The underdog New York Jets’ surprise victory over the formidable Baltimore Colts in 1967 transformed The Super Bowl into an American institution. Ever since that upset gambling has been an important element of that tradition and for the week before the NFL’s final game the diamond dealers and jewelers on 47th Street wagered on the point spread, the over-under, which teams scores first, and the MVP. Some claimed to have a system, but Richie Boy and I bet the Super Bowl according to the Manny Principle, which was that his father, Manny, had never won a bet on the Super Bowl.
The 1991 Championship was between the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills. The point spread favored the Bills by 7. All week long Richie Boy’s older brother, Googs, my co-worker Domingo, and I had badgered the old diamond dealer for his pick, but Manny held his sand.
On Saturday we intensified the pressure. We were running out of time. The Big Game was tomorrow.
“C’mon, Dad, give us a break,” pleaded Richie Boy.
“Not a fucking chance. Anytime I tell you, I lose.”
“But if you lose, we win.”
The previous year Googs had won $1000 betting on the 49ers' landslide victory over the Broncos.
“And I haven’t seen a pfennig from you gonifs.” The sixty year-old Brownsville native wasn’t superstitious, but this losing streak was a long-running joke amongst his friends and family. “You’re invited to watch the game at my apartment. There’ll be food, booze, and a big TV, but you want to make a bet, use your luck and not mine.”
Manny didn’t speak to us for the rest of the day. Richie made two sales on diamonds memoed from the Randolph firm across the aisle. Domingo and I spent the afternoon schlepping orders from the polishers to the setters to the polishers again and back to the store.
After the doors of the exchange were locked, we stashed the goods in the safe and Manny paid our salaries.
Normally we were out the door a second later, but not tonight.
“So seriously, who you like?” Googs wasn’t leaving without an answer.
“I’m not saying nothing.”
“C’mon, Dad, give us a break.” Richie Boy pleaded on bended knees, which wasn’t easy since he had torn both ACLs in Jackson Hole over New Year’s.
“What break?” Manny leaned back in his chair.
We weren’t the only ones waiting for his prediction.
A score of diamond dealers stood outside on the sidewalk.
Mr. Randolph turned up his hearing aid to 10.
The Jamaican guard lingered at the counter. Someone knocked on the glass window. It was Uncle Seymour. The guard unlocked the door for the ex-cop. Manny glanced at his lanky brother and said angrily, “You don’t come to see me here all year and now you show up like a long-lost shoe.”
“Don’t have a cow.” Seymour was a die-hard gambler. “I was only passing by.”
“Passing by, my brother, the ex-cop, passing by on the way back from the track.”
“Ain’t no racing this time of year.” The ex-cop loved the horses and each year donated a goodly share of his pension to OTB. Seymour turned to Richie Boy.
“He’s not telling us, is he?”
“No.” Richie Boy shook his head. “The old bastard thinks he’ll win, if he doesn’t tell us.”
“Win?” Seymour laughed as only an older brother can laugh at his younger brother.
“What?” Manny was hot. “You think I can’t win on this bet?”
“Manny, I love you, but you haven’t won a Superbowl bet since the Jets lost to the Colts.”
“That’s not Manny’s fault.” I had to defend my boss on this point. Maybe he’d give me his bet and I could double up on the $500 in my pocket.
“Ass-kisser.” Googs called them as he saw them.
“No, Manny was fucked by a fixed game.”
“They don’t fix the Superbowl.” Seymour’s statement was more a question than a challenge.
“Really, four years ago I’m sitting at a hotel in Paris. I run into Bubba Smith of the Baltimore Colts who’s promoting POLICE ACADEMY and I ask him after a few drinks, “How you lose that game to the Jets?” At first I thought he would take off my head, instead he whispered, “They got to the quarterbacks.”
“Quarterbacks? You mean Johnny Unitas.” Seymour mentioned his name in reverence.
“Earl Morall too. The bookies had threatened to kill their families, so Manny’s losing streak is intact according to my reckoning.
