LAS VEGAS — Everyone says it's Peyton Manning's turn. I say it's mine.
The Super Bowl T-shirt is on, the squares for the $10,000- and $5,000-prize pools I'm in are laid out before me, and a chicken sandwich and a Corona have just been set on my table as game time arrives at the Mandalay Bay sports book.
It's midafternoon on Sunday and the place is an elbow-to-elbow mob scene of folks who packed the Strip's hotels over the weekend, arriving early in the morning on game day to stake out their spots, and have been drinking (mostly) and eating ever since.
All around us are mega-screen televisions, over which I will track the 23 "proposition" bets I've placed on the game between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears.
Who will win? The Bears, of course, but why bet just on the final outcome when there are so many other options to enjoy along the way? I have more than $240 of The Times' money riding on such things as whether someone will kick a field goal of 44 yards or longer and whether the game's first punt will travel farther than 43 1/2 yards.
At kickoff, I'm comfortable in my football knowledge and the up-to-the-minute weather report I consulted before wagering. The wind is blowing at 20 mph and the forecast calls for steady rain, which is why I expect neither a long field goal nor a long punt.
I'm also buoyed by the news -- courtesy of a telephone call from my wife -- that the chimpanzee that has correctly picked the last four Super Bowl winners has, like me, tabbed the Bears.
Of course, my 6-year-old son still doubts me. I recall him celebrating when I announced my pick for the game. "Oh, good, that means the Colts will win," my boy said, maintaining allegiance to the AFC side as an already scarred member of a family that roots for the San Diego Chargers. "You've been wrong about every playoff game, Daddy."
Who taught the little guy to keep notes?
No matter. The Super Bowl and I have a real bond. I was born Jan. 15, 1967, the morning of Super Bowl I.
Even though the games are played a few weeks later now, the days always unfold like a second birthday party. The hype is fun, the commercials a riot, and partying with friends and family is always satisfying.
The problem is, my team almost always loses, which means any betting I do is typically less than lucrative. Often I get so burned out hearing about the favored team that resentment prompts me to root against reason.
This one has been preordained as the coronation of Manning, the Colts' win-everything-but-win-the-big-one quarterback. Hence, I go with the Bears, and one expert tells me that I have plenty of company.
Robert Walker, sports director at Mandalay Bay and nine other Las Vegas properties, tells me that the rain in Miami and an abundance of "money line" bets that the underdog Bears will win the outright -- I made one of those wagers -- has caused a minor late shift in some betting lines.
On CBS, Bears Coach Lovie Smith is calling the soggy conditions "Bears weather," giving me even more hope.
Still, the sheer volume of betting options -- more than 400 -- was daunting, so I had called some expert help: a good friend (and former sportswriter) who is a professional gambler.
My counselor advises me to avoid silly (or "sucker") bets such as choosing the exact points one of the teams will score.
He's only partially effective. My first wager is a side bet with a guy wearing a white "Rozelle" headband, like the one beloved Bears quarterback Jim McMahon wore in mocking the NFL commissioner during Super Bowl XX. He takes heads and I take tails on the coin flip, so I'm down $1 before the game even starts.
But that's OK. I'm in my element, surrounded by Urlacher jersey-wearing Bears fans who are smoking cigars, pounding beers and ordering rounds of Jagermeister.
"This is the best," the guy next to me says. "I love props!"
The Bears crowd roars but I lose a quick $20 when 25-to-1 shot Devin Hester becomes the first player to score. Who knew the Bears' kick returner would become the first player in Super Bowl history to take back the opening kickoff for a touchdown? I had Bears tight end Desmond Clark scoring the first touchdown and the game's first score coming on a field goal.
No worries. I have plenty more prop bets still in play, and my quarterback -- much-maligned Rex Grossman of the Bears -- soon is helping me make up ground.
I bet that Grossman's first pass would be complete and that he would throw for a touchdown before his first pass interception. Right on both.
At that point, however, I should have heeded a colleague's advice. In Sports Illustrated, David Halberstam had written, "in a big game, one should never bet against the team with the demonstrably better quarterback."
Yet that's exactly what I had done ... and ended up paying for.
Grossman ended up fumbling two snaps from center and floating a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions that hit me hard in the wallet.