Passion a plus if you bet sports with head, not heart

Mar 12, 2013 3:00 AM

“Do you always bet on your favorite team?” is one of the most common questions I get as a guest on radio shows. As most reading this article know, betting with your head and not your heart is a basic concept of winning at sports betting.

Allow me to suggest a less obvious question: Does a sports fan have a betting advantage over a non-sports fan? I am a sick Steelers fan. I appreciate the Spurs. I’ll travel to a BCS Title game when my alma mater Ohio State Buckeyes are playing.

I actually root against the Pirates reaching .500 in the hope hitting bottom might compel the owners to spend enough money to field a genuine contender. But none of it is like my Steelers sickness. I’m talking about reading blogs in the offseason and pumping my fist when they sign the right backup offensive tackle.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who became fanatical about a team after their teenage years. Growing up one hour east of Pittsburgh, the Steelers won four Super Bowls when I was a kid; combine that with the ubiquitous jerseys, flags, logo tattoos, and Terry Bradshaw biographies and I was hooked.

And it’s my belief as long as a handicapper can avoid the pitfalls of betting with his heart and not his head, the passion of fandom can actually be a big advantage.

Many aspiring bettors, in an effort to live up to vague ideas of how a pro approaches his craft, attempt to eradicate the passion of the fan. Many wannabes brag about how little they like the sports they bet – bloodlessly proclaiming it’s all about the money.

What the anti-fan crowd overlooks is that each game you watch, each radio segment you listen to, each TV segment you watch, and each article you read teaches you something about that sport. And no matter what handicapping approach you apply, there’s an unquestionable advantage to knowing more about the sports you are betting. And there’s little doubt the passion of being a fan can fuel that quest for knowledge.

James Harrison was cut by the Steelers last week, a salary-cap-motivated move. Harrison is the kind of player who literally makes me proud to be a Steelers fan. Undrafted, cut multiple times, finally making the roster, winning two Super Bowls and a NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

In a modern world that seems to be more than ever about snark and unaccountable criticism, page after page of comments on the Steelers blogs conveyed pure admiration for this warrior. Harrison’s nickname on one of the boards is “the man who if he were in prison would be running the place.”

I traveled to L.A. for Super Bowl XL. I was 35 years old, and the Steelers had not won a Super Bowl since I was 10. After Pittsburgh beat the Seahawks, I got so drunk celebrating I literally woke up next to the hotel toilet…in a leather jacket…with no shirt.

I can confidently say my fandom did not win me any bets that day, but in the years before and since, it most certainly has fueled my NFL knowledge, which has most certainly fueled betting profits. If you have any of that childhood passion left for a team or sport, my betting advice is to cherish it, because it is likely the last of such feelings you will ever have.

RJ Bell is the founder of - and co-host of FIRST PREVIEW, heard Sunday through Friday night at 11 pm on ESPN 1100/98.9 FM. Follow on twitter: @RJinVegas. NFL Vegas Rankings updated every Tuesday at Contact RJ at [email protected]

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