Setting the Lines for Top Silver-Screen Showdowns


We all survived the thin-gruel Sunday that comes between the NFL’s conference championships and the Super Bowl, with just the Pro Bowl—the Samuel Beckett novella of sporting events—to sustain us.

Now it’s Super Bowl weekend, and with it the one time of year everyone turns into a gambler. And as much fun as it is to read about whatever sports-prognosticating rodent the local news trots out to ride the Broncos’ hamster wheel or press the button on the Seahawks’ pellet dispenser, I thought it would be more entertaining to check in on the kinds of sporting events people outside of the greater Denver/Seattle/Degenerate Clans of Las Vegas population bases care about: the fake ones.

Wynn oddsmaker Johnny Avello has been setting lines on everything from the Oscars to American Idol to the Westminster Dog Show for years. Naturally, we turned to him as our expert to break down several of the greatest sporting events ever put to film.

The Longest Yard

Year: 1974.

Starring: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Bernadette Peters.

The matchup: The “Mean Machine” team of inmates against a semipro team of guards at Citrus State Prison.

The line: Mean Machine -7½.

Avello’s take: “The guards were more seasoned players; they had a semipro team. But the inmates had a former pro quarterback star, Paul ‘Wrecking’ Crewe. The quarterback position and the overall strength of the inmates dictates the spread to me. That quarterback position, even in the NFL today, is the most important on the field, and that’s how a lot of the NFL lines are set.

The wrinkle: Crewe was kicked out of the NFL amid a point-shaving scandal. Would the betting public be reluctant to back a 7½-point favorite led by a point-shaver? “They only won the game by one. That shows you they could have won this game by at least a touchdown.”

The result: Mean Machine 36, Guards 35.


Major League

Year: 1989.

Starring: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger.

The matchup: The Cleveland Indians vs. the New York Yankees in a one-game tiebreaker for the American League East division title.

The line: Cleveland -130/Yankees +110.

Avello’s take: “This was clearly a case of momentum for the Indians, although the Yankees were the better team. Just because of their momentum, the Indians were the favorite in this one.”

The wrinkle: Despite a strong season, aging Indians veteran Eddie Harris had only his spitball to get through a fearsome Yankees lineup that included slugger Clu Haywood. “It looked to me like the pitcher for the Yankees was as good, but the Indians just had everything going for them at this point. This is one of those situations where you can see the momentum. The Indians were bound to take it.”

The result: Indians 3, Yankees 2.



Year: 1975.

Starring: James Caan, John Houseman.

The matchup: Houston vs. New York in the 2018 Rollerball championship.

The line: Houston -200/New York +170.

Avello’s take: “Although the Houston team lost Blue—he was the team’s lead biker—and they lost Moonpie in the semifinal against Tokyo, Jonathan is just too good a player. How great of a player is he? In the finals versus New York, he takes on the final two players and wins easily. He’s the difference in the whole game.”

The wrinkle: James Caan’s Jonathan is the unequivocal star of a league secretly run to reinforce the idea that individuals were powerless in the face of the corporations that ran society. In order to convince him to retire, the corporations literally keep changing the rules to make it as dangerous as possible, and get Jonathan killed. Please draw your NFL-in-2018 parallels now. “I think he had a lot of motivation in this final game to show just how good he really was.”

The result: Houston 1, New York 0, and the likely creation of a rallying point for the people to tear down a corporate-dominated dystopia.


The Hustler

Year: 1961.

Starring: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott.

The matchup: Fast Eddie Felson vs. Minnesota Fats (rematch).

The line: Felson -250/Minnesota Fats +210.

Avello’s take: “I made Fast Eddie a 2-to-5 favorite when sober. Fast Eddie was the most talented pool shooter in the country, but he had an alcohol problem. When he was sober he was really tough to beat, but when he started drinking he could be had. But when the money was on the line, he had  ice water in his veins.”

The wrinkle: In their first meeting, Fats outlasted Fast Eddie in a marathon 24-plus-hour session. Later on, Felson tried to hustle some two-bit goons and ended up with two broken thumbs for his trouble. “The first time in the movie, Fats ended up beating Eddie late, because Eddie started drinking. At the end, Fast Eddie is sober. It just shows you how good he really was.”

The result: In less than six hours, for $3,000 a game, Fats begs out, beaten.



Year: 1980.

Starring: Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Murray.

The matchup: Judge Elihu Smails and Dr. Beeper vs. Ty Webb and Al Czervik.

The line: Smails/Beeper -150; Webb/Czervik +130.

Avello’s take: “Ty Webb was an exceptional player, but Al Czervik was questionable. If he did play well, how long could he sustain it? When Danny Noonan takes over for Czervik, then the match becomes a pick ’em.”

The wrinkle: Noonan’s game-winning putt falls in thanks to a series of explosions Carl Spackler set off trying to kill a gopher. Does that bet still pay? “That would force me to change my rules in the future. I’d have to pay out on that, but in the future I’d have to say the ball goes in by stroke, and no explosions could have an effect on it.”

The result: Webb and Noonan (Czervik) win the match-play contest 10-8.


Slap Shot

Year: 1977.

Starring: Paul Newman, Strother Martin.

The matchup: The Charlestown Chiefs vs. the Syracuse Bulldogs for the Federal League championship.

The line: Syracuse -900/Charlestown +600.

Avello’s take: “The Syracuse Bulldogs are the far superior team. They stocked their roster with the most notorious enforcers. The Chiefs were a losing team every year, and the coach was about as bad a coach as you could have.”

The wrinkle: Paul Newman’s Reggie Dunlop doesn’t offer enough veteran savvy to move the line any in the Chiefs’ favor. “This is one of those where it’s a pro team playing a college team.”

The result: Chiefs win by forfeit.


