A New Vegas Dilemma: Could a Person Survive 11 Straight Days in Sin City?

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At the supple age of 23 I started making an annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas every March with a group of close friends. When we planned that first trip, we were just kind of taking a shot in the dark.

“The first weekend of March Madness seems to have the most—and usually the craziest—games, let’s try that.”

And for the next seven years, we assumed we had nailed it from the very beginning. Who wouldn’t want to be in Vegas—in a sportsbook full of giant TVs, free drinks and other degenerate gamblers diehard sports fans—while the most mind-blowing playoffs in all of sports was going on.

Forty-eight do-or-die games in four days. Simultaneously bouncing back and forth between your bets and your bracket. Waking up at 8:30am (games start at 9:15am on Vegas Standard Time) even though you didn’t go to sleep until 5am. It was the perfect weekend.

And then, because of a wedding that several of us in the group had to attend last year on that very weekend (a wedding that damn well better last a lifetime), we changed the tradition and visited the Mecca of bad decisions on Conference Championship Weekend instead.

And…it…was………AWESOME.

Do you know how many games there are over the four-day period on Championship Weekend?

167.

That’s not a typo.

Do you know how many fewer people descend on Vegas for Championship Weekend compared to that first weekend of March Madness?

67% fewer. (rough estimate)

From a crowd standpoint, you’re pretty much never waiting for anything during Championship Weekend, but during March Madness, your waits look like this:

  • At least 20 minutes for the cab line when you first arrive at the airport
  • Another 20 minutes to check into your hotel room. Nothing is more frustrating than standing in that concierge line while getting a constant whiff of that sweet gambling smell from across the hall
  • Showing up at the sports book at the ungodly hour of 7am just to secure seats for the 9am tip-offs
  • Up to a 30-minute line every time you want to place a new bet or cash in a winning ticket
  • Getting laughed at by the host when you show up at a restaurant with 10 guys and without a reservation at 9pm on a weekend night
  • And yes, another 20 minutes or so for the cab line to finally escape your hotel on that Sunday morning

When you consider the amount of games and the emptiness of the city, Championship Weekend becomes a no-brainer, right?

We all agreed. So we returned this year for that same weekend. And though most of us walked away losers from a betting standpoint, we were basically stroking each other’s hard-ons the entire time over how smart we were to have finally figured out the right weekend.

This group has progressed in nine years from “the single, immature college guys who party way too hard all weekend” to “the slightly more mature (and less single) guys who party way too hard but are also dangerously addicted to sports gambling” to “the old married men who look strikingly like those people addicted to horse race betting.”

Part of me wonders if it’s just that progression into grumpy old man status that’s got us wanting the less crazy weekend.

Fast forward to this past Thursday and instantly my smugness over choosing the right weekend disappeared quicker than you can say “buzzer beater.” I was one of the many chumps stuck at his desk while the first set of Tourney games was under way. Sure, thanks to the beauty of technology I could watch all the games on my computer, but it just wasn’t the same.

First Dayton and Harvard pulled off incredible upsets, then Uconn, St. Louis and North Dakota State all won crazy overtime games in the span of forty minutes, and finally Texas escaped Arizona State’s upset bid with a ludicrous buzzer-beating layup.

Yep, there aren’t nearly as many games over the whole day as Championship Weekend, but these games mean more. There’s no question of whether or not the teams that are NCAA Tournament locks are taking it easy and resting guys. Every close game is ratcheted up 10 notches in intensity because someone’s season (and possibly many players’ careers) will come to an abrupt end.

When last night ended with the ultimate tease in Manhattan’s near upset of Louisville followed by New Mexico State’s jaw-dropped heroics to take San Diego State to overtime, I started chain smoking cigars, googling “underground blackjack tables Los Angeles” and walking around in public double-fisting 24oz light beers. It just felt right.

Several of my Vegas cohorts wouldn’t dare go back to the original March Madness weekend for our trip, and that’s fine. I love everything about basketball in Vegas so much that I’m perfectly OK with going back for Conference Championship Weekend ever year. The only decision left for me? Do I move the planned date of asking my girlfriend to marry me from “as soon as a 16 seed beats a one seed” to “immediately” so I can use the bachelor party next year as an excuse to be in Vegas for the 11 days spanning both these incredible basketball weekends?

I doubt there’s enough medicine in the world to get me back to normal after a trip like that.

The nostalgia will be even sadder on Friday, as I root for Duke to lose from my office…a group of 300 strangers cheering like crazy for whichever underdog is facing Duke was always my favorite part of March Madness weekend.

That settles it. Next year, I rent out a place in Vegas for the entire month of March.

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Poll Question of the Century: NFL Sunday or Opening Day March Madness

After moving my annual Vegas trip from the opening weekend of March Madness to the weekend before—Conference Tournament weekend—I promised myself I wouldn’t care about the big tournament as much as I usually do. The ability to order a bucket of beers at 9AM while making the twenty-foot walk from your cushy leather sports book seat to the betting window to put money down on each game will make you care, regardless of who’s playing. So I figured for the first time in eight years, this opening weekend would be a little underwhelming.

As I write this, we’re only five hours into the Thursday games, and I’m ready to admit I couldn’t have been more wrong. After trying to half pay attention during the first couple games and busy myself with other tasks, I slowly but surely turned my living room into a sports book as best as I possibly could: watching two games at once, betting website up on my computer, brackets everywhere and a fridge full of beers. The only thing missing is access to a blackjack table (though if I really get the itch, my betting website will take blackjack action).

I’m all in on this tournament, which brings me to perhaps my most interesting poll question of all time: Which is the more exhilarating full day of sports: the first Thursday/Friday of March Madness or a late-season NFL Sunday?

