12/11/2006 12:00AM

Quitting Saturday football cold turkey


LAS VEGAS – For those who are following college basketball, last Saturday was quite an action-filled day as there were 78 games on the betting boards. And there were also 13 NBA games to keep fans and bettors occupied.

But for those who concentrate pretty much only on football until the end of the NFL regular season, Saturday had us going through gridiron withdrawal. After 14 straight Saturdays full of college football action, there were no Division I games. The true die-hards (read: degenerates) were able to bet the Division I-AA semifinal between Appalachian St., a 6 1/2-point favorite, and Youngstown St., but the result was rarely in doubt as Appalachian St. rolled to a 49-24 victory.

Even the Heisman Trophy show had no drama as Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith won in a landslide. Quick question, while I'm thinking of it: Who else remembers when O.J. Simpson used to be the "reporter" on the annual Heisman broadcasts, and every time the vote totals were announced, he would say in the most arrogant and smarmiest way you can imagine: "But I still hold the record for the highest percentage of votes received"? Then, one year when that record was toppled, he said, "But I still hold the record for most votes received." Well, unfortunately, he stills hold that record as Smith's 801 first-place votes are second to the Juice's 855 in 1968 (when there were 300 more voters).

Anyway, my mind had a tendency to wander to silly things like that on days like Saturday, when there's not much to do. To make another "Simpson" reference, it was reminiscent of a classic episode of "The Simpsons," in which Marge got the violence removed from "Itchy & Scratchy" cartoons and the kids got so bored watching milquetoast children's programming that they actually went outside, rubbing their eyes and looking in wonder that there was a world outside their TV sets. It was nice to take my kids to the park and a museum for the day. I'm able to do that on occasion, but I usually feel compelled to constantly check scores with my cell phone or laptop.

That wasn't necessary this Saturday.

A few sporting events did pop up to try and fill the void. In Arkansas, Jermain Taylor put his middleweight title on the line vs. Kassim Ouma. That was also a blowout, as Taylor, a prohibitive -600 favorite, easily won a unanimous decision. Like Smith's landslide Heisman win, there was little drama - the bout used an open scoring system, so everyone knew Taylor was well ahead.

The National Finals Rodeo wrapped up Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center with the final go-round. While it was fun to tune into some of the competition on ESPN2 and to people-watch all the cowboys and cowgirls who invaded our town, it still didn't make up for a football Saturday unless you were a big fan or had money on it (I didn't see any odds posted, though I must admit I didn't look too hard).

Fortunately, Sunday dawned and I made my way down to the Strip for the NFL action, but not before being diverted all over town. The Las Vegas Marathon was held on Sunday, and roads were closed all over. I'm no marathon man, but I probably could have made it to the Hilton quicker on foot.

A Kenyan won the men's title. A Kenyan won the women's title, so no surprises there. The only suspense was whether a man or woman would cross the finish line first. The women had a 17-minute and 52-second head start, and there was added incentive as the men's champ and the women's champ both earn $15,000, but the first one across would get a $50,000 bonus. The Mandalay Bay had made the men's winner a -180 favorite to finish first despite the handicap, and Joseph Kahugu pulled off the feat by passing Jemima Jelagat with about a half-mile to go to finish the marathon in 2:16:19, a full 69 seconds ahead of her.

While there were relatively few surprises the rest of the weekend, the NFL offered upsets galore. The sports books and professional bettors enjoyed a good day as, of the 14 games played Sunday, underdogs covered the spread in 10 and won nine of them outright. It was 11 covers and 10 outright wins if you count the Giants, who were dogs most of the week versus the Panthers before the injury to Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme resulted in a change in favorites.

Next weekend's opening-line moves

Armed with cash, it seemed that professional bettors were firing away even more than usual on this upcoming weekend's NFL lines. (Of course, it could also be due to no college lines being put up, since the bowl lines have been out for a full week and have already been pounded into place.)

The game that seems to have oddsmakers and bettors the most confused is the Broncos, regarded as one of the best teams in the league barely a month ago, before their current four-game losing streak, at the Cardinals, once considered the league's worst team but now on a two-game winning streak and winners of three of their last four.

The Broncos opened as a 3-point favorite offshore and at pick-em at the Las Vegas Hilton. That line quickly went to Broncos -1, but then got bet back to pick-em as bettors couldn't make up their collective minds on which way the line should go. The Stratosphere and Palms each opened the Broncos -1 1/2 and the line sat there overnight until it started to drift up, and as of noon Monday it looked like the line was settling at Broncos -2 1/2.

When the Hilton and Stratosphere put up their openers between 4:30 and 5:15 p.m. Sunday, the Saints were offered as a 7-point favorite for this coming Sunday's game versus the Redskins (it was bet to -7 1/2 at the Strat) before being taken off the board for the Sunday night game. After the Saints routed the Cowboys 42-17, that line has since been adjusted to -9 1/2, with every indication it's going to settle at 10.

The Delhomme injury has also played havoc with this week's line. Last week, in early wagering at the Hilton, the Panthers were -3 at home vs. the Steelers. Now, the Steelers are -2 1/2 at the Panthers.