Rocky III

Year: 1982.

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Mr. T.

The matchup: Deposed champion Rocky Balboa tries to reclaim his title in a rematch with Clubber Lang.

The line: Clubber -150/Rocky +130.

Avello’s take: “Rocky had won 10 of 11 fights. His only loss was to Clubber. Clubber was younger and stronger, and Rocky’s longtime trainer, Mickey, died, so he doesn’t have him in his corner and he can’t seem to shake that loss. He does retain the services of his former opponent Apollo Creed, so that’s a plus. I think Rocky’s biggest attribute is his stamina, his ability to take a punch. It’s got to be factored into the odds, knowing his opponent might punch himself out, and that’s what seemed to happen in this fight. But Clubber was the better fighter overall.”

The wrinkle: Wouldn’t the betting public favor a longtime champ with multiple title defenses against an upstart who only won the belt against a complacent fighter? “The betting public will look at what the matches are. If the matches are against soft competition, they’re not going to bet a guy with a winning streak. They’re going to bet based on who that competition is. Remember that Rocky, nobody has more heart as a fighter. So the general public would maybe back him, especially as an underdog, knowing Rocky will give them value on their bet.”

The result: Rocky by third-round knockout.


Death Race 2000

Year: 1975.

Starring: David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone.

The matchup: Masked marvel Frankenstein (David Carradine) driving against the field, including Sly Stallone’s “Machine Gun” Joe Viterbo in the 20th annual Transcontinental Road Race.

The line: Frankenstein -300.

Avello’s take: “Nero is killed when he runs over the booby-trapped doll planted by the Resistance, which he mistakes for a real baby. Matilda drives off a cliff when she follows a detour set up by the Resistance. Calamity Jane drives over a landmine. This leaves Frankenstein and “Machine Gun” Joe in the race. The field kind of killed themselves. They were out to get each other, and it seemed like Frankenstein was going to be one of the final two or three left. He had to be the favorite over anyone in the field.”

The wrinkle: When setting NASCAR lines, how much weight is given to the driver versus the car? “The driver is probably 60 percent. The car is 40. It’s like jockeys in horse racing. It seems like the better jockeys always get the better horse. The better driver always gets the better car. [Machine Gun Joe’s car] looked like a good car, but it just looked overall to me like Frankenstein’s car was equally as good. It was going to come down to who could survive some of the fights going on within the race.”

The result: Frankenstein is the lone surviving driver, assassinates the president of the United Provinces of America and abolishes the Transcontinental. Another dystopia is liberated through the power of murderous sports.


The Bad News Bears

Year: 1976.

Starring: Walter Matthau, Tatum O’Neal, Jackie Earle Haley.

The matchup: The Bears vs. the Yankees for the Southern California Little League championship.

The line: Yankees -500.

Avello’s take: “Baseball lines are predicated on pitching. The Yankees had Joey Turner, who was a star pitcher, and the Bears had Amanda Whurlitzer, who was a fairly skilled pitcher, but it was questionable how long she could go in the game. The Bears had the best athlete in Kelly Leake, but the rest of the team was a motley crew. As far as coaching, the edge went to Roy Turner of the Yankees. Morris Buttermaker was a good coach, but he was drunk half the time.”

The wrinkle: Is it going to be hard to get the betting public to put money on a girl in a league made up mostly of boys? “In today’s world, the female pitchers are very good. They’re out there for a reason. Buttermaker only had so much to work with. He dated this girl’s mother and actually showed her how to play baseball. She had some skill. She was the best they had to offer.”

The result: Yankees 7, Bears 6.


Freddy vs. Jason

Year: 2003.

Starring: Robert Englund.

The matchup: The Sultan of Slash vs. The Nabob of Nightmares, at long last.

The line: Pick ’em.

Avello’s take: “The battle is at Crystal Lake, Pennsylvania. Jason has been dead a few years, but he can still kill in an instant. Freddy doesn’t have any power initially, because all the teenage parents made everyone forget about him. He can’t return to the nightmares. Freddy likes to kill his victims in their dreams. He has a fear of fire, and Jason has a fear of water. That’s kind of a thing against both of them. Jason is crafty with his machete, and Freddy is dangerous with his blades. But Jason has more kills in more movies. It was too close to call for me.”

The wrinkle: By 2003, Jason had 10 movies under his belt to Freddy’s seven. He had the veteran presence, home-field, and the reach advantage with his machete. How was he not the favorite? “Jason has a fear of water. Being near the lake, that’s an issue for him.”

The result: Jason beheads Freddy, though the latter’s severed noggin is still animated at the end of the movie. Seems like a draw.


Return of the Jedi

Year: 1983.

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher.

The matchup: Newly minted Jedi Luke Skywalker confronts his Sith daddy Darth Vader with the fate of the galaxy in the balance.

The line: Vader -125.

Avello’s take: “Darth Vader decisively won their first battle by cutting off [Luke’s] hand. The Jedi are a spiritual organization, but Darth Vader is total evil. No attachment to anything or anyone. Vader’s older and has experience, but Luke has The Force. Still, Vader has to be the favorite on experience only.”

The wrinkle: How is this line not heavier in Vader’s favor? The fight takes place on the Death Star, giving Vader home-field, and he has the Emperor right there to watch his back. “True, but I think Skywalker was maybe more fit, and maybe more motivated.”

The result: Luke by forfeit, when Vader gets traded in-game from the Dark Side and chucks the Emperor down an access shaft.

The lesson here? If you ever find yourself in a sports movie, bet the underdog. Even when the protagonists were favored, they still failed to pay out the majority of the time. Considering that Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman is the closest thing to Clubber Lang we’re getting in this Super Bowl, and that the Seahawks are the underdogs, you can finally safely reinvest all that gold you’ve been hoarding.

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