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Welcome to wonderful world of Sunday football

Published Oct. 12, 2005

My wife, Gerry, and I recently returned from a week in Las Vegas, that fabulous city of glitter where fools rush in and angels fear to tread.

We had a great time, but something happened out there that has drastically changed how I'll be spending my Sunday afternoons this fall. Let me explain:

My one and only has an undying passion for playing the slot machines. One of the last of the big-time spenders, she confines her action almost exclusively to the 5-cent slots. At one time on this trip, she had accumulated an unbelievable cash-in-hand profit of $3.60. Then greed took over and she switched to the 25-cent machines. When we headed for the airport, her winnings had dwindled to 80 cents.

Personally, I'd rather endure a doubleheader between the Seattle Mariners and the Cleveland Indians than sit in front of those money-eating monsters. So while she pulled the handles, I wandered from casino to casino, searching for that special opportunity that comes along only once in a lifetime.

I found it sooner than I expected. One casino in a hotel on the Strip offered what they called "over and under" football betting. This meant that a wager could be made on the number of victories that any of the National Football League teams would attain during the season.

The magic number for the Bucs was listed as six, prompting me to quickly place a portion of the Barnicle fortune on our boys in orange and white.

On the first Sunday of the season, however, my wife made an announcement that turned my little world upside down.

Normally, game days are glorious occasions for me. My wife takes her little plastic cards and heads for a local mall while I spend a relaxing afternoon watching football on television. Little did I know those marvelous Sunday afternoons were about to come to a screeching halt.

"You know," said my wife on the morning of the Bucs' opener with the Phoenix Cardinals, "because of our "investment,' I think I'll stay home this football season and watch all the Bucs games with you."

I was devastated but had to accept this horrendous situation.

To add insult to injury, my wife wanted to know everything about football in a matter of minutes.

"What is a touchdown?" she asked.

"Why do they call them quarters instead of innings?" was another beauty.

Once the game started, she fired questions at me non-stop. Mercifully, the game was not a sellout, which meant it could be carried on radio only. This gave me a little latitude in answering her questions.

Early in the game, a Buccaneer lineman roared into the Cardinals backfield and threw the quarterback for a big loss.

"The Bucs have just sacked the Phoenix quarterback!" shouted Gene Deckerhoff, one of the Bucs' fine broadcasters.

"What does that mean?" asked my wife.

I could hardly wait to answer.

"It's a form of disciplinary action taken against quarterbacks who wait too long to throw the ball," I explained. "If the game were on television or we were at the stadium, you'd see the quarterback placed in a large burlap bag which would then be securely tied at the top. The bag and its unhappy occupant would then be dragged slowly around the field three times. It's called sacking the quarterback."

"It must be awfully humiliating for the player," my wife remarked.

"I'm sure it is," I agreed. "But it serves its purpose very well. It's amazing how quickly a quarterback will get rid of the ball after he's received the sack treatment a couple of times."

In the second half, David Logan, a former Buc star and now an outstanding broadcaster, observed that the opposition had fumbled twice and had been intercepted on another occasion.

"The Cardinals have had three turnovers," reported David.

My wife appeared puzzled. "What's this about turnovers?" she wanted to know.

"It's an old tradition," I explained. "During the Depression period in the '30s, players weren't paid a lot of money. There would be occasions when members of the visiting teams would be hungry even before the game started.

"George Halas, the owner of the Chicago Bears, was a man of great compassion. Before each game, he'd have his wife bake a huge tray of turnovers for the opposing athletes. Of course, today's players are quite affluent, but the custom has continued through the years."

"That's a nice thing to do," my wife said. "I suppose the Bucs order the turnovers from a local bakery."

"Oh, no," I replied, "that would be too impersonal. Gay Culverhouse, the Bucs president, bakes them in her kitchen on the morning of the game. Her pineapple and raspberry turnovers are the hit of the league."

"Ms. Culverhouse, the team president, bakes them?" she queried, obviously finding it difficult to believe. "I guess football is full of male chauvinists, too!"

Frank Barnicle lives in Clearwater.