Interview with Brandon Lang
When talking with Brandon Lang, the first thing that’s readily apparent is that the man is not short on confidence. But if you’re going to make a living handicapping college and pro games, you better be sure of yourself. In fact, he was so sure that his life story would make for a great movie that he caddied at the Riviera Golf Club for three years in order to get closer to Hollywood moguls at all levels. The gig paid off; last October, Universal released “Two for the Money” (it hits DVD on January 17), starring Matthew McConaughey as Lang. Bullz-Eye had a chat with Lang about the science of picking, who he likes in the second round of the playoffs, Al Pacino the recluse, and the best and worst tippers in the world.
Bullz-Eye: I should tell you up front, I still haven’t seen the movie.
Brandon Lang: It’s okay. It was a bad year at the box office for 2005, so we have high hopes for the DVD, and a lot of people have yet to see the movie.
BE: We covered it for the web site, but there are a couple different guys who do movie reviews, and one of them saw it.
BL: Oh, okay.
BE: I went to your site and read your bio. You’re doing college and pro football, college and pro basketball, and baseball?
BL: Yes, those sports right there.
BE: How do you stay on top of it all?
BL: Well, this is all I do for a living. I’ve done nothing else for 15 years, other than the three years I went off caddying to make the movie deal happen. You learn to balance how to handicap, and how to manage your time, but you have to stay on it every day. It’s 15, 16 hours, but again, it’s something that I love. And I can do it sitting in bed with my fiancé, having quality time with her as well as studying games. Early on, in respective seasons in pro football and college football, baseball and basketball, a lot of hard work goes into it. Once you’ve seen teams playing, and once you get a feel for what they’re trying to do, what their schemes and their game plans are, it’s not as much work. You still gotta look under every single rock, but again, most of your time is early on in those seasons, and it’s a little easier after that.
BE: Tell me about your approach to handicapping a particular game, from start to finish.
BL: Well, first of all, I’m an athlete. If I walked out on a football field, I could throw a football 70 yards. If you saw me in the batting cages, you would think that I played Major League baseball, and if you saw me shooting jump shots in a gym, you’d say, “Wow, he definitely could have played or did play somewhere big.” I understand the game. I understand what teams are
trying to do. Most handicappers never played, they’re into the mathematics of it all. I’m not into that. I mean, mathematics and statistics, they apply to certain situations, and sometimes they don’t. But for me, I play the game in my mind. I’ll give you a perfect example; Carolina and New York from this previous Sunday. A lot of people just thought the Giants were just gonna roll Carolina, but I played that game in my mind and I saw that game unfold. I saw a Carolina defense that would scheme really, really well under John Fox, and give Eli Manning some problems in his first playoff game. On the offensive side of the football, I really saw Carolina being able to run the football and exploit the injuries that the Giants had on the defensive side of the football. Consequently, I had a Big Play (sort of his Stone Cold Lead Pipe Lock of the
week, where he even puts his own money on the game along with his clients) on Carolina. I looked at the game, and the match-up just seemed very good for Carolina.
So again, for me, it’s really understanding the sport itself, and what teams are trying to do, and then from a handicapping standpoint, figuring out who’s going to do it better. I preach on my web site, “Only bet what you can afford to lose,” and there are right sides to games and wrong sides to games. My job, as a handicapper for my clients, is to get you on the right side of the game. I can’t handicap turnovers, I can’t handicap penalties. I can only get you on the right side of the game. And if everything goes the way that it’s supposed to, we’re going to win a lot more games than we lose.
BE: How much do injuries and weather affect your overall decision on a game?
BL: Weather affects it a lot. You definitely have to check your weather reports. Passing teams on a bad surface, that always favors the running team. Some defenses match up well in bad weather. Carolina and Chicago this weekend, it’s supposed to be 43 degrees in Chicago. That doesn’t help Chicago with what they’re trying to do defensively against Carolina. They needed nasty, gnarly
weather conditions, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get it. And consequently, I’m probably going to tell my clients to come right back to (bet on) Carolina this weekend.
So, injuries. That’s why everyone wants me to form my opinion during the regular season early on in the week. I just can’t do that. I need that last injury report early on Sunday morning, to make sure whether my right tackle has been upgraded from doubtful to questionable, or if he’s a game-time decision. So injuries do play a huge part in this as well. Good question.
BE: I was told to ask about your losing streak. I didn’t see any mention of it in your bio. Can you go into more detail about that?
