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Yale 62

Fore Play for Four Play

By Roman L. Weil

“B’hm Brett” and Roman at the game

Bama again — who gives a damn?   Cincy and Michigan fans, that’s who.

What a treat that the Class Communication Team asked me to write about my trip to the SEC Football Championship on December 4.  Little did they know what stories that trip weaved together.

Telling these stories involves shifting time perspectives that can confuse the reader, you, so I’ll be careful to give the perspective for each of my narratives.

1958, moving forward.

Unlikely that the Communications Team knew Bear Bryant arrived at Bama the same year we arrived in New Haven and that a Bama fan displaced to Yale Bowl did not recognize alleged football.  When the PA announcers called out the scores of the SEC games, eventually with the Bama scores, and I rose to shout, “Roll Tide,” my classmates thought me deranged.  I found convenient rooting for the Tide even during their doldrum years, which corresponded with my years of greatest attention to my career.

Growing up in a state that is last or next-to-last in virtually every statistical table you see (one learns gratitude for Mississippi) makes one unapologetic for the last decade champion Bama football teams.   When my Michigan and Ohio State and Stanford buddies ask if I don’t get tired of all the winning, I remind them of the decades in all other aspects of Alabama’s losing.

For several years, a big game of the college football season has been the SEC Championship, the first Saturday in December in Atlanta.  The winner of that game goes to the Four Play, known to some as the College Football Playoffs.  You can imagine that for Bama fans, Clemson fans, Georgia fans, and, to a lesser extent Ohio State fans, getting to the Four Play is the challenge.  What happens after that is a let-down.   The semi-finals of the Four Play are typically around New Year’s Eve when you’d rather be having a different sort of party with different sorts of people and the Finals, the second Monday in January, is, despite the ESPN hype, let-down personified, except for the alums of the few schools who’ve not been there before.

December 3, 2021.

The action plays [as you read this, played] out in Atlanta on Dec. 4.   And, this year it’s in Indianapolis, where Michigan fans have much at stake. (The locations are designated years in advance.)  Al Chambers doesn’t have as much at stake as I do.  How do I know?  He didn’t go to Indianapolis.  Other teams have much to gain or lose with their Dec 4 outcomes, but I don’t know classmates with rooting interests equivalent to mine.  Almost everyone agrees that Bama controls its own destiny, which is sports talk meaning if it wins or narrowly loses, it goes on to the next round of play, but if it loses decisively, it likely goes home — end of season.

Romantic Sidebar, starting late November 2021.

I write this introduction on the plane heading towards Atlanta, where another treat lies in store.  If you read my piece earlier in the Fall reported over there in This Just In, linked here, you saw how classmate Joe Holmes lured me back into playing contract bridge last winter and how that had led to my writing bridge columns for the main on-line contract bridge web site, bridgebase.com, which we insiders refer to as BBO.  About a week ago, a comment appeared to one of my columns, which I quote verbatim:  “I’m not a very good bridge player but keep seeing your name when I sign in to BBOL.  I doubt if you remember me but [we] … went out … a couple of times….  Since I doubt that there are many people named Roman Weil, I assume I have the correct one.”

My boss at BBO kidded me that a fringe benefit of being a BBO columnist appears to be re-establishing connections with old girlfriends.   I told her that she had no idea how my meeting Nancy in 1956 had changed my bridge life forever.  “Should I write a column about it?”  “Yes,” said the boss.  The resulting column appeared on December 2, “Hoping to Find Nancy.” It started with a plea for Nancy to contact me if she read the column and if she still lives in Atlanta, because I’m coming to Atlanta this weekend for the Georgia vs. Bama game and if she’s there, we should meet up.  The column explains how my meeting her in 1956 changed my bridge life.  Don’t bother to read through to the hyperlink unless you understand contract bridge, because it gets into niceties almost immediately.

You know how the football game turned out, but you might like to know how my Hoping to Find Nancy worked out.

Nancy saw her article almost immediately after its publication and unhesitatingly got in touch.  We arranged to meet Friday afternoon before Saturday’s game.  I’ve learned that she lives not far from where my family lived in Atlanta in 1974-76, when I taught at Georgia Tech, and that between us we have seven kids and fifteen grandkids.  I stumbled off my overnight flight from the west coast to Atlanta and took MARTA to her stop in Dunwoody.  We spent a pleasant afternoon catching up and doing what many Atlantans do:  drink Coke products.  We took the selfie you see nearby.  No bridge.

The Bama-Georgia Game.

In 2013, after the 2012 season, when the Final Game had some excitement, Bama thrashed Notre Dame for the National Championship, in the old format, in Miami.  I attended that game with some old friends from there and a new-found Bama buddy from Birmingham, with whom I’ve attended several SEC Championship Games as well as Four Play and Finals games since.  We are going to Atlanta’s game this year together.   A previous trip to Atlanta together was memorable because one of my grandsons and another high school girlfriend attended with us.  The grandson would have come along this year, but his parents demanded that he celebrate his birthday with them, instead of with Bama buddies.

The picture of B’hm Brett and me at the top of this page shows us at the football venue with no mistaking the team we root for.

