That headline is serious: A-E has a losing record reaching back to college days when he picked the Cornell Big Red in almost every game in virtually every sport.. The most horrendous losses were when A-E was a freshman in 1957 and pleaded silently for the Big Red to try any offensive play except a hand off to the running backs, who inevitably were run down and dumped for losses on almost every play.
“How about a buck lateral?” he shouted during a chilly game mid-way through the season. Unsurprisingly the team didn’t run that play once that day or that season. A-E in his junior year befriended a team lineman who carefully explained that the play was a staple of Big-10 and other semi-pro college conferences where the players could block trucks and spring through openings as if on motorcycles.
A-E’s only winning wager that season was a team football victory against Columbia, the traditional Ivy League doormat in almost every sport during the late 1950s.
A-E joined the scrum tearing down the game goal posts in Ithaca and wrote the score on an eight-inch-long sliver of painted pine. He still has the ragged but treasured memento of that sunny Saturday afternoon long ago.
A-E and a handful of friends visited the Syracuse Nationals National Basketball Association team. Great seats at give-away prices along the out-of-bound lines but still no cigars. By then, A-E realized he should never wager real money on any team that he favored or face bankruptcy.
The Curse of the Big Red continued after graduation: When A-E lived in Albany he was the Cornell Club president that featured a tradition of joint dinner gatherings with other Ivy alumni, such as Dartmouth College.
The psychological wager that year was a cinch as Cornell running back Ed Marinaro was setting records that would stand as long football was played. With confident grandiloquence, A-E bragged about the game that would be played the next day.
No reader should be surprised that Dartmouth won handily.
A-E was promoted to the Pittsburgh office and started supporting the Steelers and started to gain confidence…but still not enough to place real money on real sporting events.
A-E eventually took a casual interest in thoroughbred racing and, with the aid of statistics from racing programs, became so confident that he placed cautious psychological bets such as two bucks across the board on the favorite. Lilly-livered? Of course, but when your string of imaginary losses reaches a decade, caution is always the watchword.
Example: A-E picked Justify in the three Triple Crown races this year and happily kept his money deep in his pockets and let other braver souls win.
That brings up the 2018 World Cup. A-E felt a prospective series of spectacular wins approaching. An early choice: Iceland, where the team coach was a dentist. Team dentition is insufficient to suggest any wager beyond caution. So when Iceland became a darling but lost, the Bard of Canisteo suffered emotional disappointment but no monetary trauma.
England ran further along the road to World Cup finals and A-E even suggested to correspondents Richard and Pat that they might go all the way, to coin a sports cliché. Richard, who includes Soccer coach of the Year in his curriculum vitae, politely didn’t respond. Classmate Pat, an Anglophobe who finds everything from the U.K. suspicious, responded with a sturdy “GGGAAKKKK!”
No matter: A-E remained away from the betting windows.
A-E had an Army buddy who lived in Pittsburgh and admitted in the mid-1960s that he was the descendant of a long line of Cro-Ats. A-E called John J. but was promoted to Washington, D.C. before the reunion could be scheduled.
John J.’s ancestral home, Croatia, became a country in 1991.
So when Croatia made the Cup finals, something snapped in a calculating corner of A-E’s brain.
To shorten the story, A-E maintained composure. He called a few John J. Kruljac in Southwestern Pennsylvania but nobody admitted to being A-E’s Army friend from 55 years ago.
Croatia lost the World Cup but no money was lost from A-E’s pockets and, who knows: Maybe somebody will pass along information about A-E in Greater Jasper. That would be a great reunion…and A-E’s probably saved enough greenbacks not betting during the last decades to make that reunion more convivial.
A-E’s reveries eventually become Spectator columns on a Canisteo typewriter.