BL: It’s not so much the losing streak so far as the games you lose, it’s the bankroll and money management. And what I mean by that is you’re not going to talk to many handicappers out there who are just going to point blank tell you, right off the bat, ‘I am going to lose.’ That is reality. This is a 363-day a year job, and there are going to be some weeks where you just get your butt handed to you. There’s nothing you can do about it. Because nobody – I repeat, nobody – is going to win every single day. And if you think there is someone out there who can do that, then you believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. It’s not reality. Vegas wasn’t built on winning, it was built on losing. So first and foremost, I am going to lose. There’s gonna be
weeks where you pull out your pocket, and pay your man, and give him some of your money, and that’s gonna happen. But, don’t judge me on a day. Don’t judge me on a week. Don’t judge me on a month. Judge me on a season. This is all I’ve done for 15 years, except the three years I caddied. The only thing! I must be winning more than I lose. How could I make money doing this for a living? There’s a method to my madness, so if you can just get through the tough times, because there’s gonna be tough times! We are gonna get to that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
I remember one year, my first month, I lost every game. It was the 1998 season, pro football. I lost every Sunday the first four weeks, every Monday the first four weeks, and then I hit the last 14 Monday night games to close out the ’98 season. So there’s a perfect example; all of those guys that jumped off the bandwagon after September, they missed out on my greatest football season ever. So again, it’s just an everyday grind, and you just gotta pick your guy, and roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches with them, and ride it out. And for the most part, it turns out to be pretty good.
BE: What was the angriest reaction you ever got from someone who took one of your picks? Did you ever receive death threats?
BL: Well, when you see the movie, there’s a scene in Central Park, I don’t want to give it away, but there was a big gambler, played by Armand Assante, that was upset with the losing streak, and he confronted me in Central Park. That was true to life. And two months later, I left the business, because I had become somebody that I was not. When your life’s threatened, it kind of puts things in perspective in terms of what’s important to you and what’s not important to you.
BE: I would think so.
BL: So I kind of went off into the sunset and took it easy caddying for a while, and then, of course, the movie.
BE: Tell me a good story about your time as a caddy.
BL: I got a few for you. First of all, my goal was three years. I was going to give it three years. If I didn’t set the hook real good in three years, I was going to go back into the (handicapping) business. And it was five months after I took the job caddying at Riviera that I caddied for Dan Gilroy, who’s married to Rene Russo, and he penned the script, so I was off and running. I
caddied for Wayne Gretzky, whom to this day is one of the most genuine guys ever, and a great tipper. Tom Cruise was fantastic as well. He was just learning how to play golf, it was he, his mom and stepdad. I caddied for President Clinton. I would always call him Four Ball Billy, because he would always hit two balls off the tee, and if he didn’t like them, he’d hit a third. He’d basically hit every ball on every shot until he liked that shot, and that would be the ball that he would play. He was very genuine on the golf course, but it was quite surreal with all the Secret Service people around.
And then I met a good friend of mine, Ted Tryba, who was a PGA tour player. He’s been injured the last five years, but in 1999, he let me caddy for him at Riviera, in the Nissan Open. We shot the course record 61 together on Saturday. He had a two stroke lead going into Sunday, paired with Davis Love III and Tiger Woods. We finished second to Ernie Els, so that was pretty fun being inside the
ropes of a PGA tour. Ironically, history was made there, because it was the last tournament that Fluff (Mike Cowan, Woods’ then-caddy) and Tiger ever worked together, because he fired Fluff after the ’99 Nissan, so I was part of that tension.
BL: Riviera was a very charmed experience in terms of, ‘That’s where the dream came true,’ and that’s always going to hold a dear place in my heart. If I could be buried there when it’s all said and done, I wouldn’t mind that, because that’s where it all happened.
BE: As for the movie, are you happy with the way it came out?
BL: 100%. When I was driving back cross-country after I left the business in ’95, and started thinking, “This would make a phenomenal movie,” the number one guy that I always had in mind to play me was Matt (McConaughey). Ironically enough, it took eight years to get this done, and during those eight years, Ashton Kutcher got the script first, and then he went off and did other things…
BE: Lucky you.
BL: Josh Hartnett had it…
BE: Again, lucky you.
BL: Yep. Jake Gyllenhaal had it. Paul Walker had it. Colin Farrell read it. But their agents were looking for big money at the time, so their agents told them all to pass on the script. And I’ve always said, Hollywood is what it is because of agents. Not the actors, they’re just being told what to do. So it fell in Matt’s lap, and he basically called his agent and said, “Listen, I am
doing this. I don’t care how much money I get. This is the role I want to do.” And the great thing about Matt, and Matt’s not afraid to tell you, he’s a gambler. He bets college football, he bets pro football, and so in the movie, when he has to dig down for those emotions of what it feels like to lose a game, that wasn’t acting. That was real. Because he’s felt that before. He’s felt that fumble with three seconds to go that costs you the point spread cover. And you see it on film. And at the end of the day, he did as an incredible job as I could have expected, to capture the emotion of this business.
BE: How much time did you get to spend with McConaughey and Pacino?
BL: I spent four or five long telephone conversations with Matt. And I spent the whole day with them in New York when I made my cam – my fiancé Kim says I wasn’t on film long enough to get the ‘eo’, so we just call it a ‘cam’ – but Matt was so gracious. I spent time with Matt and Al at the table read, and then at the second table read, and on the set in New York. And all I can say about them is that Al is very much in character and non–public oriented, because that’s the way he is. A recluse, if you will. But Al knew, at that moment in New York on that day, he knew that time with me was going to last a lifetime (for me), and he gave me as much time as I wanted. And I will forever be grateful for not only that, but for Matt as well. Matt is arguably one of the most gracious
and generous guys you’re ever going to meet, and just a good old boy. And again, all of this experience has been a dream come true.
