It was this past Sunday, but it felt like September, 2005.
There I stood in the Mandalay Bay Race and Sports Book, gripping a $100 bill and staring at the illuminated odds board.
Déjà vu sent me reeling back to the same place, same scenario — different time. And for the appropriately orange-illuminated team name I was staring at — far different circumstances.
Different odds too.
‘05-’06 Florida — 75:1
‘12-‘13 Florida — 25:1
There was no hesitation that 2005 fall day as I approached the wagering window.
“$100 on Florida to win 2005-2006 NCAA Basketball Championship.”
It was a wager driven far more by blind loyalty and unfounded optimism than by any soothsayer-type insight.
But as the saying goes, “It is better to be lucky than good.”
And as history testifies, I was lucky and the Gators were better than good.
Many adjectives could be used to describe my 2012 Vegas trip, but up to that moment — “lucky” would certainly not be among them.
Was that about to change, as it did seven lucky years ago?
My eyes were weary and vision blurred … the combined effects of a Vegas weekend and gazing too long at the board. I stared as if waiting for the answer to emerge.
A few teams and numbers did seem to glow a bit brighter, as I contemplated, agonized and deliberated.
UK 13:2 — Say it ain’t so — UK favored to win it all? That can’t be done with a freshmen and sophomore laden lineup! Well, it can’t be done twice. Hey, repeating is very difficult. After all, the last back-to-back champions were — c’mon, go ahead and say it, ‘Cat fans! OK, I will concede that UK is loaded again, but there is no way you lose that much talent and repeat. At least, I hope not. I like Gator Country far too much to wager on an event that would literally implode the forum. Next …
IU 7:1 — Wait a minute — I thought this was deja-vu 2005, not 1981. Yes, IU will be good . . . perhaps very good. But these guys allowed way too many points last season, ranking 158th overall in scoring defense. Unless the Hoosiers burn clock and “run the picket fence,” I don’t see that changing. Me? I’m not going to get caught watching the paint dry. Next . . .
FSU 50:1 — The top four scorers return to a team that didn’t score. Yippee! I tried to envision a 38-36 National Title Game — not happening. Next. . .
Louisville 8:1 — Billy was happy for his mentor. I’m bitter. Next. . .
UCLA 12:1 — Reeves Nelson is gone, meaning coach Ben Howland can sleep easier and his players can sleep — drier. Ok, ‘pee’ jokes aside, this team was a train wreck last season. And though the Bruins boast a lineup as talented as any, I think it takes more than a season to shake off the after taste. Speaking of taste, Joshua Smith is hungry. Next. . .
Michigan St. 25:1 — I consider Tom Izzo the best game coach in the country. Though he is bringing back a talented, experienced, deep and athletic team . . . he has lost Green. I don’t want to lose mine. Next . . .
Missouri 30:1 — Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon are back. But so is Frank Haith. Besides, Norfolk State may make the tourney again this year. Next . . .
Creighton 50:1 — This is probably pretty good wagering value, but I still have nightmares in which I am Orien Greene. My wife wakes me from my fit, sweating and screaming “timeout!” Next. .
South Carolina 300:1 — The Gamecocks will be terrible, but the last thing I want to do is make Frank Martin upset. So, after token consideration given, next . . .
Ohio St. 15:1 — Sullinger and Buford are gone, but there is arguably not a better recruiter in the game. Yes, that includes Calipari — who is hardly recruiting at a football mecca. Craft and Thomas have the ability to take the Buckeyes deep, but when OSU gets too close to a title they typically meet Florida. Next . . .
Iona — No odds? I grew up a rabid Gaels fan — I had to at least look. Next . . .
I shuffled forward, still holding my bill and craning my neck to keep the wagering board in sight.
I am not sure why I feigned some sort of decision-making process.
My wager was a forgone conclusion.
It always had been.
I stepped to the window.
When I returned home my wife instantly asked, “How much did you lose?”
I initially did not answer, but slipped my wagering ticket into my sock drawer, just as I did seven years ago.
“Let’s just say that on April 9, we will buy the dining room table,” I slyly said.
“You bet on the Gators, huh?” she replied somewhat exasperated.
It was 2005 all over again.