Here are some considerations before we get to the vote:

  • Yes, March Madness is the playoffs so you could call this an easy vote. But that’s why I’m saying a late regular season slate of NFL games. Think late December with a bunch of division games (Minnesota vs Green Bay this past year, for instance)
  • The NFL is the greatest sport on earth (also the greatest form of entertainment)
  • But March Madness produces so much insanity every year
  • 16 games per day during these first days of March Madness. Never more than four going at the same time. The day begins at 9AM and ends around 9PM (12 hours of entertainment)
  • 14 games per NFL Sunday during non-bye weeks. Usually about eight morning games, five afternoon games and one night game. The day begins at 10AM and ends around 8PM (1o hours of entertainment)
  • With the Red Zone Channel you really can see everything important in football and not move from your couch the entire day
  • With CBS and its affiliates (TNT, TBS, TRU), you can pick any of the basketball games you want
  • With both sports, you can add a “second TV” to your viewing experience by watching games on your computer
  • For some people it probably boils down to “Sunday versus a week day.” Shame on you for not using one of my many excuses to leave work for these next two days

I’ve made my case. If I had to choose, I’d go with NFL Sunday only because football is such a superior sport. Your turn to vote.

I Don’t Know If My Guest Blogger Can Handle Being In Charge While I’m In Vegas

Don’t worry about the blog slowing down while I’m researching more stories in Las Vegas. The dog’s in charge for the rest of the week.

Even last night she was already hard at work writing the Vegas blog post while I dictated to her out loud:

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Problem is she can’t keep up with my 3,000-word entries. She tires quickly…

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Read My Vegas Memories While I Go Create Some More

Today is the start of my 8th annual March Madness Las Vegas trip. Since I haven’t been able to focus on anything else all week (aside from rainbows), why not run through some random thoughts, stories and tidbits about the past seven Vegas experiences. If you’ve ever made the trek out there with friends, chances are you’ve also seen some of this stuff first hand. Let’s see if we can organize them into categories:

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Anyone who’s been paying attention to my yearly Vegas trips will note that this week is not the start of the NCAA “March Madness” Tournament. For seven years, we’ve descended on Vegas for that opening weekend of basketball games. Sadly, it’s the end of that streak, at least temporarily. Due to scheduling circumstances and a few people’s desire to “check out conference tournament weekend,” we’re going a week early this year. 
  • My friends who are on the upper end of the basketball nerdery spectrum (BNS) assure me that this year could be even more fun because there are a lot more games being played each day compared to the first weekend of March Madness. They need to remember I don’t really care about the basketball. I care about the experience. As long as it’s not a drastically different atmosphere, I’m in.
  • Someone in our group pointed out earlier this week that the weather in Vegas right now is in the upper 80s. This led someone else to question if it’s ever been that warm for any of our seven previous trips. Our email thread died out when no one could even remember ever being outside during any Vegas trip.
  • If you’re new to the blog or you just didn’t have the patience to read the 3,000 words I wrote on The Vegas Experience last year, now’s your chance. I especially recommend that the guys who are joining me this weekend give these posts another read. It’ll get you psyched for the trip. Here’s PART ONE of the Vegas Blueprint. And here’s PART TWO.

THE MOST DANGEROUS THING IN VEGAS IS YOUR OWN HOTEL ROOM

  • In Part Two, I quickly mentioned that you should shower every morning in Vegas because you don’t want to return to the room in the afternoon or evening if you can avoid it. I wanted to expand on that thought some more. I actually think the most dangerous thing you can do in Vegas is go back to your hotel room alone…specifically for that mid-afternoon or early evening visit. You’re there to take a shower, or change, or most likely to sit on the toilet in peace and quiet. But then the bed starts calling out to you. A nap sounds good, and you start to question how much longer you can put up with all the bullshit down at the casino: breathing pure cigarette smoke, losing your vacation fund in a three-minute debacle at the Craps table, stuffing yourself with free drink after free drink just because it’s there. When these thoughts creep in to your head, your only option is to run out of the hotel room, even if you’re in the middle of showering. Obviously a nap during a long weekend in Vegas actually sounds fantastic, but I’ll warn you that the funniest, most outrageous thing that will happen all weekend will happen while you’re up in the room. Don’t succumb to the midday nap. It’s powerful, but with the right amount of Vodka & Red Bull drinks, you can avoid it.

FLYING

  • Speaking of napping…in a long list of ridiculous stuff that I’ve done in Vegas, here’s the one that gets the most laughs. In year one of this annual trip, me and my two brothers flew back to San Francisco from Vegas together. For some reason we booked a flight with a layover in Los Angeles (not the point of the story, but a pretty terrible logistical move when all you want to do is get home as quickly as possible on a Sunday leaving Vegas). On the flight from LA to San Francisco, I was sitting in the middle seat between my happily-sleeping brothers. I started feeling nauseous and sweat immediately began to soak through my shirt. I woke one of the brothers up and asked him what I should do if I feel like I have to puke. He handed me one of those paper bags that’s in the back pocket of each seat. I told him it wouldn’t be nearly big enough to hold what I had brewing. He fell back asleep. I continued to panic. Finally I decided to get up and walk to the bathroom, if only to get some circulation going and distract myself. I went into the bathroom, sat on the toilet and the next thing I knew the plane is landing in San Francisco. I passed out for roughly 40 minutes on the airplane toilet, only waking up because of the normal turbulence that comes with landing. I have no idea how many people might have knocked on the door during that time. Even though every return flight from Vegas is miserable, none has ever approached that year one level.
  • Another quick flight story from two years ago. It’s Sunday morning at 5AM. My brother and I have a 7AM flight out of Vegas. We weren’t staying in the same hotel room. I’m in the lobby when I realize it’s well past the time we agreed to meet. I call his phone 30 times and get his voicemail 30 times. I call the cell phones of the guys who he was staying with. I call other people in our group just to see if they know where he is. No one answers. I go to the airport alone. The whole time I’m laughing to myself at what an idiot my brother is for falling asleep and missing his flight. I sit down next to my gate in the airport with about 30 minutes until boarding begins. I wake up some time later thinking only a few minutes had passed. After all, there were still a ton of people sitting nearby waiting for the flight to board. Then I hear over the PA system “Final boarding call for Southwest flight 1461 nonstop to San Francisco. Paging Ross Gariepy. Ross Gariepy please report to gate C7 immediately?” I quickly realize that the people sitting next to me aren’t on my flight; they’re on the next flight leaving that same gate. I got to experience walking down the aisle of the plane with 180 pairs of pissed off eyes staring at me. Apparently they had been waiting for me for quite a while. If only they knew I was sitting 15 feet away from the gate the entire time (How much better would this story have been if my brother had shown up for the next available flight a couple hours later and found me passed out near the gate of the original flight?).
  • OK, one more thing about the airport in Vegas. In our seven years of doing this trip, we’ve had two instances of someone going to the airport more than 10 hours before their scheduled flight home. In both situations, the person basically said to themselves “I’m done with Vegas for a long time. I need to get the fuck out of here now. Not tomorrow morning, right now.” I bet Vegas gets more people who show up and try to get on an earlier flight than any airport in the world. If you have bad luck long enough in Vegas, you get to that moment where you have to decide between removing yourself from the situation or taking out a cash advance on your credit card.

