Long before Larry Merchant told Floyd Mayweather that if he was 50-years younger that he'd kick his ass; Merchant was a sports write for the Philadelphia Daily News and the New York Post. It was during his time in Philly that he started to picks scores for the weekend slate of college football and NFL games. He got on such a good run that bookies started calling him wanting to know his picks before the newspaper would hit the newsstand.
After ending his 35-year run as a boxing analyst for HBO Merchant feels like the season he spent in Las Vegas was a couple of life times ago. In 1972, Merchant put up his $30,000 advance betting it on the NFL for an entire season. He elbowed up to various Wiseguys, including Lem Banker and pulled back the curtain to a world much more taboo and secretive 44-years ago.
I first discovered the book when I bought it for a nickel at a garage sale as a 9-year-old. I couldn't comprehend the gambling element, but I used the scores to create a football game where I was a coach. If I remember right, I coached the Vikings for 17-years and won too many divisional titles to remember and finally gave the purple their first Super Bowl title. I was drawn to the cover with teams names and what I would learn later were point spreads. I was also fascinated by next to the scores and standings were various lines; MY LINE, OPENING LINE, CLOSING LINE, and what really captured my imagination was the OUTLAW LINE. There were outlaws in football?
I love reading the blurbs on the book. The New York Times called it, "The flea-flicker of the season." Newsweek wrote, "Merchant careens around the gambling circuit like a runty halfback scrambling to daylight." But my favorite blurb on the back of the book belongs to famed author and screenwriter of The Godfather, Mario Puzo.
Here's a scene that didn't make the movie. It's Merchant reminiscing about what inspired him to write the book, "The National Football Lottery."