Christmas in the pool hall with Jimmy The Greek Papas

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It was back in 1897 when New York Post columnist Francis Pharcellus Church answered a letter from Virginia O’Hanlon asking if there really was a Santa. His answer was, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

For this writer it was back in 1962, a cold December day as I headed to the Arcade pool room owned and operated by Jimmy “the Greek” Papas, no relation to the famous Jimmy “the Greek’ Snyder.

This Greek ran the Arcade pool room with a wooden pool rack always on his arm ready to play and if you did something that upset him, like put a bottle on one of his beautiful Brunswick tables, he would whack you on your knuckles like one of the sisters I had at St. Peter’s grade school.

This day I had a buck in my pocket that I had just earned bussing tables at my dad’s restaurant and I was looking for a quarter nine ball game, but the place was empty. I decided to go to the front where Jimmy was selling cigs, cigars and other stuff. He also found time to write a few numbers and football bets.

No nine ball, so I decided to play a few numbers hoping to be a little lucky as I needed some Christmas cash to get the family a few stocking stuffers.

I never saw Jimmy smile in my life but this day for some reason he had a little twinkle in his eyes and said “Merry Christmas, hope Santa brings you some nice gifts.”

I look at him and say I’m old enough to know better. Now he has a little frown on his face and I can see the rack shaking in his hand. He says to me, “I thought you were a gambler.”

Now any wise gambler would believe. If you don’t, he says, you have no shot. If you do believe it’s a 50-50 chance. He says his bet is that I believe.

So I play a few numbers and then he says to me, “Do you know the true meaning of Christmas?”

Now this was coming from a very mean, I once thought, old grumpy man. He writes my numbers: 016 for a nickel box and 559 for a dime box. That was my mom’s license plate number, total was 90 cents, which still left me with a dime for one of his very burnt hot dogs.

The real meaning of Christmas is love. Then he hits me with his rack right on my knuckles as he hands me my tickets. With the twinkle back in his eyes he says have a very Merry Christmas.

Now this is a true story as 559 did come out and with my winnings I purchased a set of ivory rosary beads for Mom that she wanted as she loved to count those beads. My dad was always easy, a carton of Camels and a three-team Christmas parlay in honor of the three wise men who showed their love with gold, frankincense and myrrh on that first Christmas day.

It gave Christmas true meaning and that 1962 I was truly walking around lucky.

Last week: 0-5

Season: 38-56-2

Now to this week’s bowl games.

Wednesday

Poinsettia, San Diego – BYU -10 vs. Wyoming (56.5): As this bettor is still wondering how he lost his +3.5 bet on the Bengals this past Sunday, we must move on. I was ready to lay the points with a good BYU team but after watching San Diego State beat Houston, my opinion has changed. We will take the inflated number. WYOMING/OVER

Thursday

Idaho Potato, Boise – Colorado St. -13.5 vs. Idaho (64.5): Break-out season for spudders from Moscow, Idaho as they won and covered their last four games. They get a rare bowl appearance and we think the Vandals want to make the most of it. IDAHO/UNDER

Friday

Bahamas, Nassau – E. Michigan +4 vs. ODU (65): Nothing new here for head coach Bobby Wilder for the Monarchs, except he is in a Division 1 bowl game instead of the FCS playoffs. Make no mistake, his troops will be ready for this trip to the Bahamas. OLD DOMINION

Armed Forces, Fort Worth – La. Tech -6 vs. Navy (66): With the QB problems of the Midshipmen the money has come on Louisiana Tech, but we love the military schools in these bowl games and will take the points. NAVY

Dallas General, Mobile, Ala. – Ohio +4 vs. Troy (50): Just don’t see a lot of points put up by these two teams. UNDER

Monday, Dec. 26

St. Petersburg Bowl, Florida – Miami Ohio +13.5 vs. Miss State (58): Two teams, one with a huge turnaround season and one that most likely wanted to be somewhere else. MAC bowl teams in this pointspread category have not fared well and this huge class hike may be too much for the Redhawks to handle. MISS ST.

Quick Lane, Detroit – Maryland -2 vs. BC (44): Want no part of the Terrapins who needed to beat lowly Rutgers in their final game to get here as they went 2-6 SU in their last eight regular season games. BC after games with Louisville and Florida State won their last two. BOSTON COLLEGE

Independence, Shreveport, La. – Vanderbilt +4 vs. NC State (44): Vandy comes in on a high, winning their last two games both as dogs versus Ole Miss and Tennessee. Take the points. VANDY

Have a Merry Christmas.

Twitter: @SabesBet

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