Last year, more than $119 million was wagered statewide on Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos—the first time in Nevada history that betting handle for the Big Game eclipsed the $100 million mark. Throw in the offshore market, illegal bookies, friendly wagers and football-square pools, and America’s biggest single-day sporting event now attracts nearly $4 billion in betting action, according to a recent report from the American Gaming Association—and that’s just in this country. (Go ahead and keep that blindfold on, Commissioner Goodell.)
Of course, as each Super Bowl unfolds, so too does a narrative for the principals who sweat out every pass, every tackle and every replay challenge. And much like the moment your children are born or the first time you, well, you know, sometimes these narratives leave everlasting memories.
With this in mind, in advance of the Patriots-Seahawks clash in Super Bowl XLIX, Vegas Seven invited several of the city’s most respected handicappers and oddsmakers to recount those Super Sunday betting moments that—for better or worse—they’ll never forget.
Super Bowl XXII, Redskins vs. Broncos (Jan. 31, 1988): Dave Lee ran the sportsbook at the Holiday Casino way back then, and he’d put together a party for some friends and high-rollers. I arrived with my date after making a fairly substantial play on the Redskins.
Long story short, the Broncos, a 3-point favorite, jump out to a 10-0 first-quarter lead, and I’m disgusted. The date doesn’t give a rat’s behind about football, so she’s bored silly. I suggest we just hit the road and find someplace where we can avoid the game entirely. The decision was made to go to Scandia, where we played miniature golf and rode bumper boats.
Needless to say, I missed Doug Williams and the Redskins exploding for 35 second-quarter points and what turned out to be an easy winner on Washington. As it turned out, this was one Super Bowl Sunday that ended up providing a happy ending—in more ways than one, if you catch my drift.
Executive director of race & sports, Westgate Las Vegas
Super Bowl XXXIII, Broncos vs. Falcons (Jan. 31, 1999): This was Denver’s second straight Super Bowl appearance, and presumably the swan song for Broncos quarterback John Elway. So we offered a prop bet of “Will Bubby Brister have a rushing attempt?” Our thinking was, if the Broncos were winning at the tail end of the game, they’d pull Elway and put in Brister to kneel down. With that prop, we made sure to specify to bettors that a “kneel down” qualifies as a rushing attempt. Sure enough, Elway got removed from the game for a standing ovation, and Brister went in and took a knee to end the game.
A guest who knew that I was from Denver accused me of calling Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan on the sidelines and instructing him to put in Brister—he suggested we needed that to happen to win that specific prop. The guy was yelling at me in front of everyone: “I know you’re from Denver, and you probably have a hotline to Shanahan!” The whole room was laughing and in disbelief watching this guy get so animated.
The other interesting part of that story is television cameras never showed Brister kneeling down—instead, they concentrated on Elway celebrating on the sidelines. However, we knew exactly what was happening at the time. And the box score confirmed it.
Veteran handicapper, The Logical Approach; TheLogicalApproach.com
Super Bowl II, Raiders vs. Packers (Jan. 14, 1968): I grew up in New York as an AFL fan (Jets), and when I was 13 years old, I made a Super Bowl bet with my dad, taking the Raiders plus-14 points against the defending-champion Packers. If the Packers won by more than two touchdowns, I’d lose one week’s allowance. If not, he would take me to a New York Knicks game at the soon-to-open “new” Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, my plus-14 did me little good, as the Raiders lost 33-14.
Even though my allowance was lost, my dad decided to use his “winnings” to help buy a pair of tickets to a Knicks game, and we went a couple of months later. Even better, the next year my father and I attended the AFL title game, and I watched the Jets beat the Raiders. My dad was then able to secure tickets and make arrangements to fly down to Miami for Super Bowl III, where we saw the Jets, as 18-point underdogs, upset the Baltimore Colts 16-7 at the Orange Bowl. I still have an old black-and-white photo of the scoreboard that shows the score as the final seconds were ticking off. (I think it was taken with an old Kodak Instamatic—back in the old days when film was used!)
Veteran handicapper, Pregame.com
Super Bowl V, Colts vs. Cowboys (Jan. 17, 1971): I was the only Colts fan at my elementary school in North Jersey. A lot of the other kids liked the Jets, Giants and a good portion liked “America’s Team”—the Dallas Cowboys. So I made a bet with a couple of my fourth-grade buddies—anywhere from 50 cents to $1, which was big money for a kid at that time. Fortunately, I was the one who did the collecting when Colts kicker Jim O’Brien made a last-second field goal to give Baltimore a 16-13 victory.
The sad part of the story is I never got to actually see the game, because my evil stepmother locked me outside in the Jersey snow as punishment for something I had done. So I had to listen to all of my buddies talk about the game, while I could only pretend I watched it. When the Colts finally beat the Bears in Super Bowl XLI in February 2007, everyone in my family sent me texts saying “Finally, you got to actually see that freakin’ Horseshoe win it!”
Director of race & sports, Sunset Station
Super Bowl XLI, Colts vs. Bears (Feb. 4, 2007): At the time, I was overseeing the book at Caesars Palace, and as usual we had hundreds of prop bets on the board, including several involving Devin Hester, the Bears’ All-Pro return man. Three props in particular really stand out: Would Hester score a touchdown in the game? Would Hester score the first touchdown? And would there be a defensive or special teams touchdown at any point in the game? The “yes” was heavily bet on all three. As luck would have it, the Bears won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kick.
