Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later
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    Default Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    http://www.profootballweekly.com/lis...dex.xml?page=1


    In the grand scheme of the NFL, the New England Patriots beating the Buffalo Bills in Foxborough, Mass. on Nov. 29, 1998 was but a footnote. An interesting one, surely, with unique circumstances but one mostly forgotten today, even if it meant a little something to the team playing in it at the time.
    The game pitted two coaches — Pete Carroll vs. Wade Phillips — who are still very much revered and active in the game today.
    It matched up the 7-4 Bills against the 6-5 Patriots, two teams desperately scratching to get a foot in the playoff door, the second time they had met in three weeks, with the Bills winning Round 1.
    It also was notable then for it being the first time that Massachusetts-born Bills QB Doug Flutie had started a game at Foxboro Stadium as an opponent.
    In fact, this game would have a bit of controversy to it, too, with Bills owner Ralph Wilson, who later was fined for publicly blasting the officials over a pair of critical calls late in the contest. It would finish with an odd, not-oft seen final score: 25-21 — only the seventh time in league history that combination had occurred at the time. It was the first 25-21 NFL game in more than 15 years, and it would be almost another 15 years until the next 25-21 final.
    But only some of that really mattered, at least in the eyes of one observer from afar.
    What was significant about the score was not its rarity, but rather how it was achieved — and how it ended. And how one otherwise meaningless extra-point try that should have been lost to history nearly sent a man more than 2,700 miles away into the darkest depths of despair.
    As Herman Gaynor, then 36 years old, watched from the Las Vegas Stardust Casino sports book what was unfolding in the game — with no time left on the clock — he was left to ponder, utterly dumbstruck, why he was made to suffer. Homeless and nearly penniless, Gaynor stood and stared at a losing ticket, one that almost certainly would have netted him the payoff he so badly needed to pull himself out of his own despair.
    ***
    The game was actually pretty good. Tempers flared right from the start between the rival teams. The Patriots took a 14-0 lead. Drew Bledsoe hadn’t been having his finest season, but he was coming off a terrific final-minute comeback the week prior against the Miami Dolphins — one in which he suffered a broken index finger on his throwing hand.
    Bledsoe played this game through the pain. He overcame an early pick to lead two second-quarter TD drives, both capped by scoring passes to running backs (Robert Edwards and Derrick Cullors, the only offensive TD of Cullors’ career).
    Two Steve Christie field goals in the final two minutes of the first half cut New England’s lead to 14-6. The Bills kept the momentum going in the second half, with Flutie hitting Eric Moulds for what would be the longest pass play of either of their careers — 84 yards — right up the gut of the Patriots’ defense. The two-point conversion was no good, leaving the Bills down 14-12.
    The two teams traded two more field goals, and the Patriots led 17-15 midway through the fourth. But Flutie led a 14-play scoring drive, converting five third downs along the way, and took the lead when he hit Andre Reed on a gorgeous touchdown catch. Once more the Bills went for two and failed, but they had scored on five straight possessions.
    Now it was the Patriots’ final turn, trailing 21-17 with just over six minutes left. While darkness descended over Foxboro, Gaynor checked his ticket stub while watching the game at the Stardust Hotel in Vegas. Things were looking good on an improbable hit: Gaynor had wagered the $10 he said he allowed himself each Sunday on a 10-game parlay, the odds of which hitting are somewhere north of 1,000-to-1.
    Gaynor had correctly picked the first nine games of his bet against the spread and only needed the Bills to not lose by more than a field goal. He had bet Buffalo plus-3.5 points, and with the Patriots trailing by four in the final minutes, it would take something pretty bizarre to undercut that from happening.
    The parlay Gaynor bet was set to pay off at 800-to-1 at the time. That’s $8,000 winnings for a man who was scrounging to find whatever $8-an-hour part-time and temporary jobs he could find to stay alive. He was shuttling back and forth in buses between San Diego and Las Vegas each week, going wherever the work was, even if it was only for a day or two at a time. He slept in shelters that could give him a bed for the night, maybe two or three.
    Gaynor envisioned getting his own place and starting a new life, somewhere not too far from The Strip. He was beginning to envision how he’d spend the money and hopefully better his pretty dire situation.
    “I wanted an apartment in Vegas. I wanted a better life. I always think about what I would have done with that money to help myself at the time,” Gaynor, now 55, recently told PFW by phone. “I thought that could have helped me. I was already depressed then, so I thought that could be good. I wanted that new life.”
    But as Hunter S. Thompson — a man who knew Vegas and its vicious undertow all too well — would say, “Gambling can turn into a dangerous two-way street when you least expect it. Weird things happen suddenly, and your life can go all to pieces.” That’s what happened to Gaynor.
    ***

