he 27th season of ''Playing Football'' begins with a long-overdue acknowledgment: I'm getting old.
Gonna be 69 well before they play Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa Jan. 28. But this I promise: The 70th year will make the last time I make selections against the point spread on NFL games.
Unless, of course, there's a tremendous demand on the part of the betting and reading public ... for me to retire earlier.
I had intended to hang it up after last season. Computers and G.Strine.com don't get along very well. The ones I've owned can do just about anything except rememeber how they transmitted copy the previous week. So I intended to spend the sunny fall afternoons out on the lawn, in the garden, transplanting many of the plants I'd transplanted this spring. It would have been nice to talk to the Ms. for once on a Sunday. But no. She said she's too busy preparing her voice students for Broadway auditions. Besides, said she, why should I suddenly change the routine of ignoring everyone and everything except the television set from 1 to 11 p.m.?
My son agreed.
`Just don't make a fool of yourself like you did four or five years ago, when you lost your shirt, your pants, and much of the reputation you'd spent all those years building,' he cautioned.
Oh yes. That was the time The Wall Street Journal, the greatest tout publication ever printed, finally saw fit to put a picture and a story about me on Page 1. So where was the Journal all those years when I was good? When my friend, the late Pete Axthelm, wrote about ''the divine Strine''?
That was, however, the year my mythical bankroll shrank from $40,000-plus to the low $30s. Now it's back up to $35,698 after winning $828 off a 52-45 record last season.
The last several seasons have been solid, from a handicapping perspective. So why am I not more excited as the 2000 campaign begins? Well, frankly, the preseason was duller than usual. Some of the games were so bad I almost switched back to baseball. Almost, I said.
At the heart of the NFL's problem is the quarterback situation. There aren't many good ones left. Peyton Manning is the only young QB worth paying to see. And if the quarterback play around the league is common, the offenses suffer. Indeed, the next time I see, on third and 7, a passer make a completion for 3 or 4 yards ... (you fill in the blank, please).
Still, even in decline, professional football still is the best thing in sports these days ... except, of course, for Tiger Woods, but all his rivals are chicken. Just remember to forget most of what you saw the past month during the exhibitions and begin studying in earnest with Week 1. The ground rules are the same: You risk $11 to win $10. Nothing is guaranteed, save for an honest count. I have one goal: An ad in a recent travel section of the New York Times featured an around-the-world trip - New York-London-Athens-Cairo-Nairobi-India-Bangkok-Hong Kong-New York. The air fare: $1,699. Hang on to your seat belts. It figures to be a bumpy ride.
Philadelphia at Dallas - Cowboys favored by 6. Chan Gailey is gone, thank goodness. Troy Aikman has the offense he wants and better targets in Joey Galloway and Jackie Harris than he's had for quite a while. The 'Pokes are going to score points. They'll have to, because the cornerbacks are inexperienced and inept. The Eagles might not be the team to exploit that weakness to the max, however. Take Dallas for a mythical $100.
New York Jets at Green Bay - Packers favored by 21/2. Green Bay's defense is soft. Brett Favre's arm is ????? The Jets have excellent balance and should win the AFC East if their receivers develop. Take New York for $100.
Tampa Bay at New England - Buccaneers favored by 3. The Patriots' defense has been better than most fans realize. It will be even stronger under Bill Belichick. Tampa Bay added Keyshawn Johnson. Wonderful! Now who's going to get the ball to him? Shaun King? He has much to prove. Take New England for $50.
Tennessee at Buffalo - This game is even. They should have beaten the Titans last time. This time they will. Take Buffalo for $50.
Denver at St. Louis - Rams favored by 61/2. Speed. Speed. Speed. That's what the defending Super Bowl champions have more of than anyone else. And on their home surface, speed kills. Take the Rams for $50.
Forced to choose, I'd also go with the New York Giants giving 61/2 to Arizona, Baltimore giving 21/2 at Pittsburgh, Chicago getting 41/2 at Minnesota, Washington giving 101/2 to Carolina, Detroit over New Orleans in an even game, Indianapolis giving 3 at Kansas City, Jacksonville giving 101/2 at Cleveland, San Diego getting 61/2 at Oakland, Atlanta giving 7 to San Francisco, and Seattle getting 2 at Miami.