Opening week of the NFL season is an unofficial holiday for many sports fans. It marks the end of seven months of hibernation since the last down of the Super Bowl was played and the chance to once again witness the glory of professional football (the preseason doesn’t count). And, for many fans, it also marks the beginning of betting season.
Last year, Nevada sportsbooks finished the season up a staggering $113.7 million dollars according to ESPN. Yet despite the long odds of success, many fans still flocked to the casinos or to their closest bookie, demonstrating that their favorite team’s chances at success were not the only source of irrational hope.
But, in an unexpected twist, Vegas had one of its worst days in recent memory. As Jay Kornegay, chief of the Westgate SuperBook, described it: “I don’t remember a worse opening Sunday.” John Avello, executive director of the Las Vegas’ Wynn Casino, said that they lost on every one of the early games.
That’s quite a change from a year ago when underdogs covered the spread in ten of thirteen games leading to what Kornegay called the best Sunday of his career. However, this past weekend the favorites went 9-4 with some of the most unbalanced games going against the house. At William Hill, for example, 80% of the money wagered in the Green Bay-Chicago game was on the victorious Packers who covered the 6.5 point spread. The Dolphins, who beat Washington 17-10 after being favored by only 4, were similarly popular with 77% of the money being placed on them. As a result, Vegas had to pay out far more tickets than usual.
Even some of the games where the house should have come out ahead ended up costing them quite a bit. As Jason Simbal of CG Technology told ESPN, the Rams victory over the Seahawks seemed great on the surface with 50% more wagers coming in on Seattle than Saint Louis. Yet the game ended up costing them dearly as many of the professional gamblers liked the Rams, betting 2.5 times more money on them than the public did on the Seahawks. As Simbal described it, “That was a game that was pretty much public vs. pro. And pro wins.”
To say that Sunday was unpleasant for the house would be an understatement. However, it seems unlikely that Vegas will stay down for long as these things have a way of eventually tipping in their favor. And, if history repeats itself, by the time February rolls around they’ll probably be looking at another profitable season. As the saying goes, the house always wins. While that may not take the sting out of this past weekend, it should give oddsmakers hope going forward. After all, it’s not so much how you start as how you finish that matters the most.
The same is true in the Christian life as well. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, the Apostle writes that a “time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). For that reason he urges Timothy to resist the temptation to fall away from the truth and encourages him to fulfill his ministry so that he, like Paul, can say when the end comes “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
You see, it’s far easier to finish well if you’ve lived well along the way. That latter verse is often used at funerals and to honor the memory of loved ones who died in Christ — and those are fitting applications. However, its original purpose was not so much to praise the one who was crossing the finish line as to encourage the one still running.
Paul knew that Timothy and the other early believers would face times when staying in the race and on the right path would seem all but impossible. He also knew that, while there is grace for the times that we stray from God’s truth, it is far easier to run our race if we stay as close to that path as possible. So with that in mind, he gives Timothy hope that finishing well is an attainable goal, no matter how difficult the times may get, while also encouraging him to pursue that end every day between now and then.
The Apostle offers the same encouragement to us as well. It is not hard to look around and find examples of people who have given in to their itching ears and followed teachers that suit their own passions. But their story doesn’t have to be ours. We, like Paul, can press on and live every day in pursuit of “the crown of righteousness” that God will give “all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). The only question now is, will you?