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David Fleming comes home

The Super Bowl has completely taken over Detroit, and like most people that live around here, I've been more than a little curious to see how the city would be portrayed in the national media. But I've yet to see a single article trashing the city, and instead have seen dozens of articles preemptively coming to Detroit's defense.

Such is the case with this interesting article by David Fleming on ESPN Page 2. Believe it or not, Jerome Bettis isn't the only person enjoying a homecoming this week -- as you'll learn from the article, Fleming grew up just outside of Detroit, and like many of us, he's genuinely excited about having the big game played in his old backyard.

If you aren't familiar with David Fleming, well, you should be, because he's a damn good writer. I started reading him back in college when he was still with, in part because he was one of the few writers I knew about that successfully blended sports and humor.

As a college student, I didn't exactly have a job for most of my sophomore and junior years. How can a guy living on his own for the first time in his life get by with no steady source of income? Financial aid, credit cards, and, well, online sportsbooks. (To all my college-aged readers, don't try this at home! I'm still paying off school loans and credit cards, and I will be for the better part of the next two decades. Go get a job!)

At the time I thought I knew a little something about sports, and after making a few easy bucks, I thought I had this gambling thing figured out. But after one particularly brutal weekend of football, my last hope for paying rent on time was pretty much tied into an October match between the Steelers and Falcons on Monday Night Football. The Steelers won but failed to cover, which prompted me to lose my better judgement and dash off an irrational emailed accusation of point shaving to the Pittsburgh front office. I cc'd Fleming for good measure, which probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. What followed was my first brush with online fame, in the form of public humiliation in his next column:

"Dear Sirs:

The point spread on the game tonight was Steelers by 5.5. Atlanta practically tried to lose, but the defense kept handing them penalties. Stewart refuses to make the easy throw for a first down on the last Steeler possession, instead scrambling short of the first down. The team took a needless safety to win by four. This is blatant point shaving. This is a disgrace. Anyone who watched the game was mystified at how the Steelers suddenly lost control of a game they had in their pocket since the first quarter. I know. Point shaving. This is a complete disgrace."

No, Matt, the true disgrace is Steelers owner Dan Rooney , perhaps the most respected man in all of pro football, having to read this e-mail. And I thought I was the only one who dreaded "You've got mail!" From his address I can guess our friend Matt, 1) goes to the University of Michigan and 2) just lost his tuition money on the Monday Night game.

People, I will only say this once. If it was possible to win at gambling then no one would have to work, we could all just bet for a living. Just look at what it's done for Pete Rose.

So say it with me now, Matt Watson,


Ah, the coveted WHYLO award, handed out to the author of the most idiotic piece of reader mail he received each week. Eventually I learned an important lesson: sports gambling is for suckers. I didn't learn this as fast as Fleming tried to teach me, but over the next semester or so it started to sink in, and to this day I don't have much of a stomach for it.

I should add that Fleming also taught me another important lesson -- one that I didn't completely learn until about 15 minutes ago: everything you do or say online will be preserved for all of eternity. I actually remember writing that stupid email, but I certainly didn't realize at the time that six and a half years later it would take me all of 34 seconds to find it again through Google.

So I, for one, am happy to welcome the wise Fleming back home, and when I'm watching on Sunday, he'd be happy to know I don't care how much the Steelers win by, or if they even win at all.

And now back to our regular scheduled Pistons programming.