    Bledsoe led the Patriots down the field on that final drive. He hit (the now recently deceased) Terry Glenn for a big third-down conversion to keep it alive, but the Patriots faced a 4th-and-9 at the Buffalo 36-yard line with 11 seconds left, needing a touchdown to win. That’s when the first controversy hit.
    Bledsoe fired a sidearm bullet along the right sideline to receiver Shawn Jefferson, who caught the ball but appeared to be clearly out of bounds — and had he even gained enough yards for the first? Jefferson’s feet appeared to come up off the ground while making the catch, and the way his body and the ball were positioned you could have argued that he hadn’t gained enough yards, even if his feet were past the marker.
    Line judge Dave Anderson spotted the ball but looked for help from his crew. Field judge Dick Creed ran in and had a hurried conversation with Anderson. Several Bills players, including Reed, pleaded their case that Jefferson hadn’t made the grab. Umpire Garth DeFelice joined the referee huddle. And to the shock of the Bills defenders closest to the play, cornerback Donovan Greer and safety Henry Jones, Anderson signaled a catch.
    Shockingly, the Patriots were still in business. Remember, there was no replay review back in 1998; it wouldn’t return until the following season when a slew of controversial calls around the league deemed its return necessary after it had first gone away in the early 1990s.
    After the game, Reed and Flutie each said separately they heard one official say to another: “just give it to them.” The referee that day was Walt Coleman. (He, of course, would not become infamous until a few years later — after replay had been reinstituted in the NFL — for the “Tuck Rule Game,” in the final game ever played on that very same field.)
    Coleman spotted the ball on the Bills’ 26-yard line. First down, Patriots.
    “That play happened right in front of me,” Phillips said later. “The guy was out of bounds.”

    That the Jefferson play was considered the second-most controversial call of the game is saying something. On what could have been the final play of the game, Bledsoe backed up to his left with six seconds left and heaved a prayer ball into the end zone. Five Bills surrounded three Patriots receivers. The ball hit the ground, but then …
    “Flag!” yelled CBS play-by-play announcer Verne Lundquist.
    Pass interference was called on the Pro Bowler Jones, who appeared to push Glenn as he jumped for the ball. Was it a good call? Hard to say. But at the very least, it’s rare to see pass interference called on a Hail Mary scrum.
    “Glenn jumped,” Jones said, via the New York Times. ''Thomas Smith jumped. I was supposed to get the deflection. They never called a number. Did they call it on me? There was so much commotion. I've never seen a game end like this.”
    After the game, a furious Wilson, clearly not worried about hearing from then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue, added his own choice thoughts on the play. “I've been watching football for six decades. Pass interference? What was that? We got robbed. It's awful,” he said, via the Times recap. “Before the last play, I turned and told my daughter, Linda, [and said,] 'Look, Bledsoe is going to throw a Hail Mary and we're going to get called for pass interference.' And that's what happened! I wish I could call the stock market like that! It's awful.''
    Amazingly, Gaynor stood watching the madness unfold still feeling like he would win his bet. Even if the Patriots had scored a touchdown on the ensuing play and kicked the extra point, they would have been up three points — still, by a whisker from his unshaven chin, enough to cover the 3.5-point spread.
    So when Bledsoe hit Ben Coates for the game-winning TD on an untimed down for a Patriots victory, Gaynor hit the men’s room. He assumed that stunning turn of events had no effect on his life-changing parlay and could finally unclench his bladder. It wasn’t until after Gaynor came out that he saw a shocking sight. The drama had not yet crested.
    Phillips was so irate over the two missed calls that he told his Bills players out of protest not to go out on the field again for the extra-point try. It took Coleman and his crew almost four real-time minutes to clear the madness on the field, which was mobbed by Patriots players and coaches after the touchdown.

