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01-28-2003, 03:03 AM
Super Bowl Gala Attracts Oakland Faithful,
But Raiders' Performance Dampens Spirits

January 27, 2003

If Darth Vader was bent out of shape after dealing with the antics of Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, how do you think he felt after Chucky and his Buccaneers had their way with the boys in silver and black? Supported by minions paying homage to the Star Wars character and other bizarrely dressed followers, this Oakland team failed miserably in trying to execute its credo, as espoused by Vader himself: "Just win, baby."

This year's 48-21 loss in the Super Bowl was a crushing denouement for the 3-point favorite Raiders and their top-rated offense vs. the league's best defense, owned by the Tampa Bay Bucs. The NFC champs simply showed no compassion for their counterparts in the AFC.

T.B. coach Jon Gruden -- whose intense facial expressions remind some of the diabolical children's doll, Chucky, who gained notoriety from a series of scary films -- had his troops primed and ready to exploit the enemy. He joins Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan as one more ex-Raiders coach nursing a grudge against his former boss, Oakland owner Al Davis. Neither head coach could stand the incessant meddling and criticism directed at them from the owner's box.

Las Vegas sportsbooks were pretty consistent in posting the game at Raiders -4, right up until game day, when Raiders' center Barret Robbins was declared out under mysterious circumstances. Backup center Adam Treu, last year's starter, was considered enough of a liability to drop the line by a half point.

Meanwhile, offshore the number had been 3, and fell to 3. The variance between basic numbers posted by Vegas and offshore is attributable generally to the greater proportion of sharp bettors doing business with Caribbean- and Costa Rica-based books. Vegas services more square action, particularly with so many California bettors pushing their Raiders' money across the ticket windows.

A brief observation illustrates that point. With action heating up over the weekend, on Saturday we looked to bet the Bucs on the money line and found it had dropped to +1.30, the result of heavy wiseguy action. But by Sunday, the hordes of Raider Nation had made their presence known, and the money line on Tampa Bay went up. We got it at + 1.52 at the Orleans.

Super Sunday is as close to a non-denominational national holiday as can be found unless, of course, you consider pro football a religion. And in Las Vegas, where even National Organ Grinder Week gets hyped, both the natives and visitors feel the Big Game is a perfect excuse to party hearty.

We watched the game at a cheerfully raucous gathering that was nowhere near the biggest in town (as if that would be an attractive incentive), but was quite possibly the best. Jay Martin's Big Game Party held at Sazio's in the Orleans drew a crowd that filled the Italian restaurant.

Right about here, a little disclosure is in order. We were comped to attend the party, but it could be considered tradeout for the advertising that ran in Players' Choice, the sports betting tabloid we publish. Martin, a professional handicapper, is also a friend.

About 80 percent of the throng was pro-Oakland. Maybe that was because the drawing card was ex-Raider Greg Townsend. The defensive end is the team's all-time sack leader, and aside from his Hall of Fame caliber credentials, Townsend possesses charisma and graciousness in copious quantities.

Ex-jocks are de rigueur at Vegas S.B. galas. Some of them show up, tell a few anecdotes and then disappear or hang out with the high rollers. Others grit their teeth and get through the event in order to collect a paycheck.

But Townsend, whose smile would make Tom Cruise jealous, was a hit even before things got started when he joked with the gathering crowd. He signed autographs, high-fived with Oakland fans woofing for victory, posed for pictures and even bucked up the crowd at halftime when he assured the grim Raider contingent that coach Callahan was saying the right things to get the team psyched to overcome its 20-3 deficit.

One of the Raiders faithful shed his shirt and asked Townsend to autograph his back, whereupon the acolyte said he would have a tattoo stenciled over the signature.

After the game we spoke with Greg and asked him what position he'd be playing in the NFL today, given his listed weight of 260 pounds. "I'd still be playing defensive end," he insisted, noting that he had played against much larger opponents when his weight was 235.

We also wondered what it was about his makeup that let him interact with everyday folks so easily, without the high maintenance stroking that is required for so many arrogant, self-centered and clueless jocks. "My mother brought me up that way," he responded. Nice job, Mrs. Townsend.

Another positive element of the party was the eats. Instead of so-called "stadium food", Sazio's put out a high quality, crowd-pleasing Italian buffet. It consisted of penne pasta with sausage, traditional lasagna, chicken wings and drumettes with tangy dipping sauce, and four kinds of pizza made fresh throughout the party. St. Pauli Girl and Peroni beers were the beverages of choice.

Once the game got underway, Raiders fans were noisily full of themselves when a Brad Johnson pass was intercepted in the game's first few minutes. They should have seen the handwriting on the wall when the turnover, giving Oakland great field position, resulted in only three points.

As the game progressed, Raiders boosters got a little less boisterous, and their demeanor gradually took on a desperate "whistling in the dark" sort of tone. Although both offenses were choppy, the Tampa Bay defense was slowly and with increasing effectiveness taking control of the action.

As the game started slipping away, with the outcome painfully obvious, some Raiders backers were reduced to cheering meaningless penalties incurred by the Bucs.

But it should be noted that despite the weird dress worn by Oakland aficionados, these are simply fans whose devotion to a team transcends rooting, and is an endorsement of a sort of lifestyle.

They take the team seriously, and get a personal kick out of being outrageous in pursuit of a rewarding and fun activity -- backing the Raiders and showing the same irreverence that the team and its management show to others, including the NFL. By the fourth quarter, despite a mini comeback by Oakland, the fans were bucking each other up with calls of, "Wait 'til next year."

And so we bid adieu to football. As we look back on our original and lame choices for the S.B. -- San Francisco and Miami -- we welcome a respite from the intensity that comes with backing our opinions with cash.

Baskets is in full swing for many bettors. But as for us, we'll take a break until the 2003 baseball season's first pitch is thrown.

Less Is More

Sportsbook Scene has been MIA for quite some time. We will continue to chronicle stories that impact on sports bettors, but will do so without being as prolific as we were in the past. Given the preponderance of administrative chores we now must handle, inspiration to write is a sometimes thing.

Please send questions, comments, etc., to buzzdaly@aol.com, and visit our website at www.buzzdaly.com.