Our Atlanta routines have become standard.  Same hotel; same parking arrangements. Same pre-game BBQ and beer, sometimes, as this year, in the Stadium.

Somewhat to my surprise, the legendary $1.50 hot dog that Falcons owner Arthur Blank promised the Atlanta fans can be found at special events in the Stadium.  On buying the Falcons, Blank, wealthy because of Home Depot, vowed to middle class Atlantans that they’d always be able to buy a hotdog in his stadium for $1.50, well, inflation-adjusted.  You don’t have to look hard for $1.50 dog with the endless $2 refillable Coke–even in the Luxury Club.    I wonder why fans spend $9 for a chicken sandwich when they can get a dog for $1.50.

Overlaying the Uncertainties with An Emotional Hedge. 

I’ve learned that I enjoy these experiences more if I bet against Bama.  So, I opened an account at betonline.ag several years ago where I place bets, it seems mostly on Georgia in various games it plays and mostly I win.  I’ve accumulated a large stake there, because they make it hard to take out funds.  Another story involves my attempt to do so via their Bitcoin option whereby I inadvertently invested in Bitcoin for a few months when Bitcoin tripled in value and I tripled the funds I was trying to withdraw and eventually did.  At any rate, I placed a $200 bet on Georgia to win this game.  If Georgia beats Bama, I’ll get some solace from winning that bet.  If Bama wins, I’ll be happy and not notice I lost a $200 wager.  I have done this several times, lost the money several times, and don’t notice.

Bama Wins so Often that the Winning Becomes Routine, Jaded.

Bama has been to all but one of these playoffs since they started in 2015, so the excitement of the semi-finals and finals have worn off for me.  The pressure occurs, occasionally, as this year, when uncertainty clouds Bama’s getting into the Four Play.   And that uncertainty often gets resolved at the SEC Championship game in Atlanta.  And that often involves playing Georgia.  How repetitive and ultimately, boring.  On reflection, I can see how fan bases of other teams, except maybe Georgia’s, get fed up with the process and lose interest. Boredom at Bama; indifference elsewhere. A formula for commercial un-success.  The movement this past year to expand the playoffs to eight or twelve teams had the enthusiastic support of the SEC, which has little to gain from expansion, but the Big 10 commissioner was so upset at the SEC for secretly planning to absorb Texas and Oklahoma that he nixed the plan to expand the playoffs.  From my vantage it looks like those complaining the most about the current situation worked the hardest to kill the solution.

Saturday, December 4, at the Game.

At the game, Bama looked bad in the first quarter.  We Bama fans thought ourselves lucky to be down only 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.  A quick score at the start of the second quarter rejuvenated our hopes and, near the end of the first half, the tied score made it seem like a new day with momentum going our way.  Third quarter belonged to Bama and during the fourth, Georgia fans began leaving early.  Bama fans started speculating about the order of playoff teams to be announced the next day.  Michigan had not yet begun its game, but the predictions assumed that Michigan would win.  Knowledgeable Bama fans recalled Coach Saban’s remarks from earlier years that the playoff games were business, not for fun.  He wanted the venue with the smaller distraction and preferred Dallas to Miami and to New Orleans for that reason.  I had been hoping that Bama would get in as the #4 seed and that Saban would not have a choice where to play, so we’d end up in Miami.  I bought some bargain tickets for there that I now will need to sell to Michigan or Georgia fans.  Prices seem to have tripled, so I might not lose on the deal, even though the transactions costs will eat you alive.

Game Aftermath.

As I write, headed home on Sunday, I’m not excited by the prospect of going, again, to Dallas to see Bama play Cincinnati. Saban is right: Dallas is for business, not for fun on New Year’s Eve.  I think soon the pundits will write about this game in such a way that Bama is in a no-win situation. We teach in decision theory classes that you never want to take on a bet where heads you break even and tails you lose.  That’s where Bama finds itself:  win—it’s expected; lose—there’s a story.

When I heard that the gurus had ranked Michigan above Georgia, I said to my Bama buddy that I thought Georgia would be at least a 6-point favorite.  As I write this, I learn it’s more than that.   From what little I saw of Michigan against Iowa, it seems to have a powerful run game.  I saw a lot in Georgia vs. Bama of Georgia’s near impenetrable run defense.  Maybe I’ll bet some more of my illiquid gaming funds on Georgia.  If Georgia beats Michigan, we’ll probably see another Georgia vs. Bama on January 10 for the National title.  I plan to be there, but prices already are sky-high.  Should Bama get to that game I’ll tell you about a website my Brett found that sold us an option on Bama tix that will make the overall costs much lower.  [It’s not an efficient market:  a Georgia fan can buy an option on a Georgia ticket cheaper by buying options on both Bama and Cincy tickets than by buying the Georgia option outright. We’ll see what happens.] Grandson will accompany us on this trip as his getting-into-college hassles will be over.  I’ve another old friend in Indianapolis, who changed my life in several ways, which I won’t discuss here, whom we’ll visit with there.

 

We welcome your comments below.

1 comment to Fore Play for Four Play

  • Diana Serban

    Greetings from the world of bridge ! We’re enjoying Roman’s wit in his bridge columns over at BBO, including waiting for the suspenseful ending to his search for Nancy.

    Warm regards,
    Diana

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