    Out came the 11 Patriots players for the extra-point try, but when no Bills were there to defend him, the other 10 men in blue ushered Adam Vinatieri unencumbered into the end zone for the only two-point conversion of his now 22-year career. Amazingly, there was actually debate about what they might do in the unusual 11-on-none situation.
    “Easiest two points I was ever a part of,” Vinatieri said this week, remembering the game like it was yesterday. “Initially, they were going to snap the ball to [Patriots punter and holder Tom] Tupa, and he was going to run it in. I said, ‘Hey man, give me the ball.’ He was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘If you don’t give me the ball, I’m going to tackle you before you get to the end zone.’
    “It probably would have been on [the ESPN segment] ‘Come On, Man’ if the kicker ends up tackling the holder before he gets to the goal line. Good times.”
    Good times for Vinatieri and the Patriots. But for a homeless man out west …
    Gaynor had barely dried his hands from the commode when the weight of it all crashed down on him. He saw the score. He quickly did the math. The final: Patriots 25, Bills 21. His wager would come up half a point short. Vegas is full of catastrophic stories such as these. But in the history of bad beats, considering the chain of events that led to how it unfolded, and given what was at stake … is there a worse one?
    To think: The story gets even worse, hearing the Tupa-Vinateri horseplay. And had they known what was going on at the Stardust? Nope. You can’t even go there. That’s just too unreal.
    ***

    Some of the details of the night were foggy in Gaynor’s memory. How old was he exactly? Was it 1997 or 1998? Was he alone or with anyone? That stuff he couldn’t remember, nor could he recall any of the other nine games he bet on that day. Because why would he?
    The other grueling details — those were indelible. The exact point spread. Where he was standing in the casino (“right in the back near the men’s room, but away from where all the tourists would come in”). Gaynor even remembers asking the bartender nearby to turn up the TV so he could try to hear Phillips’ post-game protests and figure out what in the Sam hell had just happened out there. Why didn’t he send out the extra-point team?
    At some point, reality washed over him. The walk back from the casino to the Salvation Army shelter Gaynor was staying was just a little more than three miles, past The Strip and into the parts of Las Vegas the out-of-towners tend not to venture. All Gaynor knows is he got from Point A to Point B and that he made it home safely. The rest he buried that game-changing night.
    “I was right there on Las Vegas Boulevard a minute, I know that. I just walked out and I don’t remember anything that happened after that. I don’t know if I blacked out or what. I don’t know if I was drinking, maybe I was … I was still a young man at the time.”
    The man who bet daily on games — “baseball, football, whatever” — wouldn’t place another wager for six months.
    “I was depressed. For a long time after that,” Gaynor said.
    But then again, depression was nothing new. Gaynor suffers from bipolar disorder, for which he takes medication now. He’s asked repeatedly in multiple conversations over the past few months if he wants to share this information, and it’s always a hard yes. Along with the ugly details of his legendary lost wager, it’s all fair game, Gaynor said.
    “It’s a true story. I was on hard times. But it’s my story. I want to tell it,” he says without an ounce of shame. “I am telling you the story of my life. It has meaning. I tell it with an open heart.
    “I suffer from bipolar depression. I take medicine every day for it. [Losing the bet] sent me down even more. Going back to that shelter that night … I felt like I had nothing there, nothing to hang on anymore.”
    He continued working in Vegas (and still lives there now), even working many odd jobs on The Strip close to the casino where everything fell apart. “Promotions, security, strip clubs, convention work, things like that,” he said. “Working for like $8 an hour, whatever minimum wage was. All low-paying jobs. All jobs I could just get here and there. Maybe $40 a day, or $50 if you’re lucky.”
    For a while, he kept the failed $10 ticket stub and held onto it but never looked at it. It just sat in his wallet, the fading square of thermal paper eroding at the corners over time before it got thrown out at some point. It wasn’t some momentous event when that happened; Gaynor said he was likely just clearing out space in his wallet.
    “Not like it was full of money!” he jokes. Gallows humor has been one of his trustiest companions these past 19 years.