CLUBBING

  • Have you ever dreamed of being in a dance club and having strangers crowd around you while screaming “he’s on fire”? Me too. I always thought that moment would come because I was tearing up a dance floor and all the people would stop to watch me. What actually happened a few years ago was this: I was smoking a cigar at the club while waiting in line at the ATM. A woman standing in front of me turned around abruptly and her elbow hit the tip of my cigar. The cherry of the cigar flew into the air and landed inside my polo shirt (I swear this all happened in slow motion). My shirt and chest caught on fire. I started shaking my shirt out. Smoke started billowing out of my shirt. A bunch of girls screamed “He’s on fire!” Not the way that moment happens in my dreams.

“THAT’S GAMBLING”

  • You only understand what I’m saying here if you play Craps. For some of us that go on this trip, our first impression of our buddy’s best friend from the east coast was seeing him play the Don’t Pass Line on a Craps table while six of us in his group were playing “normal style” at the other end of the table.
  • This same guy once threatened to “take his money elsewhere” when a pit boss wouldn’t let him jump into a Craps game at a reduced rate. He was arguing to be allowed to make $10 bets instead of $25. You can imagine how nervous the casino was to lose him as a customer.
  • We’ve spent about 28 nights in Vegas over the seven years and only one time did an “everything we touch turns to gold” night happen. I don’t remember the year, the night or the exact people who were there, but for a three-hour stint at the Mandalay Bay, our group couldn’t lose. You probably think I’m getting ready to say that we walked away with a combined ten grand that night, but no. What happened was we were all split up so by the time we got back together and realized it was one of those nights for the group, it was too late. If you’re ever in one of those situations and don’t know if the hot streak is over, go throw $100 on black or red in Roulette. As soon as you lose, it’s over. It’s worth the hundo just to see what might be.

But seriously, take a few minutes and re-read my blogs from last year’s Vegas trip. It’s the only way to get a full tour of the four-day March Madness experience.

My Desperate Attempt to Extend the Date I’m on with my Readers: Conversation Starters (Bad Habits, Worst Costume and More)

To my loyal readers who don’t give a damn about football, I think it’s obvious that we have a problem. After months and months of us having so much to talk about, the well’s run dry. It’s like we’re on a first date, and the first six months of this blog was the part where I talk and talk and talk about anything under the sun. And you’re like the quiet girl on the date who doesn’t have much to say but thinks I’m hilarious and spends all her time laughing at my stories. And the last couple months has been the part where I’ve kinda run out of things to say, so I pull out my wallet and start showing you pictures of my kid (or in this case, my dog). But now we’ve exhausted that part too. I see you nodding and giving a polite smile whenever I talk about my dog, but I can tell you’re thinking “Will it seem obvious if I pretend to get an emergency phone call that forces me to cut this date short?” So instead of having this magical night end abruptly, I’m turning to a device that any desperate man who’s looking to get laid would turn to…the google search results to “conversation starters on a date.”

That’s right. I’m not below relying on someone else to provide me with topics of discussion. In fact, I feel like it’s the only shot you all have of reading non-football posts over the next two months. I’ll admit this is a risky road to travel. Rather than blog about noteworthy things I’m observing in my everyday life, I’ll be talking about past experiences/inner thoughts that might only pertain to me. And there’s a good chance you’ll hate me after reading some of these. But this blog needs page views and I have no better idea on how to generate them.

When you google “conversation starters on a date,” you inevitably get a mix of lame topics (where were you born? what do you do for exercise?), and outrageous topics (what animal besides humans do you think would make the best world leaders?). I’m going for the topics that are somewhere in the middle. I’ll limit it to just a few questions on this first post, and if it catches on, I’ll post a series of them over the coming weeks. Sound good? Great. Let’s roll.

1). Do you prefer the window seat or the aisle seat on a plane?

Starting with an easy one. This depends on the length of the trip and what my goals for the flight are. Usually if it’s a two-hour-or-less kind of flight, I’m taking the aisle seat because there’s a good chance the people in my row won’t be bothering me with repeated trips to the bathroom, and because I always wanna get off the plane as quickly as humanly possible. But if it’s a long flight, I’m all about the window. That way I can be in my own little world, not have any tiny bladder people asking me to move every hour and can use the window as a pillow and sleep the flight away. The only other reason I’d pick the aisle is if I know I’m going to be drinking heavily on the flight (i.e. any time I fly to Vegas). Because that’s when I turn into a tiny bladder person myself.

2). What’s the longest you’ve ever waited in line?

Originally I was thinking it was on one of our family trips to DisneyWorld when I was a kid and we waited FOREVER to get into the Indiana Jones show. But actually I once slept overnight in a line on the sidewalk next to Fenway Park to try to get Yankees/Red Sox tickets for the next day. I believe I was in line from 11PM until 10AM the next day. I remember having an incredible amount of adrenaline over the first three hours because it was such a cool thing to do. But when that faded, I decided it was one of the three worst ideas I’d ever had. I used a wine bottle as a pillow that night. And if memory serves, I believe me and my buddies got kicked out of that game in the fourth inning. So yeah, 11 hours of waiting in line to see one-third of a baseball game. Good times.

3). Do you prefer baths or showers?

I have absolutely no patience for baths.

4). What’s the habit you’re proudest of breaking?

Well I’m still working on some of the typical bad habits like biting my nails and picking my nose. And I still catch myself with my hand down my pants in public sometimes. Would love to break all those some day. I guess it would have to be going into a casino and spending every single dollar I have to my name. That was a pretty bad habit I had in college.

