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updated: 9/10/2020 7:28 AM

Jim O'Donnell: NFL's honeymoon with legal gambling all about 'Confidence'

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  • Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes -- here brought down by the Bears' Khalil Mack last year at Soldier Field -- and the Chiefs open the NFL season by hosting the Houston Texans Thursday night.

    Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes -- here brought down by the Bears' Khalil Mack last year at Soldier Field -- and the Chiefs open the NFL season by hosting the Houston Texans Thursday night.
    Associated Press


WAY BACK WHEN THE NFL first began to harvest some real TV money, Pete Rozelle and CBS commissioned a vibrant theme song called "Confidence."

It was rousing. It quickly became a signature of the brand.

The tune played into the national consciousness deep enough to help make early "Vietnam" seem like a manageable little exhibition scrimmage 12,000 miles away.

Thursday night, when the league rolls out golden child Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston to open the season (NBC, 7:20 p.m.), a more appropriate audio motif might be the R.E.M. relic "It's the End of the World as We Know It."

Sure, America's current "pandementia" plays into it.

But between the lines, Roger Goodell and associates are now hoping what were once vices become habits.

Legalized gambling is the NFL's newest green-felt "Cable Guy."

One way or another -- be it game action, fantasy football, play-by-play online betting -- those who stand to profit from it are wishful that the social storm surge becomes perceived as about as threatening to a household as a microwave oven.

So, in the interest of public safety, a smattering of subjective, precautionary maxims:

• Someone will win, and it the long run, it probably won't be you;

• You don't need anyone else to tell you how to lose your money;

• Don't plunge;

• Everything in life starts out at 50-50 -- it happens or it doesn't; and,

• Smart money has never been smarter.

In a nicely dimensioned 1973 book titled "The National Football Lottery," Larry Merchant -- later long of HBO -- took a $30,000 advance from a New York publishing house and ran it up to $47,000 over the course of betting the 1972 NFL season.

(That's a profit of roughly $105,000 in 2020 dollars.)

In the end, he codified:

• Never lay more than a touchdown;

• Always bet against the movement of a wagering line; and,

• When you've made a serious bet, never watch the game -- go for a walk, read a book, go to a movie.

Given the seductiveness of "The Red Zone," forget about No. 3, which suggests skipping the adrenaline -- and pillow throwing -- moments of a game.

And with the wizardly melding of brilliant minds and evolved technologies, delete No. 2 -- a line pushed by sharp money in the new millennium can instead merely make a game unplayable.

The touchdown thing?

OK, fine.

KC-HOU opened at the Chiefs -10 and was moving toward -9 as kickoff approaches.

Mahomes is a "brand," so common speculators pay a premium to chase him.

And the decision is ...?

Ah ... it's all a "Confidence" game.

STREET-BEATIN': Brutal August ratings book for iceberging WSCR-AM (670): Despite more sports to talk about than in August 2019 -- including Blackhawks playoffs, competitive White Sox and the NBA bubbler -- Mitch Rosen and his falling prey were down a shocking 39 percent in the apples-to-apples comparison. ...

It's hard to call Stephen A. Smith's relentless rant about Steve Nash and his hiring as the new head coach of the Brooklyn Nets anything but racist in underpinning. Charles Barkley took the career bobblehead to task for his ill-crafted comments and Jay Mariotti studiously eviscerated Smith in a great piece at ...

As expected, NBC's telecast of the delayed Kentucky Derby drew the smallest TV audience for any Run for the Roses since 1988. (And Bob Baffert's sixth Derby win -- with Tiz The Law trying to draft behind lead speed Authentic and failing -- played out like an old-style harness race at Maywood.) ...

Speaking of turf speculation, Frank Calabrese's Big Dreaming is finally set to go postward Thursday in the $750,000 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs (TVG, post -- 4:32 p.m.). At 15-1 in the morning line, the colt will give stable minds Wayne Catalano and Steve Leving a neon message about his ceiling. ...

Motown-bred "Captain" Tom Morgan reports a rough loss with the resignation of the esteemed Tom McCauley from the Illinois Racing Board. Without McCauley, it's extremely unlikely there would have been any racing at Arlington Park this summer and the IRB now has no quorum for its scheduled 2021 dates hearing next Tuesday. ...

Intriguing swirl that Mike Thomas and ESPN AM (1000) could be making a pass at getting Dan Jiggetts back behind a microphone. (That mic would have to be from D.J.'s Northwest suburban home; the Harvard-educated former Bear was the single most important talent hire in the 1992 startup of "The Score" at AM-820.) ...

The National Transportation Safety Board may be called to The Disney Bubble to sift through the wreckage of the 2020 playoffs spinout of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. (First no full-scale Democratic National Convention in Suds City and now this.) ...

And Gotham wit Phil Mushnick -- on DraftKings' newest Air-haired partner -- asked: "How does losing your money to Michael Jordan make gambling on sports any more fun?"

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at