    But Gaynor still believes he was caught up in something bigger — that the game was somehow rigged against him, or rather for some big fish who bet big on New England. He suspected that mafia money came in on the Patriots and that helped lead to the insane finish. Gaynor grew up in New Jersey, and from both there and Vegas he knew people who knew people, he said, and that anytime a sporting event ends in some unusual circumstances, he suspects something afoul.
    “I thought it was fixed,” Gaynor said. “I was convinced of it. Games don’t end like that. They just don’t. Coaches don’t do things like that. I saw that two-pointer, and I immediately thought it was fixed. I always thought that. I’ve thought that for the rest of my life but could never prove that. Believe me, I tried.
    “I talked to some people back home, and they told me the game was fixed. That always bothered me.”
    Gaynor believes his story could be made into a book or a movie, and he’d start by explaining how things are really out there in Vegas before working through his own travails.
    “Las Vegas is run by the mafia, everyone knows that,” he said. “I know things don’t go my way, the little man’s way. I get that. I would like to talk to Pete Carroll about that [game] if I ever saw him, I think he would listen to me.”
    Told that Carroll, a noted 9/11 truther, might actually engage him in his conspiracy theories more than others would, Gaynor adds his own extra point: “That’s right!”
    He learned long ago that he can’t fight this by himself, and as he continues to bet on football and baseball without a second thought — “every day of my life” — Gaynor has eschewed beating them for joining them.
    “You hear things in this town, all the places you go, the people you talk to,” he said. “They talk. And they tell you things. I still believe the mafia gets their way on these things. Some games are fixed. The money is on one team, and that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in my 27 years in Las Vegas: Games are fixed.
    “I talk to people. Sometimes you hear about some big fish betting $15,000 or $30,000 on a game and then you bet whatever you have on it. That’s the information you want. I talk to lots of people to get that.”

    Gaynor never had his big win after that to make up for Patriots 25, Bills 21 — no happily-ever-after windfall to bring the story full circle. He’s won a few and lost a few along the way for almost two decades now, and he gets by on his disability pay, his monthly social security checks and, occasionally, the kindness of strangers.
    When word got out in the immediate aftermath of his lost bet, he received charity from some unexpected sources and even faraway places.
    “Some attorney from St. Louis gave me some money. He sent me like $500,” Gaynor said. “I don’t know how he heard my story. He sent it to the Salvation Army. I never found him so I could thank him. That money helped, but …”
    His voice trailed off. It’s the first time in our conversations that the chatty, affable Gaynor wasn’t sure what to say next.
    “People still come up to me about it,” he said. “I guess I am famous for it around here. [Gamblers] know about the bad ones. I must be a legend. They know about the big scores, but the bad ones too. Maybe more.”
    Sometimes they buy him a drink. The tradeoff, of course, is that he's a first-ballor member in the unofficial Bad Beat Hall of Fame and he's asked to replay the event of which they already know the cringeworthy end. But Gaynor says he doesn’t mind that he's still asked about it to this day and will humor them. It’s part of who he is.
    The Stardust was razed more than a decade ago, and he took no special pleasure in seeing his own personal alabaster-and-neon Gehenna come crashing down. So why would retelling a story he sees as something of a personal benediction be that big of a deal?
    “They see me in the sports book now — especially the white guys here — and they say it was the baddest beat they ever saw,” Gaynor said, repeating the phrase and adding a snicker for emphasis.
    “The baddest beat they ever saw … I guess they are right.”
    Quote Originally Posted by railbird View Post
    Satan time is short

  2. #2

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    This bad beat story contains all the essentials: vivid details, pointspread hijinks and most importantly a desperate gambler.

