Wearing our jerseys. Yah mon.

My husband and I strive to instill the best of virtues in our precious offspring.  To that end, we started a family football betting pool.

Or at least that’s the version of the story my husband swears by. When he first talked me into these shenanigans, it went something like this:

Eric: I have a really cool game called Swami that I think we can bond over with the kids.  It’s a football betting game.

Me:  Football and betting?  Are we corrupting them?  Is this a CPS intervention type of thing?

Eric:  No, nothing like that.  We’re not betting money, anyway, just bragging rights.  It’s a learning opportunity.  It’s not even just the probabilities, statistics, mathematics, athletics, and football.  It’s pride and social consciousness, it’s perseverance and the human psyche.  It’s structure and rules.

Me:  Slow down, Knute Rockne.  It’s betting.  On football.  {Eye roll}

I relented, of course.  Our family Swami game was born.

Eric had created Swami as a young engineer looking for a way to bring more football into his life, post college.  Every year the engineers he included in Swami added additional layers of complex rules to the game, as engineers love to do.  They considered every possible outcome, and they planned for every possible issue.  They deemed their rules the “Swami Constitution,” a copy of which I have saved to my hard drive, should any of you suffer from insomnia and wish to peruse a copy.

What is this Swami game of which I speak, you ask?  Here’s the run down: Each week of the football season the Swami (the winner of last season’s Swami competition) selects eight games (4 college and 4 pro) for the players to pick the scores on.  Whoever guesses the right outcome (win/lose) the most times comes in 1st for the week, earning 1 point, with 2 points to 2nd place, 3 points to 3rd place, 4 points to 4th, etc. If there is a tie, the winner is determined based on the total of the point spreads between their picks and actual scores.  Over the season, each week’s score is cumulated for each player, and the person with the lowest cumulative points at the end of the season wins.  Simple enough right?

Well, the real key to the game is strategy, fair or foul.  For instance, the Swami Constitution requires the players to designate a fave pro and college team.  There are loyalty penalties for picking wrongly against one’s favorite teams.

To use this loyalty to his or her advantage, the smart Swami will deliberately pick games to test the players’ loyalties.  So if one of the week’s games includes the Cowboys, who are Clark’s favorite pro team, and Clark picks the Cowboys to lose but they actually win, he gets a loyalty penalty point.  Yet if the Cowboys suck (which they do, this year), and Clark picks them to win because he doesn’t want to risk a loyalty penalty point, the Swami can safely assume Clark will have picked this game wrong.  Thus, it is a huge advantage to be the Swami and get to pick the games.

Another favorite tactic?  Some players post their picks, then change them minutes before the deadline to try to psych other players into following fake/bad picks.  You aren’t supposed to copy other players’ picks…but the power of suggestion is a dangerous thing.  Especially if your name is Susanne.

The most popular element of the game is “smack” talking, or assertively but playfully roughing up the other players’ favorite teams and picks.  Our family has this down to an art form.  Clark has learned to lure Eric into side bets on Cowboys/Aggies v Cardinals/Lobos statistics by a slow build of trash talking about Eric’s teams.  He waits until he is sure he has goaded Eric into the appropriate level of emotionally frenzied vulnerability, then suggests Eric put his money where his mouth is.  Alas, Eric falls for it every time.  Clark just bought an iTouch, and I think he financed it by bets with Eric.

Related to the smack talking element is the naming convention. Each player must have a name. In their first season, they can pick their own name.  But often the names are “strongly suggested,” such as Eric’s boss who accepted the handle of “Darth” in honor of Darth Vader, a nickname given to him by his ex-wife, and one highly amusing to his employees.

At the end of the season, if the Swami loses, the players pick a new name for him.  Eric was Swami last year, but lost the position to me for this year.  I named him Captain Underpants, in honor of several blogs on his drawers (for examples, click here, and further click the links in that post to get to others).  The winner becomes the new Swami.  The person in last place is named after the worst coach of the year in pro-football: this year the name is “Spagnuolo.”

In years past, Eric has limited his Swami game to work.  In 2006, he did not participate in a Swami game, and it nearly ripped his heart out.  So in 2007 he doubled up and had Swami-at-work and Swami-at-home. He felt certain he would obliterate the competition at home.  However, he failed to take into account how emotionally attached he is to the Arizona Cardinals and University of New Mexico Lobos (see post: Best Laid Plans of Cardinals and Men), and his score suffered heavily because of it.

He also underestimated how badly his most beloved ones wanted him to lose.  Strategy at our house in 2007 revolved around “Eric not winning” rather than the victory of any one person.  For most of the season, the leader was Susanne– 10 years old and no football betting experience!  (And what does this tell us about betting in general and betting on football in particular?)  However, at the wire, Liz and Suz ended up in a dead tie and had to not only have a final week tie-breaker, but a season-deciding tie-breaker, based on number of penalty yards per team in the Super Bowl.  Whew!  Go, girls, go.  Final ranking in Year One: Susanne, Lize, Pamela (yes, we all beat the overly-emotional-about-football boys), Eric, and Clark.  Liz took the title in Year Two.  Eric reclaimed it in Year Three.  And it bears repeating that I dethroned him in Year Four.

Eric created a monster. His co-workers have become rabid players, and his home crew is absolutely insane about the game. We’ve got kids texting on their way home from school to find out the scores, and disputing results (as compiled and calculated in a snazzy spreadsheet by the Momela). Eric can hardly get any work done during football season because of all the people wanting to come by and talk a little Swami every day. And his Swami game lives on back on St. Croix at HOVENSA, a legacy to all the good work and good will he brought there.

Scoff if you must, but the family that wagers together is tighter than ever. If your last name is Hutchins, Jackson, or Fagan, you are hereby cordially invited to petition the Swami for consideration to join our game.  Oh, and did I mention, she is me?  🙂


p.s. Update:  Guess who won year 5?  Yes, that would be ME AGAIN.  Bring on Year 6, Fall 2011.  Whoop!  Welcome, new players, Thomas and Allie.

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