‘It was illegal. And it ruined him.’

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At ESPN, Tom Junod reflects on his father’s gambling habit: “…he made people think he was a gangster when really he was just a mark.”

Everybody thought Lou Junod was a gangster. He not only looked the part, with his pinkie ring and French cuffs and blue dress shirts white at the collar, he played it, cultivating an air of danger. He had beautiful manners and always strove to be a gentleman, the striving itself a part of his charm. But there was something feral about him behind the civility, the elaborate coded masculinity and even more elaborate actorly diction. He chased down men when they cut him off in traffic and got into fistfights well into his 70s, his anger an eclipse you couldn’t help but look at even though you knew it would strike you blind. He had an underworld glamour, even to his own children, and a reputation. People figured he had “connections,” and he did — his connections called our house, like old friends. But they weren’t friends. They were bookies, and they had him by the balls.

He placed his first bet on the first Super Bowl, Chiefs-Packers 1967. That was also the first football game I ever watched, because my uncle George was married to Vince Lombardi’s sister. Who the hell knows why you fall in love, but I can tell you that several love stories began that day: between America and the NFL, between my father and gambling, between me and football, and between me and my father.

I was 8 years old at the time, alone in the house because my brother and sister had just gone off to college. I was afraid of him until football. He scared me often to tears, and football gave me a way of talking to him without crying. And it gave him a way of talking to me, well, without making me cry. I dedicated myself to football in an effort to reconcile myself to him, and to reconcile him to the rest of my family. That he lost tens of thousands of dollars in the process didn’t really matter as much to me as my role in trying to help him win.

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