5). What’s the first thing you wash in the shower?

Legs. I’m a “start from the bottom and work my way up” kinda guy. Although I often wonder if I should wash my face first before the soap has all of my armpit and ball residue on it. But then I just remind myself that soap can’t possibly be dirty because it’s soap.

6). Where were you on September 11, 2001?

Jesus this got serious quickly. Listen, it was a Tuesday morning at like 9AM. Where do you think a freshman in college who had probably been out late the night before was? Asleep in my (or someone’s) bed. I was woken up by my brother calling from the West Coast to tell me to “stay out of tall buildings today.” I’m sure my first thought was “Does this get me out of classes for the day?” That call started a disturbing trend…whenever Neil wakes me up with an early morning phone call, it’s bad news (runner-up to the 9/11 news was him calling to tell me that the greatest Red Sox player of all time, Ted Williams, had died. I admit it’s a distant runner-up, but still…).

7). What was your best, or worst, Halloween costume?

I can actually answer best and worst with the same costume. It was senior year of high school. My friend Sam and I wanted to dress up in something outrageous for the party we were all going to. I believe we had just learned in religion class earlier that month what a partial birth abortion was. Naturally we decided to be partial birth abortion doctors. The execution of this plan was nothing more than wearing doctor scrubs, squirting some fake blood on ourselves and taping a sign to us that said “partial birth abortion doctors.” So I showed up to the party in all my glory, and I found Sam dressed in a poncho and sombrero. His explanation? “My girlfriend wouldn’t let me dress in our original costume idea.” Are you fucking kidding me, Sam? Do you know how insane it looks for one guy to be dressed as a partial birth abortion doctor? But it was too late for me to change it up. I just had to own that creepy costume, and I did. (Yes, you’re allowed to be disgusted with me right now. I’m pretty disgusted with myself.)

There I go doing all the talking again. This is the type of blog post where it would be really cool for my readers to respond with some of their answers to these questions. That way I don’t feel like the clueless guy on the date who can’t pick up on a signal that you’re bored out of your mind.

Week 2 NFL Picks: My Dog Tries To Go 2-0 & I Tell You Which Coach Might Get His Prostate Milked This Week

In my Week 1 recap post, I mistakenly said I went 10-6 in my picks last week. I actually went 9-7. I’m not too upset about that because after I published those picks, I got smart and changed a couple in my Pick ‘Em leagues (most importantly realizing the Jets were going to surprise everyone and handle the Bills). Not a total failure, but I’d like to make my picks and stick with them. None of this back and forth bullshit. So this week I’m being consistent across all my different pick platforms.

Here we go with week 2 picks (home team underlined):

Green Bay (-5) over Chicago: Classic matchup, and I’m not talking about how these two teams have played each other more than any other teams in NFL history. I’m talking about how the Bears are coming off a dominant win over Indy, and the Packers are coming off an ugly home loss to the 49ers. Many will be tempted to pick the Bears to not only cover the five points, but to win the game outright. Before you do that, remember three things: 1). Before week 1, you would have picked the Packers to win by at least a touchdown in a home game against Chicago, 2). the Bears played possibly the worst team in the NFL in week 1, 3). the Packers played possibly one of the best teams in the NFL in week 1. I actually do think this will be a close game, but I’m going to say the same thing I said about the Baltimore/Cincinnati matchup from last week: Can’t it be a close game and the Packers still win by a touchdown? Yes, it can, and that’s what I’m predicting in the Thursday night game.

Tampa Bay (+7) over NY Giants: I liked this line a lot better on Tuesday when the Bucs were getting nine points. Apparently so did every gambler because it’s now down to a touchdown. I’m still taking the points. The Bucs might have a better running game than the Giants, and they might be able to throw a lot on the Giants’ suspect secondary. If Tampa’s defense can just play average against Eli and the Giants’ passing game, they could pull off the upset.

New England (-14) over Arizona: This line seems high, but high is what I’d have to be to go against the Patriots…at home…playing an NFC West team that’s starting its backup QB…a QB who was supposed to be a franchise player when Arizona traded for him last year, but who couldn’t even beat out a guy named Skelton for the job. It seems like this game will be similar to when the Chiefs visited Foxboro last November and had to start Tyler Palko because Matt Cassel was hurt. The Patriots won 34-3, and I think they’ll win by a similar margin on Sunday.

Minnesota (-1.5) over Indianapolis: I picked Minnesota last week with this justification: “I believe the Vikings are a ‘moderately bad team’ while the Jaguars are a ‘pathetically bad team.’” I got that pick wrong because the Vikings only won by three on a four-point spread, but I’m running back the same theory on the Vikings this week. Indy is a pathetically bad team and the Vikings will win by at least a field goal. Could the Packers be two games behind the Vikings in the NFC North after this week? I can’t believe that’s even a possibility, but it is.

My dog Molly got her pick correct last week. She went with Arizona as a three-point underdog at home against Seattle. She just barely got it right as the Seahawks’ last-gasp effort fell short (even with help from the refs in the form of a mysterious fourth timeout). Can Molly move to 2-0? If you remember last week, I said I’m gonna let her pick the game that’s the most confusing to me. I never thought the game I had no answer for would be the Saints vs the Panthers, but that’s what it is this week. Take it away Molly:

You heard the puppy: New Orleans (-3) over Carolina.

Kansas City (+3) over Buffalo: A matchup of two teams who lost by a combined 36 points and gave the ball away a combined seven times in week 1. How exciting. Here’s what I think’s going on with Buffalo…they went from being a sleeper playoff team to a team too many people expected would make the leap and be in the playoffs this year. There were two candidates for that honor, the Bears being the other. Even if the Bears get crushed on Thursday night by Green Bay, I’m staying on that bandwagon. But the Buffalo bandwagon? It’s about to get a whole lot emptier when they lose at home to the Chiefs. When I picked the Bills to make the playoffs, I ignored three glaring questions that needed to be answered before we could really know what kind of team they are: Is Ryan Fitzpatrick even an average QB? Can the Bills offense—and specifically their running game—continue to produce if Fred Jackson isn’t healthy? And is Mario Williams really a difference-maker on defense? I’m already thinking the answer to all three might be NO. Not good for Buffalo, not good at all.

