Editor's note: Mike McCrobie's 'My Oswego' column is a print-only feature of The Palladium-Times, appearing every other week. This column below, appearing in the Wednesday, Dec. 4 edition, has been unlocked for online audiences for a limited time — please enjoy. For more of Mike McCrobie and other great local content delivered each day to your door, subscribe to The Pall-Times by calling 315-343-3800.
In these columns, I’ve made no secret about the fact that I’m at the downsizing stage of life — or, as I like to say almost daily to my wife — “We have to get rid of some of our crap!”
The “crap” to which I refer is nothing specific; it’s merely a lifelong accumulation of this-n-that. We actually began the “declutterization” process last summer. (I know declutterization is not a word, but as a retired English teacher, I have license to make up words whenever I feel the need.)
We’ve already sold some large items like my 1972 Schwinn Continental 10-speed bicycle, and since our oldest son is nearly 36 years old, we finally got rid of his crib. But it’s the smaller items that I’m finding it difficult to let go of, and even harder to figure out why I held onto some of them in the first place.
A case in point — the accompanying graphic is a scan of one such “treasure” that I recently discovered in a book that I was donating to the Thrifty Shopper. For non-gamblers, it’s called a parlay. We referred to them as “football tickets” back in the day. I didn’t realize until a couple months ago that they were still printed and used today. I assumed that with legalized casino sports betting in New York state, as well as all kinds of online wagering, that this form of gambling had gone the way of the dinosaur. Parlays are somewhat harmless, usually dealing with petty wagers, but to compulsive gamblers, they may actually be what gateway drugs are to addicts. But as kids in the ‘60s and ‘70s, we loved them. They combined three favorites of teenagers — money, sports, and risk taking.
The parlay pictured here is from Oct. 25, 1969. My guess is that I tucked it away in one of the sports paperbacks I read as a kid because it was my first “winner” at the age of 12.
I’m not sure how parlays and gambling work in 2019, but it was a pretty simple process five decades ago, and in my house, it was OK with my parents. My mom’s lifelong friend and neighbor was a colorful local character named Pete Mahoney. We kids called him “Pete the Bookie.” Like clockwork, every Tuesday evening in the fall, Pete would hand-deliver a stack of that week’s parlays to our house. Mom would distribute them among family and friends (apparently, she was a mid-level bookie known as a “runner”) with the understanding that the bettors would return half of the perforated tickets with their wagers by Friday night before Saturday’s college football kickoff times.
The unwritten rules were simple. To win, we’d have to choose a minimum of three teams. The favored teams would have to win the game and cover the point spread; the underdogs would win by either winning the game outright or by adding the given point spread to their actual score. We’d put our initials or a nickname and the amount being wagered on either the top or bottom portion of the ticket, depending on the level of risk we wanted to take. If we bet the top half, the payouts were greater, but we’d lose in case a game (with the point spread factored in) ended in a tie. The bottom half was a safer bet (ties you win), but with a diminished financial return.
I assume we had to use a nickname or initials just in case there was a local gambling crackdown by law enforcement. I never thought that anonymity was necessary because most of my dad’s friends who were cops played the parlays as well, so a gambling raid was highly unlikely. Nonetheless, I always submitted my parlays under the “MMc” pseudonym.
So on Oct. 25, 1969, I placed $1 of the money I had earned raking leaves at Sylvan Glen Apartments on a 5-team parlay. I went with home favorites Yale, West Virginia, Purdue, and Georgia; and Cal on the road at the University of Washington.
So, when I rediscovered this old ticket while cleaning recently, I couldn’t resist doing a little modern-day internet research. It turns out that Yale, Cal, and Georgia all shut out their opponents that late October Saturday and the Mountaineers and Boilermakers covered the spread by 14 and four points respectively, making me a winner.
Back in those days, long before the internet and ESPN, it was always a scramble in our house to get the sports section of the Sunday morning Syracuse Herald-American to check the college football scores and check the results of our “tickets.”
Back then, and to this day, I’ve always been a conservative bettor. So, my modest $1 bet that day, resulted in a mere $18 payout. But as a twelve-year-old, I was ecstatic — apparently elated enough to save the winning ticket for 50 years! Back then, I could almost envision the Brinks truck pulling up to our house with my cash in small, unmarked bills.
I’m not sure if I got more of a charge out of winning $18 in 1969 as a pre-teen, or finding this keepsake this past summer while downsizing my book collection.
Playing the parlays, was all in good fun because the disclaimer on the bottom of every ticket stated, “This is not to be used for gambling. For recreational purposes only.”
Yeah, right. Recreational purposes? Wanna bet?
Mike McCrobie is a retired Oswego High School English/Journalism teacher. His column in The Palladium-Times appears exclusively in print every-other Wednesday. His two books, “We’re from Oswego” and “Our Oswego,” are currently available at The River’s End Bookstore and at amazon.com.
His writing has also appeared nationally in Chicken Soup for the Soul Inspiration for Teachers, Chicken Soup for the Soul My Crazy Family, and Reminisce Magazine.