11/06/2001 12:00AM

My name in lights - and I blew it


My appearance Friday in the Stardust Invitational started out with great expectations. But it ended up more like the best of times and the worst of times.

The Stardust Invitational is a contest in which sports book director Joe Lupo and his staff put together a field of 16 people associated with the sports and sports betting fields. They pair the players in single-elimination matchups each Friday in the sports book and on KDWN AM-720. Each contestant makes seven selections (college or pro, sides, or totals) on the current lines on the board, including a best bet to be used as a tiebreaker.

As I headed to the Stardust Friday night, I felt confident with my seven selections. I was hoping the Colts game would be on the board, because I wanted to use them against the Bills and I was willing to lay up to six points. Unfortunately, the game was still off the board and I decided to go with UCLA -3 over Washington State.

My other plays were set in stone: Illinois +2 1/2 vs. Purdue, the Jaguars +3 vs. the Titans, the Patriots +3 vs. the Falcons, the Seahawks -2 1/2 vs. the Redskins, the Saints -6 1/2 vs. the Jets (my best bet), and the Broncos +5 1/2 vs. the Raiders.

My opponent, Coast Resorts sports book director Bert Osborne, went 2-4 on his college picks on Saturday, while I won with Illinois and lost with UCLA. I was really bummed about the UCLA loss, because not only was it the replacement for my Colts picks, but I went 3-1 with my college pick in Daily Racing Form and happened to use the one loser.

As I said during the radio show Friday night, in a short sample such as this, it often comes down to a decision to use one game over another. I was hoping my words wouldn't turn out to be so true.

I was still in good shape around 12:30 p.m. (Pacific time) Sunday as the Patriots pulled away from the Falcons and the Jaguars took a 24-21 lead over the Titans. If the Jags would have hung on to win, I would have had three wins and been guaranteed of at least a tie even if Osborne won his last game (Chiefs +5 1/2 vs. the Chargers) and three chances to clinch the victory.

Unfortunately, the Jaguars let the Titans rally to win 28-24 and I was stuck with a 2-2 record. But even after the Seahawks lost in the afternoon games to make me 2-3, and the Chiefs won for Osborne to close him out at 3-4, I still had a chance to win with the Saints (as my best bet) on Sunday night, or to tie him with the Broncos on Monday night. But it wasn't meant to be as I lost both and finished 2-5.

In retrospect, I'm not as upset about losing as I am about posting such a poor record. If life was "fair" - and we all know it isn't - I should have won with the Jaguars and I should have been able to use the Colts (who won, of course). That would have made me a more respectable 4-3. However, I certainly acknowledge that Osborne deserved to win his best bet, Notre Dame +8, but Tennessee scored a TD on fourth down in the final minute to win by 10 instead of kicking a field goal that wouldn't have covered the spread. In a "fair" world, he would have been 4-3 with a best-bet win to still beat me.

I'm embarrassed to go 2-5 in this contest (who wouldn't be?), and I'm sure I'll take some heat, but it won't change the way I handicap. Coincidentally, I had a pretty good weekend, especially before the Saints and Broncos debacles.

The silver lining is that I had a fun time doing it, and it was a pip to see my name on a marquee on the Las Vegas Strip.

Season-long contest updates

Osborne advances to the second round of the Stardust Invitational. The final first-round match is this Friday night between Stanford Wong and Mike Orkin. Wong, last year's runner-up, is the author of "Sharp Sports Betting" while Orkin has written "Can You Win?" The war of words will take place in the Stardust sports book at 9 p.m. and can also be heard on KDWN AM-720.

* The Bud Man maintained his lead in the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest with a 3-2 record on Sunday. He is 27-10-3 on the season for 28.5 points (each win counts for one point, each push for half a point) and holds a one-game lead over Las Vegas legend Tony Salinas, who is 27-12-1. Twenty years ago, Salinas won the Castaways football contest, the predecessor to the SuperContest.

* In the Sunset Station All-Star Handicappers Invitational, Bob Donahue continued his winning ways with a record of 3-2-1, including Penn State as his best bet. The 12 contestants, all professional analysts, make six selections and get three points for a best-bet win, two points for a regular win and one point for any push. Donahue's eight points give him 66 on the season and a comfortable lead over Rob Veno with 60 and Bryan Leonard with 59.

NFL stats and trends

The Raiders' 38-28 win over the Broncos Monday night was bad for Nevada's sports books, as it usually is when the favorite and the over hit on Monday night. The Raiders were a 5 1/2-point favorite most of last week, but late money pushed it to 6 and even 6 1/2 at some books, though Bronco bettors jumped in and bet it back down to 6. The parlay of the Raiders/over was only the third favorite/over parlay of the week after six came in last week.

Home underdogs were 1-3 both straight up and against the spread with the Redskins the only one to pull an upset. The other home dogs (Steelers, Cardinals, and Bills all lost). For the season, home dogs are winning at a 24-20 clip. There are plenty of home dogs this weekend with the Lions, Bears, Browns, Cardinals, Seahawks, and Titans all getting points at home.

Road teams were 8-5-1 against the spread on Sunday and Monday, but home teams still hold a 57-51-5 edge for the season.

Ebb and flow of bankrolls

I went 3-1 in college picks last week, netting a profit of 19 units (plus 10 units for wins on Illinois, Florida State, and Washington - and a loss of 11 for the Bruins' selection). The college bankroll, which started the season at 1,000 units and entered last week at 974, now stands at 993 on an overall record of 17-16.

The NFL bankroll didn't fare so well. Entering the week at 986 units, I won 11-unit plays on the Patriots and Colts, but dropped 11 units each on the Jaguars, Seahawks, and Broncos - and 22 on the Saints. The net loss of 35 units drops the bankroll to 951 on a season-long record of 20-21-1.