I was thumbing through an old copy of Hunter S. Thompson's The Great Shark Hunt for words of wisdom from his coverage of the Super Bowl in early 70s Rolling Stone. In light of the last week's Tom Brady "foot cast" news as well as this week's pop-up injury to Plaxico Burress, I thought this bit on Hall of Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield from February of 1973 was interesting. It would have worked better if Randy Moss was gimpy, but Plax will have to do:
The other side of the coin is a situation where a shrewd coach turns the League's "report all injuries" rule into a psychological advantage for his own team---and coincidentally for any bettor who knows what's happening---by scrupulously reporting an injury to a star player just before a big game, then calling a press conference to explain that the just-reported injury is of such a nature---a pulled muscle, for instance---that it might or might not heal entirely by game time.
This was what happened in Houston with the Dolphins' Paul Warfield, widely regarded as "the most dangerous pass receiver in pro football." Warfield is a game-breaker, a man who commands double-coverage at all times because of his antelope running style, twin magnets for hands, and a weird kind of adrenaline instinct that feeds on tension and high pressure. There is no more beautiful sight in football than watching Paul Warfield float out of the backfield on a sort of angle-streak pattern right into the heart of a "perfect" zone defense and take a softly thrown pass on his hip, without even seeming to notice the arrival of the ball, and then float another 60 yards into the end zone, with none of the frustrated defensive backs ever touching him.
There is an eerie kind of certainty about Warfield's style that is far more demoralizing than just another six points on the scoreboard. About half the time he looks bored and lazy---but even the best pass defenders in the league know, in some nervous corner of their hearts, that when the deal goes down Warfield is capable of streaking right past them like they didn't exist. . . .
Unless he's hurt; playing with some kind of injury that might or might not be serious enough to either slow him down or gimp the fiendish concentration that makes him so dangerous . . . and this was the possibility that Dolphin coach Don Shula raised on Wednesday when he announced that Warfield had pulled a leg muscle in practice that afternoon and might not play on Sunday.
This news caused instant action in gambling circles. Even big-time bookies, whose underground information on these things is usually as good as Pete Rozelle's, took Shula's announcement seriously enough to cut the spread down from seven to six---a decision worth many millions of betting dollars if the game turned out to be close.
Even the rumor of an injury to Warfield was worth one point (and even two, with some bookies I was never able to locate) . . . and if Shula had announced on Saturday that Paul was definitely not going to play, the spread would probably have dropped to four, or even three. . . . Because the guaranteed absence of Warfield would have taken a great psychological load off the minds of Minnesota's defensive backs.
Without the ever-present likelihood of a game-breaking "bomb" at any moment, they could focus down much tighter on stopping Miami's brutal running game. . .
Tags: Hunter S. Thompson