A personal note, on the 100th anniversary of an important event

Florio Family

Someone in the broader NFL business recently told me that he appreciates it when I tweet or write or talk about my parents (both of whom have been dead for more than 20 years), because it reminds him to spend time with his own father while he can.

As many of you who have lost one or both parents know, it sparks a fundamental change in your existence. They never truly leave you; instead, you experience them in a different way. You think about them. You wonder what they would think of whatever it is that’s going on in your life, what advice they would give you. Whether you would listen to it. Sometimes, they visit you in your dreams.

I’m thinking about my dad right now because he was born 100 years ago today. As the family legend goes, his parents named him Armando. Somehow (and unrelated to the typical Ellis Island bastardization of Italian names) that later became Herman. His friends called him Butch, apparently because the alternative was Herman.

He was a gambler. That was his thing. His passion. His vocation. Unfortunately, it happened at a time when gambling officially was frowned upon. I definitely think of him every time I see a sports book commercial, or when I now witness the ever-growing betting content served up by the NFL itself.

He operated out of a bar, and he showed up for work every day without exception. It was a dive. And it was glorious. I can still remember everything about how it looked, how it smelled. How it felt. A world of grown-up men. Cigarettes and beer. The lone cigar in the corner with the cloud that commandeered the entire room. Eyes gazing through thick glasses at the racing forms or the football betting sheets.

Oh, the football betting sheets. Every week, Butch stuck in the mailbox a stack of envelopes addressed to a who’s-who of local businesspeople. Doctors. Lawyers. Judges. Elected officials. All of them getting the full slate of college and NFL football games, with the betting line and the over-under. Most eventually called him to make their bets before kickoff. (Whenever someone tried to make a bet after kickoff, my vocabulary would expand by a word or two.)

He hated the Steelers, because we lived in Steelers country and everyone bet on the Steelers no matter the line. (Typically, they covered.) Also, he loved the Cowboys. Because the people in Steelers country usually bet against the Cowboys no matter the line. (Typically, they covered.)

It was all out in the open. The cops, either because they got an envelope of their own with something other than a betting sheet inside (I have no idea if that happened) or because they didn’t care, never did a thing. (Until they eventually did, but that’s a story for another day.) I remember seeing a cop in my dad’s bar. As I waited for the handcuffs to inevitably come out, they just stood there talking and laughing.

I resolved years ago any feelings of shame or whatever that flow from knowing that my dad brought home the bacon through technically illegal activities. The bacon still needed to be brought home, and he did the best he could to provide for the family. My mother, in turn, did the best she could to siphon enough cash away from him to ensure that the family was provided for.

We were probably a lot closer to having things implode than I ever realized. The biggest risk arrived every Wednesday and Sunday night, when my dad worked a floating craps game. He’d get home after two in the morning, and it became as normal to me as the clock on the wall or chairs in the dining room. It also became normal to gauge every Monday and Thursday morning the mood in the house; that was the only way to know whether he’d had a good night or a bad night working, and inevitably playing, the table.

I still have his croupier stick. It’s old and faded and worn and flexible and fragile, and it’s an important tangible connection to him. It hangs over the humidor in my barn. I’ll pick it up tonight, hold it. Relish it. I’ll envision one of the many nights he used it, experiencing euphoria or despair or something in between as the dice tumbled and eventually came to rest.

I’d give anything to talk to him for five minutes about the way the dice have tumbled and come to rest for me, how what I now do is gradually becoming closer and closer to what he did. I don’t gamble, never will. But gambling drives interest in our various products, and that dynamic will only grow as more and more states legalize and legitimize betting on sports.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. He’d probably be mortified that I’m spilling so many family secrets on such a public platform. He’d get over that, I think. Ultimately, he’d be proud that I found a way to channel his work ethic and his interests into something that couldn’t have even been envisioned when was simply doing whatever he had to do to make ends meet.

30 responses to “A personal note, on the 100th anniversary of an important event

  1. If you could talk to him Mike, I’d imagine he’d be pretty darn proud (and would also probably ask your thoughts on the line for tonite’s game 🙂

  2. Touching story although I can’t help but think of Goodfellas as I read it. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thanks for the reminder of what gambling does to people. Good parents are always proud of you, even when they’re afraid to say it.

  4. That was beautiful. I must admit that I read this using Ray Liotta’s voice when it got to the part describing your dad’s occupation.

  5. What a terrific piece! Thanks for the window into a life so important to you. In the end, we’re all just stories if there’s someone left to tell them. Only then are we gone. Your Dad lives on…

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I Believe your father to be an honorable man no matter what society said about his occupation way back then. Now that that sports betting has gone main stream it validates that he was only making a living.

  7. Fantastic read, Mike! Thanks for the peak into your’s and your dad’s world. Stunning how your lives spiral even closer to a full circle…

  8. Good words Mike, thanks for sharing.

    Recently experienced that fundamental change with both parents now gone. You’re right, they’re still here in our thoughts. Thanks.

  9. Thanks for sharing. My dad’s been gone for 20 years. I miss him every day. And my dad told stories of how his dad ran a betting shop under the cover of an ice cream store. My dad explained that when he was a kid working the store, he knew the cops were around when suddenly 20 men, who at any other point in the day didn’t care about ice cream, suddenly all wanted a scoop at the same time. Good memories.

  10. I appreciate and admire the candor Florio. I too have several gamblers in my family and as a result I’ll never be one myself

  11. Mike, my virtual relationship with you is so very back and forth. I disagree with you, a lot. I think you fail to stay in your lane, a lot. But then you come through with reminders like this every so often that remind us that you hit more than you miss and you epitomize being a human. Nice article.

  12. Thank you sharing something that affects you so deeply, our parents’ behaviour has an impact on our directions and patterns in life, whether we admit it or not. Just curious if you became a Steelers fan or Cowboys fan as a result of your upbringing?

  13. Thank you for sharing this Mike, never stop writing about things like this. theres something unique about honoring and acknowledging people who have passed. Personally this really struck a cord with me in a major way today and I’m not sure why, but glad I got to read this today. And am grateful for my Parents.

  14. I can’t imagine how cool it would have been to hang out in that bar. My dad died young 27 yrs ago — still miss him every day — its amazing how as you age you realize how much they molded you (and in that bar perhaps also “moulded”).

  15. Good stuff. Still wish you were doing that 1/2 hour show you used to do before getting the gig at NBC…

  16. Thank you for this story Mike. I can share the fact that today is also my Dad’s birthday of exactly 106 years ago. You made me think of the many memories I still hold of him, both good and not so good, and, even though our last name of Gallo survived, of what Ellis Island did to my whole family. Our Dads did the best they could and what they could at the time. La famiglia always came first, regardless. Thank you for the memory.

  17. Damon Runyan-esque; an unexpected topic and a nice piece of writing. There were a lot of things that went on under the table (no pun intended) back in the day, given social conditions back then. Thanks for sharing a good story about your Dad, may he RIP.

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