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Will sports survive bin Laden?

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There was strangeness in the NFL on Sunday, weird upsets that baffled fans and rattled the teeth of gamblers from Boston to Morro Bay.

The Vikings got waxed by the supposedly Lame Chicago Bears, Miami punctured Oakland, and the mighty Baltimore Ravens were blown off their pedestal by the wretched Cincinnati Bengals. Thus, there were three sure-thing playoff teams beaten like curs in the second week of the season. I was stunned, frankly, and I wept for my long-term bets.

A few things were normal in the NFL last week: St. Louis beat the 49ers, Denver trashed Arizona, and the Colts flogged Buffalo. Miami's last-second victory over Oakland was an exceptional piece of football, and Tennessee's second loss in a row was not a real shock -- not like seeing the Ravens get whipped by Cincinnati. Even bookies cried about that one. It was horrible. In the old days I would have bet both my thumbs against it, but I didn't. No. I am older and wiser now -- and I have a powerful need for my thumbs, if only to write about football.

I broke more or less even on Sunday, but it was not an easy trick. In any case, 50-50 is unacceptable in this business, unless you're skimming 10 percent off the top -- in which case, you're just another bookie with rotten self-esteem.

That is tempting, on some days. Ten percent of everything looks pretty comfortable in the ominous new economy -- compared to being a ticket-agent at Dulles International Airport, anyway, or working as a sky cap in Boston. I have done both of these things in my time, and all things considered, I think I'd prefer to be a bookie.

I have never done that, but I have some friends who still do it vigorously, regardless of the risks. Most bookies bear the scars of workplace disasters that go with the territory, such as pain, cruelty and violence in all its forms. It can be a brutal business for losers. A plunge into debt can be a life-altering experience, even terminal. Death and disfigurement are routine punishments in the trade, and fear is a constant companion. A long losing streak can mean the end of the world, as you know it.

Click here to buy Hunter S. Thompson's new book, Fear and Loathing in America : The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist.

Ah, but never mind those things. I must be watching too much bad news on TV. Let us turn away from ugliness and embrace our Happy thoughts.

Breaking even on our football bets is extremely good luck, compared to being on trial in Afghanistan for trying to subvert the Taliban religion. That is where the rubber meets the road.

Osama bin Laden is like a vampire that casts no shadow, yet his shadow is over us all. People call me on the phone and jabber like fruit-bats in heat.

These are not triumphant times for people with bullish hopes for the future -- unless you are part of the Military-Industrial complex, and then your future is bright, very bright. If you own stock in military/munitions suppliers like Raytheon, Lockheed, Northrup Grumman, L-3Comm or General Dynamics, your profit picture is golden. Your ship has come in. The power balance has shifted drastically in this country since the World Trade towers were destroyed Sept. 11, and your people are in charge now. We are at War, and I'm glad to be your friend. We are all in this thing together.

What business are you in, brother? Your face is familiar. Do we know each other? Where have I seen you before? Was it Hong Kong? Beirut? Johannesburg? Where do you live?

Where indeed. The universal soldier has no home. He is always on the move. He has many names, and he pays his rent with cash. Yes sir, cash and carry. I know him well, I think, and I know his habits better than I like to admit. Beware, he comes quietly, but with terrifying force. Raw gold is his only currency, and Death is what he sells. We all know him, but describing him is difficult. He is a "Master of War," in Bob Dylan's words, and Warren Zevon has called him "Roland, the Headless Thompson Gunner."

Now is a good time to buy Disney stock, they say, because sport and entertainment are under-valued now, and they might be all we have left. "War is hell," say the Generals. "Prepare to make many sacrifices, especially in your Standards of Living." Our Enemy is cruel and evil and strong, but our Faith will be victorious, sooner or later.

The big thing now is to make sure the football season continues without interruption, which I think it will. Football is necessary now. Until recently, it was only a brutal diversion, but now it is a key to the national sanity. We are still deep in shock from the attacks on New York and Washington. We still can't figure out what it all means, or how to keep it from happening again -- and who is this horrible bastard bin Laden, anyway?

That is a serious question for a country on the brink of a $400 Billion a year war against an unseen enemy. That is almost half a Trillion dollars, which is sure to make a dent, if not a bottomless pit, in many budgets. It is a staggering number to behold, and the President says this War will continue for many years, against many enemies in many countries all over the world, until America feels safe again.

Wow! Stand back! That is likely to be quite a while, eh? The NFL could play for 600 years, at that price. We could have football every Day, with money left over for beer and Polish sausage. Rabid football fans -- and even non-fans, for that matter -- would happily queue up to buy time-shares in high-end luxury boxes in gigantic new stadiums, which would also serve as their Homes, for as many days of the week as they could afford to pay. Stadium-living would become a whole new Way of Life. Hell, most of those boxes already have full-service kitchens and 36-inch TV sets with close-up seating and personal parking spaces. It would be like a dream come true -- the new American Dream, I suspect, with 21st Century features and super-modern gimmicks in every drawer. I have already drawn up the plans, and my patent is pending.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's books include Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, The Proud Highway, Better Than Sex and The Rum Diary. His new book, Fear and Loathing in America, has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears each Monday on Page 2.

hey, rube! 

Hunter S. Thompson Archive

Thompson: When war drums roll

Thompson: Fear & Loathing in America

Thompson: Nashville and Jack Nicholson

Thompson: Jack Kerouac and the Football Hall of Fame

Thompson: Patrick Roy and Warren Zevon -- two champions at the top of their game

Thompson: How 'bout that Patrick Roy?

Thompson: Going to war for justice

Thompson: The Derby & other gambling disasters

Thompson: The Fourth Stooge?

Thompson: Bad craziness at Owl Farm

Thompson: Notes on the wrong way to gamble

Thompson: Notes on the wrong way to gamble

Thompson: Where were you when the Fun Stopped?

Thompson: Memo from a gambling victim

Thompson: Cat scratch fever

Thompson: Gamblers, beware the ides of March

Thompson: A crime against nature

Thompson: XFL, R.I.P.

Thompson: Death in the afternoon

Thompson: Mad cows and sick sports

Thompson: Several grave injustices

Thompson: Giants, gamblers go down in a ball of fire

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