“They fixed the quarterback?” Manny had won a G on that bet.
“Why you think Joe Namath was so confident. He knew the fix was in.”
“It was only one game.”
“What about 1979? All the smart money went on Pittsburgh to cover the 3.5 spread, then the bookies stretched it to 4.5. You might not remember the game but Dallas trailed 35-17 with 7 minutes left> Somehow they come back to score 2 TDs and beat the spread, fucking everyone who bet the Steelers.”
“I lost that bet too.” Manny pounded his desk. He hated the bookies.
“I won,” stated Seymour proudly
Back then I had learned of the Manny Principle from his cop brother moonlighting at Hurrah, a punk disco on West 62nd Street. Seymour had said it was sure thing and I had bet my salary on the Cowboys covering the spread based on his recommendation.
Googs brought us back to the present. “Dad, nothing you do can stop you losing the Super Bowl.” Googs was in debt to his car dealer. “I win and I’m good for the winter. Think of your kids. Me and Richie.”
Manny eyed us all.
Domingo and I were almost family.
“Not a chance.”
“Dad,” Richie Boy spoke with a soft tone that he used it to close deals. “How much you gonna bet. $500? $1000. You tell us your choice and we’ll make good your loss and give you a little bone.”
“A real hero.” Manny waggled his head in defiance. “You want me to lose.”
“I don’t want you to lose, but you’re going to lose.” Richie held up 10 C-notes. “You lose every year. Not on everything. Just the Super Bowl. We’ll make good for you.”
“So you want me lose the bet and then you pay me the money.”
“Simple. You come out ahead.”
“What makes you so sure that I won’t win this year? The Bills are favored by 7.”
“Manny?” Richie Boy, Googs, and Seymour shrugged sympathetically in unison.
“I can’t win with you guys. I bet the Bills.” He threw his hands in the air and stood up to get his coat.
“You bet the Bills?” Seymour demanded, since the Bills and Giants had matching 13-3 records. “You know something we don’t know.”
“Only that Jim Kelly is going to win a Super Bowl.” Manny pointed a finger at his son. “So big shot, just remember what you said, because this year I’m winning big.”
“Right.” Richie Boy and I nodded to each other and left to place our bets on the Giants.
That Sunday we went to Manny’s apartment in Gramercy Park. An assortment of food from Little Italy covered the table. The couch was big enough to sit Googs, Seymour, Richie Boy, his wife from Buffalo, and his two high school friends; Gramercy and RD.
“You watch. The Bills gonna win.” Manny poured us wine.
“I don’t care if they win as long as they don’t cover the spread.” Googs had everything riding on the Giants.
“I can’t wait to hear your tears.”
Of course there was no weeping or gnashing of teeth. The point spread was never in danger. The Giants ran over the Bills’ defense and Scott Norwood kicked a field goal to win the game 20-19.
We were richer men for ignoring his advice.
Richie Boy happily paid his father $1000 for his loss and we drank the rest of the wine toasting Manny, but the diamond dealer was in too good a mood for my tastes and when we went out onto the balcony to smoke a joint, I asked, “Why you in such a good mood?”
“Because I bet the Giants.” He checked to make sure no one was eavesdropping on us.
“But you told us that you bet the Bills?”
“And you believe everything someone tells you?” Manny liked answering a question with a question.
“Don’t believe nothing and don’t tell anyone this either.”
“Why you tell me?”
“Because no matter if I tell you not to, I know you’ll tell your friend Richie that I bet on the Giants and I want to see his face on Monday.”
“But you took $1000 from him?”
“No, he gave it to me.” Manny looked over his shoulder and smiled, “Everyone’s much happier thinking I have a curse. Why spoil their good time? Tomorrow’s another day.”
I felt bad about saying nothing to Richie Boy about his father’s bet, because he was so happy, but Monday would be a different story and I wanted to see his face too.
Like I said I was almost family.