Baltimore (+3) over Philadelphia: Part of my ongoing expert-in-training routine for football is to try to guess the line for each game every week before looking. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as far off on any line as I was with this one. I guessed “Baltimore -6.5,” and as you can see, I was off by 9.5 points. How in fuck’s name is Philly favored in this game? The Ravens absolutely dismantled a decent Bengals team in week 1. About 30 hours before that game, the Eagles were busy getting outplayed by a quarterback who ended the game with a 5.1 QB Rating. They narrowly escaped Cleveland with a one-point win. A win that ugly shouldn’t even be categorized as a win. So tell me why the Ravens are the underdog in this one? It’s weird going from Philly as my lock last week (as a 10-point favorite) to the team playing Philly as my lock this week, but that’s what I’m doing. Bet the farm on this game.

Oakland (-3) over Miami: Oakland might be a six-win team this year, but it feels like they’re immensely more talented than Miami. Even though Oakland lost its opener to San Diego by eight, they sneaky played a decent game…they held the Chargers to just one TD, gained more yards than them, held the ball for basically as long, but they lost a fumble and they apparently decided to put a random fan into the game as their backup long snapper, resulting in three botched punts. I think Oakland’s bad, but had they cleaned up a few self-inflicted wounds, they could have easily beat the Chargers. Miami doesn’t have a chance to beat anyone anytime soon.

Cincinnati(-7) over Cleveland: Is Brandon Weeden still the starting QB for Cleveland? He is, right? Then this pick is a no-brainer. If you were putting together a list of minimum qualifications that a quarterback in the NFL must have in order to be in the league, wouldn’t “hitting a wide open receiver with a pass” be at the very top of that list? Well it’s more than a little alarming how openly Weeden and his coach talk about Weeden repeatedly missing wide open guys in this article. For the time being, Cleveland could be playing against my college flag football team (a team who’s best offensive strategy was “give the ball to the biggest guy and have him repeatedly spin in circles all the way down the field so people can’t grab the flags cleanly”), and I’d bet on the college team even if they were giving seven points.

Houston (-7.5) over Jacksonville: I thought this line would be closer to 14 because Jacksonville is bad and Houston might be one of the top two teams in the AFC. Jacksonville looked decent last week, but without the minor miracle Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts 39-yard TD with 20 seconds left in that game, they would have been just another AFC basement team that wouldn’t get a second thought from football fans. I still think they fit that mold. Houston should roll even on the road.

Dallas (-3) at Seattle: Seattle lost to the combination of John Sketlon and Kevin Kolb last week, right? OK, good. Then this is easy. Dallas is 20 times more talented than Arizona. Road game or not, I can pick Dallas and feel good that a push is my worst case scenario.

St. Louis (+3) over Washington: You can’t fool me, Vegas. This line is based purely on Vegas trying to capitalize on the RGIII euphoria. I’m not dismissing what the ‘Skins did in a tough road game against New Orleans, but I think they caught a team in disarray by surprise. The Rams actually played a solid game in Detroit last week and were only a ridiculous clock error away from winning their own tough road game. I might have been too down on Washington when I predicted them to go 4-11-1 in 2012, but I doubt they’ll get past the six-win mark still.

Pittsburgh(-6) over NY Jets: When the Jets play Indy in four weeks, you could probably make Indy a 17-point favorite and I’d find a way to talk myself into them covering. That’s how badly I want the Jets to fail. So obviously I’m taking Pittsburgh with the points. The Jets probably played their best game of the year against a possibly-shitty Bills team. And with the Steelers, it sort of felt like they were still in preseason mode. Still figuring out which combination of running backs work best. Still working Mike Wallace back into the mix after his lengthy holdout. And don’t discount the absence of Ryan Clark to the importance of that defense (all you had to do was watch the Sunday Night Football broadcast for 30 seconds and you were bound to hear them discussing how big of a key Clark is in allowing Troy Polamalu to do his thing). The Steelers will figure things out pretty quickly and win this one by a touchdown.

Tennessee (+6) over San Diego: The last time the Chargers started a season 2-0 was in 2006. You know they need to lose a should-win game early so that the “fire Norv” chatter can become a weekly topic. A loss to the Titans could set them up for a 2-4 record after the first six weeks. That should be just enough to make every Norv press conference chock full of awkward job security questions. I’m calling the Titans in an upset here (or at least for them to lose by less than six).

San Francisco (-7) over Detroit: Let’s just get this out of the way right now: There’s a better chance of Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz french-kissing in the middle of the field after this game than there is of them getting into another old men’s fake fight. I’ll take it one step further…there’s a better chance of Schwartz sticking a finger up Harbaugh’s ass and milking his prostate (it’s a thing, google it), than there is of any dust-up between these coaches. But every pregame show and the NBC broadcast will try to hype up the pending post-game handshake/finger-blasting as if it’s a big deal. What is a big deal is if the 9ers easily handle another NFC North team, we’re gonna have to take a legitimate look at the rest of their schedule and try to figure out when they’re possibly gonna lose a game this year…could they go 15-1 with their only loss coming at New England? I’ll certainly be glad I fled the Bay Area four months ago if that happens.

Atlanta (-3) over Denver: Clear your head for one second of all the Peyton Manning-related garbage that’s in there (he’s back to his old form! he plays great in domes! he always plays well in nationally-televised games!). I know it’s difficult considering anyone in the national media who picked Manning to win the MVP is already patting themselves on the back as if it’s a done deal. But focus on this question and answer sequence instead: Which of these teams is more talented? Atlanta. And are they significantly more talented than Denver or only marginally more talented? Significantly. Can Matt Ryan throw the ball as well as Manning? Yes. Can the Falcons run the ball as well as Denver? Yes, or at least probably. I can’t imagine a scenario where the Falcons don’t win by at least a field goal.

The Vegas Blueprint – Part Two

(If you missed Part One of the Vegas Blueprint earlier today, be sure to click here and read it first.  Now on to Part Two.)

