By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist

The NFL sucks.

That is a nasty way to open a column, but after watching another one of these putrid playoff games, there is nothing else to say. It is embarrassing to have to admit that I've been taking the NFL seriously all these years.

Waking up to watch the Giants-Vikings game Sunday was like rolling out of bed & stepping into a pile of steaming animal dung. The score at halftime was 34-0 & the Vikings had two first downs. Neither Moss nor Carter had done anything & the Giants led 386-45 in total yards. The game was over, all bets were off & the crowd in my kitchen was sullen. They had come here to watch football, not a road-paving operation.

The Oakland bettors had given six points, so their game was over by halftime. The Raiders were clearly doomed. ... Fortunately I had bet against them, just as I bet against Minnesota in the first game -- although my personal preference was strongly for both Oakland & the Vikings.

That is Fan-thinking, & I have learned from painful experience that it is almost always the Wrong way to bet. I learned this the Hard way, by consistently betting money -- even serious money -- against the Dallas Cowboys, because I Hated them. Those wretched bastards beat me nine times out of 10. They were a very Good football team. And the 49ers were Not.

It was that simple, but it was more than a year before I learned to swallow my pride & my natural home-team passion & bet like a smart boy on the Enemy & make money instead of having fun & losing it. Once I started betting ON the Cowboys I went on a winning streak that lasted for 10 years. It was a crucial lesson to learn.

The Sheriff was one of those who got beaten like a gong on both games. By halftime of the Oakland whipping, he was drinking heavily & rapping his knuckles on the bar whenever money changed hands, usually in My direction. At one point, he began raving & cursing about Al Gore, who will be watching the game on TV about five miles from here in Snowmass. ... It will be Gore's last ride in Air Force Two, & he is determined to make the most of it. His Secret Service handlers already have requested/demanded more Special Protection than he would need for a week in Miami Beach, & he also wants armed guards to surround his wife & daughters 24 hours a day.

The Sheriff refused to have any part of it, because of the huge Costs, & his rising anger drove women out of the room. ... Indeed, Al Gore & whatever remains of his family will arrive here Monday for a weeklong winter vacation & the locals are getting edgy. ... Presidential visits are fairly routine in Aspen. The Clintons visited two or three times a year for big-time Money-raising gigs, & Bush the Elder was here so often that I came to be good friends with his Secret Service agents.

They hung around the Woody Creek Tavern for weeks at a time, protecting against assassins. ... One summer the Whole neighborhood was over-run by armed bodyguards from three Nations. Bush traveled with a Presidential detail of 40 or 50; Prime Minister Thatcher of England had another 45 or so; & Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia was here with his normal detail of at least 30 personal assassins who never leave his side.

That is a lot of hired gunmen to bring into a rural community with a normal population of 300 cowboys & 50 confirmed addicts. ... The Prince lives here, of course, so we are used to fast caravans of black Hummers & silver Mercedes 600s full of giggling naked children zooming around the Valley at all hours.

Why not? Prince Bandar is a good neighbor & I would never Dream of butting into his Personal life. He has lived right up the hill from me for 10 or 11 years. I am wary of his Politics & no doubt he is wary of mine, but that is not a problem in this neighborhood. ... I have lived across the street, as it were, from some of the worst Swine in America & I have always assumed that at least 11 percent of all visitors to my house are carrying either concealed weapons or felony-dangerous drugs. (About 3 percent carry both -- down from 44 percent in the Seventies & 20 percent in the Eighties -- but most of those are dead now & the rest are in prison.)

As for this year in Tampa, the Game itself looks like a guaranteed Bummer. Baltimore will squeeze out a six-point victory over the Giants, but only about 2,000 people in America will care about it.

"There is too much money out there," said the Sheriff, waving his arm in the general direction of Aspen. "The billionaires have run the Millionaires out of town, & the new crowd has no sense of humor. None at all. My deputies got a 911 call last night from a 7-year-old kid who wanted us to arrest his Nanny for being mean to him. It happens all the time." He made a quick chopping motion with his hand. "We had to Investigate it," he snarled. "It was utterly bogus. We should have drowned the little bastard."

The good ol' days & crimes of passion
In the old days, I went to many games & personally "covered" nine or 10 Super Bowls. I was a Sportswriter, among other things, & I enjoyed the games & the Gambling & the crazy dumb Excitement that goes along with the Spectacle. I liked hanging out with Paul Hornung & Jimmy the Greek & engaging in random violence here & there. It was fun.

It was not long before I learned that it was not even necessary to attend the games in person, in order to Cover them & write excellent Super Bowl stories. ... There is a relentless kind of Craziness that hovers in the air during Super Bowl week. You can get into serious trouble just for answering your Phone after midnight, or by simply opening your Hotel-room door when somebody knocks on it.

I once woke up in Reno with a strange woman about 15 hours after I attended the first half of a Denver-Washington game in San Diego. It made perfect sense at the time, but I have never been able to explain it -- not even to myself. It remains one of the darker adventures of my life & cost me about sixty thousand dollars at a time when I was stone broke. ... It was a Crime of Passion, as I recall, & we will let it go at that.

Click here to buy Hunter S. Thompson's new book, Fear and Loathing in America : The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist.

On another occasion I was physically ejected from the Redskins press box when I forgot to take my hat off for the National Anthem -- & on another I got involved with the Bush family in Houston. I have flipped out in Miami & been kidnapped in New Orleans, all for just trying to do my job. The Super Bowl is always a high-risk Assignment for some people & I am definitely one of them.

As for this year in Tampa, the Game itself looks like a guaranteed Bummer. Baltimore will squeeze out a six-point victory over the Giants, but only about 2,000 people in America will care about it. Both the City & the Game will be neck-deep in wild whores & hustlers & Pimps from all over the world, & President Bush might even make an appearance at halftime.

But I will not be there, & neither will Lyle Lovett or Linda Lovelace or eminent Lawyers like George Tobia & Gerald Goldstein, who are deeply diss-satisfied with pro Football.

And so am I, for that matter. The Playoffs have been a bleak anti-climax to a season that was once so full of promise. ... The two Losing teams on Sunday scored a total of three (3) points between them, & the outcomes were never in doubt. The Gore family will Lose all their bets & one of his daughters will manage to get busted for Drunk Driving. Many gamblers will not bet on the game at all, but the Bookies will win big, like always.

Before you even think about betting against the Smart money in Tampa, consider This: The over/under number for the Giants-Vikings game was 41½ -- the final score was 41-0.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's books include Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, The Proud Highway, Better Than Sex and The Rum Diary. His new book, Fear and Loathing in America, has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears each Monday on Page 2.