    For once, I'd like to hear the story about the gambler who needed the Patriots -3.5.

    I guess bad news sells better than good news.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Great read...thanks Yisman

    Need more stories from the Stardust days...
    Everyone dies......but not everyone lives.....

  4. #4

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    I would have been working but Ill be damned if I remember this.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    I remember a few times when the defense did not return to the field for an extra point attempt with no time remaining.

    If memory serves, I think the Steelers were the last team to march in a two-point conversion unopposed.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Hey its gambling. You are going to get bad beats. The key is to move on. I wasn't too happy when Skins gifted Chiefs with spread covering TD at game's end. I successfully moved on (not without a bad night's sleep) and the Chiefs apparently didn't.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later


  8. #8

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Eagleston View Post
    Hey its gambling. You are going to get bad beats. The key is to move on. I wasn't too happy when Skins gifted Chiefs with spread covering TD at game's end. I successfully moved on (not without a bad night's sleep) and the Chiefs apparently didn't.
    Bad beats in sports happen more frequently to winners than losers.

    The losers are rarely in a winning position to get knocked off.

  9. #9
    EOG Dedicated waco's Avatar
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    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    That was a long piss he took because that extra point had to take 10 minutes!!!

  10. #10

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    I thought he made the bet at the las Vegas club, Steven nover wrote A column about it in the rj when it happened.

  11. #11

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    I don't remember Herman Gaynor.

    "They, especially the white guys, call it the baddest beat ever," paraphrasing Gaynor.

    I guess the black guys failed to show empathy?

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Quote Originally Posted by railbird View Post
    Satan time is short

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Quote Originally Posted by skinny View Post
    I thought he made the bet at the las Vegas club, Steven nover wrote A column about it in the rj when it happened.

    It's possible he did.

    He was watching at the Stardust, it said. Maybe he placed the bet elsewhere and walked over to the Stardust later.
    Quote Originally Posted by railbird View Post
    Satan time is short

  14. #14

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Yisman, a dogged researcher.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    I remember the game well, pats got lots of calls

  16. #16

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    If we are being real, a guy like that who hits the miracle $8000 parlay would have dumped it all back within a week (if that).

    The story is less sad when I realize he would have just been renting that money anyway.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    That's a great bad-beat story.

    Yes, the suckouts do happen. I've been on a couple MNF suckouts this season.

  18. #18

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Quote Originally Posted by IssaJet View Post
    If we are being real, a guy like that who hits the miracle $8000 parlay would have dumped it all back within a week (if that).

    The story is less sad when I realize he would have just been renting that money anyway.
    Never know. Sometimes, all a guy needs is one break to turn the corner.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Seems like Doug Flutie was involved in another bad beat in college.

  20. #20

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Adam Vinatieri can become I believe only the 2nd NFL player to play in 4 decades if he can last until 2020, although technically he might become the only one. He still seems at the top of his game, so I hope it happens.

  21. #21

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    My recollection was that the famous "homeless man parlay" was closer to $1500, not $8000, and Yisman's link from the time shows the parlay was $2 to win $1600, so it seems like the story has been exaggerated over time.

    800/1 odds are pretty good odds for a parlay card as the fair price on a 10 teamer at -110 is 642/1.

  22. #22

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    the terrible call non ob with 6 seconds and then the phantom pi call were worse beat than the 2pt conversion

  23. #23

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later


  24. #24

    Default Re: Article on the infamous Stardust bad beat, 19 years later

    Quote Originally Posted by howid View Post
    Nice photo, Howid.

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