Friday

Surely I don’t have to rewrite all of the nonsense from Thursday’s blueprint.  Friday is almost exactly like Thursday in terms of timing and pacing of the games.  One big difference is that the amount of people in the sports book will double on Friday.  And this will annoy you.  If you’re unlucky enough, you’ll even get the loudest, most illogical fans standing next to you rooting for their shitty basketball team.  Like this guy for instance:

On Friday, you’ll get a little more risky with how you approach the alcohol situation.  You’ll buy multiple bottles of liquor, mixers, plastic cups and a bag of ice from Walgreen’s.  You’ll effectively open up a mini-bar underneath your table.  Don’t hesitate on this because it will be GLORIOUS.

Friday is also the only night you’ll interact with a restaurant waiter all weekend.  This is the night to do a “nice” dinner with the whole group.  At least that’s the intention…unfortunately a few members of the group will be bitter about all the money they lost earlier in the day and will decide to go to bed at 9:45pm.  Even worse, two guys won’t realize that they should just go to bed because they’re blacked out, but instead they’ll go to dinner.  They’ll proceed to light a cigar at the table (not legal), cram into a booth with strangers to take pictures of a “unique” sign on the wall while the strangers are trying to enjoy their meal (not cool), and try to light an electronic/fake candle at the table with actual matches (not safe).  If you can identify who these people are ahead of time (hint: they are the ones calling your Asian blackjack dealer “Jerry Wong” even though his last name isn’t on his badge), figure out a way to ditch them before dinner.

After dinner, you’ll want to gamble.  You spent the entire day making $10 bets on basketball teams you’ve never heard of.  Now is the time to throw down unnecessary $150 bets on a single hand of blackjack.  Go for it; you deserve it.  Or…you could take a cue from the guy who disappeared after dinner and texted you, “I’m taking a giant dump because of that dinner.  Might just call it a night after I’m done,” and you could go to bed, knowing you still have two full days to go.  Easy excuse to use your bowel movement as a reason to call it quits, and you’ll once again get some great sleep.

Saturday

This is the toughest day to wake up on time for the morning games.  Over the last two-and-a-half days, you’ve drank more than ever, you’ve drastically altered your eating patterns, and you’ve expended an enormous amount of energy doing nonstop calculations in your head.  If you’ve listened to anything I said, you already made your bets on the Saturday morning game the night before.  Sleep in and watch the opening game from your bed.  After all, this is the last you’ll be sleeping in Vegas.  But force yourself to get downstairs for the second game (Oh, and did I mention that you should shower each morning so you’re not tempted to go back to the room anytime during the day?  Going back to the room during or after the games is a death wish…your bed will grab you and not let go.  Stay away).

While Saturday’s events play out a lot like Thursday and Friday, there are less games and overall less energy in the sports book.  This is why you’ll want to know a couple of guys who can’t come to Vegas for a full weekend because they’re afraid to ask their wives.  Luckily, you were smart enough to convince them three months earlier to fly down on Saturday morning, not bother to get a hotel room, and fly out first thing on Sunday.  These people will inject the energy into your group that you need to finish off the weekend.  Think about the boost you’ll get from seeing two guys trying to cram four days worth of outrageous Vegas activities into 20 hours.  These are the guys who will have a bottle of bourbon under your table in the sports book by 10:15am.  These are also the guys who will be so eager to place as many bets on the basketball games as possible that they accidentally have two bets that are in direct competition with each other.

Saturday night is your own personal time.  I can’t tell you what to do here.  Some guys realize they’ve been staring at sweaty men on TV for the last four days while standing in a room with pretty much all dudes, and they decide to go look at some breasts in their final hours.  Other guys have that same four-day experience, and decide to go on a man date to the top of the Stratosphere in those waning moments before the 6am death plane comes to take them home.

The one thing I’m sure of on late Saturday/early Sunday is that if you’re done with your tit show or platonic soulmate date and there are still a few hours to kill before heading to the saddest airport in the world, choose the unneeded meal at Denny’s over two more hours of blackjack.  Even making yourself sick by overeating bottomless pancakes is less painful than dropping $200-$300 right before you step on the plane.

And finally, here are some Do’s and Don’ts that didn’t fit anywhere else:

-DON’T book a hotel and count on the poker discount for your room rate unless you have people in the room who are happy to forego the basketball watching in order to log enough poker hours (at the Venetian, six hours per day per room is what you need to qualify for a heavy discount).

-DON’T go back to the cashier and double your bet if you accidentally put down less money on one of the games than you wanted.  Take it as a sign and enjoy losing only half your intended bet when your team  those fuckers from Duke inevitably lose .

-DO try to make a couple small bets that are extremely unpopular with the rest of the people at the sports book.  When the team you bet on makes a run in the second half, you will be the only person out of hundreds screaming with delight.  The looks you’ll get from the crowd is worth the cost of the bet itself.  This doesn’t mean pick a few underdogs…the ‘dogs actually are pretty popular most of the time.  Through various websites, you can find out which side of a game has most of the betting action on it and then go with the opposite.

-DON’T storm off from your group when you lose a bet on Friday afternoon.  Even if it’s your 10th consecutive loss, remember that this is a marathon.

-DON’T switch over to betting on the horse races no matter how much they entice you.  You don’t know horse racing, you’ll never know horse racing, you’ll continually come close to winning but will never actually win…you are here to lose your money on BASKETBALL.

-DO accept free drinks from the hot promo girls, even if it’s something that automatically makes you puke, like Jameson.

-DON’T try to be sneaky and hide your mini-bar at the sports book from the security guards.  The casino probably has 140 cameras trained on you at any given time.  If they really didn’t want you drinking your own alcohol, you wouldn’t be.

-DON’T write a 3,000 word blog post on an extremely successful blogging site about all the ways to get by on the cheap in Vegas unless you want thousands of other people to steal your idea and ruin the secrecy of it all.

The Vegas Blueprint – Part One

(Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a Two-Part Series on Vegas.  Check in later today for Part Two.)

If you’re reading this post expecting a genius idea on how to take down Vegas, you’ve come to the wrong place.  The blueprint isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme.  As a matter of fact, you’re almost guaranteed to lose money if you follow it.  If you’re looking to make money in Vegas, go read Bringing Down the House or something, jerk.