BE: Was there anything that didn’t make it into the movie that you hoped would have made the final cut? Something from your story, from your life?
BL: Yeah, they changed it at the beginning. When I moved to Vegas in 1987…I’m just a small kid from Michigan, and when I was 10 years old, my dad tried to kill my mom, and got 10 years in prison for attempted murder.
BL: I’m the youngest of four kids, so as my high school basketball coach likes to say, “For a kid that had every reason to turn out pretty bad, you came out pretty good.” And that’s just out of respect for my mother. My other three siblings brought a lot of pain to her life, and I just said, “You know what, I’m not going to do that.” In 1987, she was living in Vegas, and she called me up, I was living in L.A., and in the Navy, and she said, “Listen, why don’t you come to Vegas and allow me to take care of you, go to college, and let me be part of your life?” She had remarried a guy of Latin descent who had five kids, so I had five stepbrothers and sisters, my mom, my (step) dad and myself all living in a four-bedroom house for the two years I was in Vegas. And I can’t tell you the love that was in that house for those two years. And I wanted that depicted in the movie. When you come to the house at the very beginning of the movie, it’s just my mom and my younger brother. I didn’t have a younger brother, and I fought with Dan (Gilroy) a little bit playfully, saying, “Why can’t we cast five Latin actors? Why can’t we cast a Latin man to be my mom’s (husband)?” Why can’t that one minute onscreen show that love, where I would ride my 10–speed bike home after riding 10 miles, I would lay down on the floor, and my stepsisters would give me a massage, or cook me dinner? That was something where I (thought), “You know, that stinks.” But listen, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. I’m one of the one percent in the world that had a movie made about their life. I’m thankful for everything, but there will always be a little part of me that wishes that that home setting would have been a little different.
BE: I know we’re running out of time, but I wanted to ask you, since the Super Bowl is coming up: if you had to handicap all of the teams right now, that are still playing, who do you like?
BL: It’s gonna be Seattle/Indy.
BE: Yeah? No major upsets?
BL: There will be a couple of hard struggles. I truly believe Carolina is going to beat Chicago. Seattle is going to struggle in the opening against Washington, but they’ll get the win. And Carolina is going to go out to Seattle, and I think they’ll give them a tussle out there. I think Indy’s gonna roll. I think New England’s gonna beat Denver this weekend, which is going to set up the New England/Indy matchup in Indy, which I think is going to be a good ball game, but I think that Indy, well rested and at home, is going to go to Detroit, and I think they’re just going to tattoo Seattle.
BE: Oh, man. Not another blowout.
BL: Now listen, that is my first impression, without handicapping and really doing all of my work.
BE: Right, well, this is assuming that everybody stays healthy. For all we know, Marvin Harrison and Shaun Alexander suffer horrible injuries.
BL: Right, right.
BE: Believe me, I wasn’t putting money on (your Super Bowl pick), I was just asking, if you had to (make the pick) right now, what would you do?
BL: I would say Indy/Seattle, and I would favor Indy.
BE: Cool. Well, I know you have a schedule to keep, but is there anything else you want to add or talk about?
BL: No, you’re my last interview for the day, so if you had a couple of questions, that’d be fine.
BE: No, I’ve asked you everything I had written down, so thanks for taking the time to talk with us, and best of luck to you.
BL: My pleasure, and definitely pull for an Indy/Seattle Super Bowl, because that’d be pretty impressive.
BE: It would be good to see a couple of teams that haven’t been there in a long time and, well, ever.
BL: Exactly, exactly. And by the way, you asked me who I caddied for at Riviera: Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, the son of Robert Irsay. I was his personal caddy at Riviera the last year before I walked away. I just want to go on record as telling you: the greatest tipper and most genuine man I’ve ever met at Riviera was Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts.
BE: Is that right?
BL: He is a dream of a man. And I will go to my grave saying that for as many times as a caddy, trying to make this deal happen, for as many times as you were crapped on by cheap guys who paid you a certain amount of money, he was one guy who made you feel not like just a slave caddy wearing a white jump suit carrying two bags for 18 holes. He made you feel like a human being. And that made it all worthwhile.
BE: That’s nice to hear.
BL: The Sugar Ray Leonards of the world, who are the cheapest people that ever walked the face of the earth…
BE: (stunned) Ow!
BL: Make sure you put that in there. Make sure that you put in there that Sugar Ray Leonard and Willie Gault (former NFL wide receiver) are the two cheapest human beings that walk the face of the earth, when it comes to tipping caddies. Make sure you put that in there.
BE: There’s no way I’m going to take something like that out of a piece.
BL: Willie Gault and Sugar Ray Leonard are two of the cheapest human beings that walk the face of the earth. That comes from Brandon Lang, who caddied for both, and who will look them in the eye and tell them straight to their faces: let’s go.
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