To fellow rookie Cartesian Stevenson, upon my selection by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL draft (194th pick), for the wager of my first paycheck, that I would be starting at defensive tackle by the fifth game of the regular season.
To my older brothers Gilbert and Shawn, for the wager of one Rolex Day-Date II watch apiece, that the dancers at an establishment such as Goldust do not double as escorts; that my new girlfriend, who performed nightly at said nightclub, was therefore not an escort, no damned way; and that it didn’t matter anyway, because if love is blind, then I’m motherfucking Stevie Wonder.
To same, plus younger brother Chad, at my bachelor party, as my fiancée’s erstwhile coworkers gyrated on our laps, for the wager of one seven-day trip to Cabo San Lucas, that the marriage would last more than six months.
To several dozen co-workers and competitors, including but not limited to future Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu, journeyman defensive end Brett Keisel, and controversial tackle Ndamukong Suh, for wagers ranging from $50 to the lease on a Bentley Continental Supersport, that my hands in various games of cards were better than theirs, that I would be selected to the Pro Bowl for a third consecutive season, and that I, a six-foot-four-inch, three-hundred-and-forty-two-pound man, could launch a jet ski through a series of ever-smaller flaming hoops at speeds exceeding 60 m.p.h. Among other things.
To Matt Lauer, host of NBC’s The Today Show, in advance of my appearance on Celebrity Apprentice, for the wager of bragging rights on national television, that my Pittsburgh Steelers would defeat his hometown New York Jets in a rivalrous Thanksgiving Day game.
To my second wife, for the wager of naming rights to our first child, a beautiful baby girl, who was by then four days old and whom my wife would subsequently name Vendredi, in honour of her BFF, lately deceased, of complications related to an infection acquired at a nail salon, that I had in fact changed more than one diaper in my entire life and could prove it.
To my agent, at the conclusion of my rookie contract, for the wager of double his usual commission, that by holding out for an additional $2.5 million per year over four years, our demands would eventually be met halfway by Steelers management.
To my second wife, for the wager of Whatever, I give up, you’re an idiot, do what you want, that it is not a felony offence to bring a handgun onto a commercial airliner, as long as the weapon is not loaded; and to same, for the wager of a no-contest divorce, that, even if it were a crime, the worst I could expect, given the public goodwill I currently enjoyed, was the confiscation of said gun and a fine of a few thousand dollars.
To the assembled media, for the wager of steak dinners all around—at Morton’s, no less—that my legal problems had nothing to do with my decision to retire from football and pursue a career in veterinary medicine, and that, What can I say? Haters gon’ hate.
To Marilyn, the well-meaning, slightly loopy older lady with whom I apprenticed as a veterinary assistant, for the wager of permission to give me a hug, that I was too big and too scary and too damned messed up to ever truly heal anything.
To my accountant, for the wager of three free doggie wellness massages for Bokassa, his basenji, that I would be able to meet the conditions of my divorce settlement on my current yearly salary of $32,500 plus investment income, I just needed more time; and that I would never return to the NFL, even if they’d take me, which they wouldn’t, not in a million years. Right?
To my mother, for the wager of two Sunday dinners per month, and we’re talking proper dinners here, with the grandbabies and all, until her death or my being signed by Chicago or Green Bay—or any other cold-weather team, for that matter, because, having raised four boys in heatless East St. Louis apartments for too many damned years to count, she just could not see herself living through another freezing winter, luxury seniors’ complex or not—that in spite of all my success I would never truly amount to anything, even if I did stay true to my heart and got help for my gambling problem, which, by the way, wasn’t that bad.
To Dennis, my Gamblers’ Anonymous sponsor, for the wager of zero dollars and zero cents, in other words a gentlemen’s bet, that a guy like me wouldn’t last two weeks in the program.
To Matt Lauer, host of NBC’s The Today Show, upon the publication of my inspirational memoir, All Bets Are Off: One Jock’s Journey from Steeler to Healer, for the wager of a five-figure donation to the charity of his choice, that the San Diego Chargers, my new team, would defeat his faithful New York Jets in the AFC Divisional Championship.