The blueprint also isn’t for anyone who goes to Vegas planning to spend a lot of money.  It’s not for people who enjoy the dance clubs or going outdoors at any point.  This blueprint is not something you should follow if you’re in Vegas with your wife because SHE WILL DIVORCE YOU.

This blueprint is for people who go to Vegas looking to have an incredible weekend while only enduring a slow bleed of their money.  It’s for people who have no interest in buying expensive drinks or eating fancy dinners (actually one nice dinner is acceptable).

Let’s cut to the chase: this blueprint is specifically for anyone who comes to Vegas for the first weekend of March Madness and wants to hang out with my group of friends.  Because honestly, I’m not sure any other type of person can endure this schedule.

Let’s jump into it:

The Objective

To withdraw just enough money on the Tuesday before the trip (known as Transaction Tuesday) to be able to gamble for four days, pay for everything you eat and drink with cash, basically not use a credit or debit card at any point, and return to your home city with just enough money to pay for the cab from the airport to your apartment (and by the way, if you get to your home airport with an absurd amount of one dollar bills because you didn’t “make it rain” in the strip club as much as you thought you would on Saturday night, be sure to use those on the cab ride…nothing sets off a spouse’s suspicions quite like a wallet full of one’s).

The Daily Schedule

Let’s say you’re like me and you arrive in Vegas on Wednesday evening.  You’re also taking the first flight out of Vegas on Sunday morning; yes, that would be the 6am “everyone looks like a Zombie” flight.

Wednesday

This is your only day without basketball so you want to maximize your gambling with the casino games (Poker, BlackJack, Craps, Casino War, etc).  This is also the “calm before the storm” time.  Just 24 hours from now, Vegas will be overrun with middle-aged men who have more money to blow than you, meaning all of the casino games will be out of your price range.  Take advantage of the “cheap” tables tonight.

Plan to meet up with your group as soon as you arrive, poll everyone on their plans for the rest of the night and then play some poker (especially if you have to log a certain amount of poker hours over the weekend to get your discounted room rate – more on this later).  This first poker stint should go well because it’s the first thing you’re doing in Vegas…you always win during those first few hours, and then Vegas has you right where it wants you.  When you finally leave the table, you’ll be surprised that it’s already 10:30pm.  At this point, your only food option is the food court in whatever hotel you’re in.  That’s fine.  Take a 20-minute break and grab a sandwich with your friends.  Gambling over these four days is grueling; you need your energy.  Once dinner is finished, some genius in your group will suggest playing Paigow Poker because “it’s a game where you constantly push your bet (that means you tie against the casino and don’t lose your money) and you’re basically just getting free drinks for as long as you play.”  Go ahead and follow this guy’s lead.  When you’re 30 minutes into playing Paigow, check out his stack of chips.  While the rest of your table has actually pushed most of their bets like he promised, his money will be close to gone.  That’s just how it works.

Now it’s past midnight and you’ve got a solid six to eight drinks in you (which, by the way is the least amount of alcohol you’re gonna have in you for the rest of this trip), and you’re wondering what to do next.  After six years of getting this part wrong, I finally have the right advice: GO TO BED.  I know: it’s Vegas, your first night, the partying is just beginning for many visitors, you’ve got an erection because you’re up $300 for the trip already.  Trust me.  Get a solid night’s sleep on this first night.  You want to be fresh for the next three days of non-stop basketball and the disgusting amount of drinking that goes with it.

Before we move on to Thursday, there’s one more thing.  Sometime on Wednesday evening, take a close look at the first couple basketball games that tip off on Thursday morning.  The first game begins at 9:15am, and unfortunately every person in Vegas feels the need to bet on the opening game.  That means if you save your bet for Thursday morning, you’ll be fighting a line of 500 other people who had the same idea as you, and chances are you won’t get the bet down in time.  Make your bets on the first two or three games on Wednesday night and then laugh at all the idiots who are standing in line for over two hours the next day.  You will kiss me for this one piece of advice.

Thursday

Oh, hey there…good morning.  Did you get a good night’s sleep?  Feeling fresh, rested and ready to take on the world?  You’re welcome.  Are you ready for 12 straight hours of basketball?  Because that’s exactly what you’re doing today (and Friday and Saturday).  Every sports book is different as far as the layout, the seating options and the amount of people.  No matter where you plan to watch the games, it’s great to have someone in your group who doesn’t drink and goes to bed early.  This person becomes the guy who gets to the sports book by 7am each morning to reserve as many tables and chairs as he can.  If you don’t have someone in your group like this, try recruiting one through craigslist or facebook.  And then feel free to offer him beers all day long as a thank you for reserving the tables…he won’t take you up on it, and you get to feel like a nice person.

Even though there’s not much else to say in terms of your itinerary for this day, there is plenty of advice on how to maximize your fun during the games.  You need to think about the flow of the games and how that’s going to affect the line you’ll stand in whenever you want to place a bet.  It’s a good rule of thumb to always be placing bets on “the next three games” that are coming up.  It’s obnoxious to stand in line all day, so don’t be the idiot who makes only one bet every time he goes to the cashier.  I can’t advise you on how many bets to make or who to bet on, but I can advise you to keep the bets small.  Personally, I’d rather have five $20 bets on five different games than have one $100 bet on a single game.  That hundred dollars in the first scenario will provide you with six hours of entertainment.  The other scenario gives you only two hours of entertainment, and is of course a lot more stressful.  This is also a good time to point out one other gambling theory I have.  A blackjack player who knows the rule book inside and out and is sitting at a $10 per hand table can still easily lose $200 in thirty minutes.  A person who’s never heard of basketball can take that same $200, walk into the sports book and be entertained for 12 hours.  And their odds of winning some of those bets are just as good as the blackjack player’s chances.  How would you rather spend your day?  As far as the group dynamic goes, you actually want a couple of loose cannons who can’t sit still as part of your crew.  These are the guys who will make a bunch of basketball bets in the morning, then go sit at a poker table for seven hours, but then come hang out with you to watch the end of each game.  You want these people because during commercials they’ll entertain you with fun stories like how they were bored with basketball, bored with their poker table, so they just spent 45 minutes jumping between roulette, blackjack and craps.  These people literally have money spread out all over the casino so there’s bound to be some absurd stories (bonus points if these guys also like to start trouble at the poker table by asking the casino to “go to the video tapes” to review a move from an opponent that they thought was illegal).

