about to start, the broadcast was suddenly cut off. A later news report said a cable at Shea was severed during a labor dispute between CBS and its cameramen. At the bar, the channel and the pool were switched to the Giants game.

Guess who had the winning numbers for the final score of the Jets game? Moi! Not only did I lose out on the pot, but this was the beginning of a downward spiral of bad luck. Since then, I've been taken "off the number" by more late scores, flubbed kickoffs, penalties and turnovers than you can imagine.

My wife and I have hosted a Super Bowl party every year since 1988. We always set up a $1 box pool, and each participant picks about five boxes. In 25 years, I have won just once! The prize that day was $50.

A few years ago, a young trainee from my employer's Tokyo office took one box -- and won the final-score prize of $100! The fact that she wouldn't know a football from a foot-long meant nothing. It is the "no knowledge required" element that draws non-fans into the pool.

The term "good numbers" is a fallacy. After the numbers are randomly selected, you'll often hear, "You've got good numbers" or "My numbers stink!" In the prior XLVII games, there have been XXXVII different combinations for the final score. In this day of multiple field goals and two-point conversions, I contend there are no such things as "good numbers," only bad ones.

"What are the bad ones?" you ask.

That's easy. The ones that match mine! And I generously invite any retired CBS cameramen to share them with me!

Reader Frank Lofaro lives in Westbury

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