The final thing to mention about this day is around alcohol consumption: do it.  It wouldn’t be Vegas if you weren’t drinking from sunrise to sunset.  The problem is that many of the casinos have started to make it unreasonably expensive to spend an entire day at the sports book and pay for alcohol.  In the past, they’ve given out drink tickets when you go place a bet.  This allows the people who are actually gambling to receive a complimentary drink or two, and it keeps the non-gamblers from getting freebee’s.  It used to be a “$20 bet for every one drink ticket,” but this year they told us it was $500 bet for each ticket.  Alternatively we could pay $6.50 per Bud Light and order them straight from the bar.  Well to those options, I say, “no thank you, and fuck you.”  Here’s what you do…buy your alcohol from the outside and bring it into the casino.  In Vegas, you’re allowed to bring open drinks into any casino and continue to drink it.  Directly outside the main entrance to the Venetian is a Walgreen’s.  Within three minutes of discovering the casino’s policy on drink tickets this year, we had our first 20-pack of Bud Light hidden under our table at the sports book.  We saved $90 for each 20-pack we bought compared with the price at the Venetian bar.  That money was funneled right back into our betting for the weekend.  And if your brain is as slow as ours was, it’ll take you until about 7pm that night to realize you can do the same thing with a bottle of liquor.  Go to Walgreen’s, buy a $25 bottle of Jameson, a bunch of plastic cups and start pouring shots at your table while watching the games.

Now you’re asking, “what the hell am I gonna do after the games end and I’m borderline shitfaced?”  Good question.  This is one of several times over the weekend where you’ll be tempted to play blackjack at a $25 per hand minimum table just because those are the only tables close by.  Force yourself to take the five minute walk over to Casino Royale where you can find $10 craps and blackjack.  Bring the Jameson with you and drink it right out of the bottle while sitting at your table.  That casino is seedy enough where you’ll just look like any other gambler.  Call it a night when you start making a plan to steal one of the gondola’s and ride the Venetian’s canals at 2am.


(Part Two is located HERE.  In it, we discuss Friday and Saturday, pulling an all-nighter, and a list of Do’s and Don’t’s for a successful Vegas trip.)

Lent: Reset your New Year’s Resolution starting Now

Is it possible to eat 40 bags in 40 days?

Lent is for two kinds of people: wannabe good Christians that don’t do a goddamned thing all year to promote their religious beliefs, but decide to take part in the self-denial portion of Lent just because it draws attention, and fat people who have already failed their New Year’s resolutions.

For those Christian fake-dogooders, it’s a chance to draw attention by publicly declaring all the things they’re giving up.  “I know giving up my daily porn fix is crazy, but if Jesus could wander the desert for 40 days, this is the least I can do.”

And for the fatties, it’s a chance to have a do over with your New Year’s resolution to stop being lazy, go to the gym, stop eating chocolate, whatever.  Once these people find out on January 4th that there’s no way they can go a year without their vices, they wait until Lent and commit to trying for 40 days, it’s much more manageable.

In Catholic school, we usually gave up swearing or eating a certain snack/treat for the 40 days.  One year I tried to give up my bad habit of printing out naked pics of celebrities and bringing them to school, but I couldn’t last the 40 days.

Anyway, this all got me thinking, what should Rmurdera give up for Lent? (anyone who’s read the majority of my blogs is screaming at their computer right now for me to give up talking in the 3rd person. Fine, that’ll be one of them.  I’m telling ya the Kid can do it.  Starting now)

I’ve consulted w/ Google to find the 10 Most Cliched Things People Give up for Lent.  Let’s run through it:

1). Alcohol

HA!  Let’s make this one simple so we can move on.  I go to Vegas from March 14-18th to watch the first round of March Madness games with a bunch of dudes.  Sobriety is not an option.

2). Chocolate & Sweets

This one will never happen.  Lent happens to precede the holiday known as Easter.  Lent is also the only time of year where stores carry Cadbury Mini-Eggs, the greatest candy known to man.  I’m much more likely to eat 40 bags of mini-eggs in 40 days than try to give them up.

3). Cursing

Ten bucks says I don’t make it to the end of this post without swearing.

4). Facebook

Here’s one I can probably handle.  On average I probably post something to FB once every 8 months.  The problem is really boredom.  Whenever I’m alone standing in a line, waiting around, or any other times of general boredom, after catching up on 5 iphone games, looking through both work & personal email, checking weather & stocks (who am I?), and checking espn, I finally get around to scrolling through Facebook to pass the time.  I get bored often enough for this to be challenging.  But fine, let’s give it a whirl.

5). Television

Cruising past this because TV is awesome and I already mentioned 4 days of watching basketball in Vegas.

6). Junk Food

Here’s how my Vegas meals usually go down: Pizza, Denny’s, McDonald’s, Sbarro, Burger from sportsbook, Krispy Kreme, Wendy’s, Panda Express, Food Court Mexican (diarrhea for 1), all-you-can-eat buffet at strip club, Denny’s.  Next.

7). Soda

I’ll make you a deal here.  I won’t drink any soda unless I’m mixing it with alcohol, buying it at the movie theater, or if my girlfriend happens to have a Diet Coke with her while we’re hanging out.

8). Smoking

It specifies cigarettes, just to be clear.  And yes, I will continue to not smoke cigarettes.

9). Texting

Negative.  I despise talking over the phone to 90% of the people in my contact list.  Sometimes I still have to talk to them.  Texting is the answer.

10). Gossiping

Fine, no gossip.  But I’m still gonna tell tales, talk idly, jibber jabber, and meddle.

The final tally: No going on Facebook (except when this blog auto-posts to FB); No drinking soda except with alcohol, at the movies, or if my girlfriend has Diet Coke; Continue not smoking cigarettes; No “gossiping,” and No talking in the 3rd person.  Rmurdera thinks he can handle this shit for the next 40 days.