As the crowd in the sportsbook was placing their final wagers and getting settled in, I turned to my team and said, “Just don’t let Hester run this back!” It was a standing-room-only crowd, and as usual they all started to cheer as Hester received the ball. As I turned to look at the crowd, I could hear the excitement building, and the room started to get louder and louder. I quickly looked back at the TV screens to see why the decibel level had just tripled, only to see Hester make a few moves, break into the clear and go 92 yards for a touchdown.
In all my years in this industry, I’ve never heard a book get so loud in such a short period of time. Usually that’s reserved for a last-second win or an exciting finish. But this was for the opening kick! Then again, it wasn’t just any opening kick. Oh, by the way, I think half the room cashed a ticket that day on Hester. That one score was one of the largest prop-bet payouts in Nevada history.
Former Las Vegas sportsbook director; currently an analyst with The Linemakers; Linemakers.SportingNews.com
Super Bowl XXXII, Broncos vs. Packers (Jan. 25, 1998): As a lifelong Broncos fan who suffered through four agonizing Super Bowl defeats, where each one got progressively worse, I was optimistic this time, despite the fact Green Bay was as much as a 13-point favorite. And my optimism rested entirely with Denver running back Terrell Davis. I knew the Packers couldn’t stop him—and they wouldn’t have stopped him the previous year, when Green Bay beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl after No. 1-seeded Denver lost at home to Jacksonville in the divisional round.
So I had Denver plus the points, Denver on the money-line and I bet a bunch of props related to my theory about Davis playing a big role: I took Davis “Over” and Elway “Under” in just about everything I could find, and cashed them all—plus a side-and-total parlay on the Broncos and “Over.” And Denver scored the 31-24 upset.
I liked to say at the time that I put my fan cap away when wagering that day, but in retrospect it was just a homer play from a hungry, rabid fan looking to celebrate in a big way. It’s still by far my favorite Super Bowl memory.
Veteran handicapper/radio personality; Pregame.com
Super Bowl XXXII, Broncos vs. Packers (Jan. 25, 1998): Green Bay was making its second consecutive trip to the Big Game, having beaten the Patriots 35-21 the previous year. And as double-digit favorites, the Packers were very much expected to repeat.
At the time, I was a former small-time college bookie managing a sports bar in Michigan, which in 1998 was not exactly a hotbed of sophisticated bettors. In fact, nobody at the bar seemed to have any idea what the point spread was; as Lions fans, they just wanted the Packers to lose—and they were more than willing to put their money where there hearts were. My bookie nature immediately took over. How often do you get to take a double-digit favorite without laying any points?
I started taking bets from one end of the bar to the other—$20 here, $50 there, $100 for more than a handful of the serious football fans in the joint. With each wager, I became even more cocky, knowing I was getting the best of it by a wide margin. By kickoff, I was in action for more than a month’s salary, and I was making plans to spend the money. “Suckers,” I thought.
I genuinely expected the Packers to cover the 12-point spread. There was absolutely no question in my mind that, at the very least, they’d win the game outright … until they didn’t. Elway finally won his ring, and I took an absolute beating, one that I remember to this day. Turns out I was the only sucker in the bar that day—betting more money than I could comfortably afford to lose, on what I thought was a “can’t lose” proposition.
Director of race & sports, Red Rock Casino
Super Bowl XLVI, Patriots vs. Giants (Feb. 5, 2012): I’m just getting settled in to watch the game at the Red Rock hub following the madness leading up to kickoff. After the Giants’ opening drive results in a punt that pins New England at its own 6-yard line, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, on the team’s first offensive play, gets called for intentional grounding while in his own end zone—an automatic safety. The penalty sends our team scrambling to look at the financial results on the “Will there be a safety?” prop; needless to say, the results are not good. Then we realize the safety is the first score of the game as well—we gave 50-to-1 odds on a safety being the first score of the game, further adding to the inauspicious start to Super Bowl XLVI.
The next year, the last score of Super Bowl XLVII between the Ravens and 49ers was a safety. Then in last year’s Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl, a safety was once again the first score of the game. As a bookmaker who posts big odds on safety props for the Super Bowl, I don’t think I’ll ever forget these incredible results—and I’m hopeful the streak doesn’t continue Sunday!
Las Vegas Review-Journal betting columnist/ESPN Radio host
Super Bowl XX, Bears vs. Patriots (Jan. 26, 1986): Even though I grew up near Chicago, I was never much of a Bears fan. That changed in 1985. That year, the Bears had so many characters and were just crushing opponents, finishing the season 15-1.
As a high school freshman, I had just started betting football and basketball games through a local bookie (the father of a friend). It was all small stuff, mostly $20 bets. But that Super Bowl was my first $100 wager. I had about $250 in my savings account and was scared shitless of losing almost half of it, yet went ahead and called in Bears minus-10. When the game started, I turned off the lights in my bedroom and watched it on a small black-and-white TV. I was nervous as hell. Of course, the Bears ended up blowing out the Patriots 46-10. It was a great adrenaline rush.
That was 29 years ago, and I figured betting NFL games was going to be pretty easy. I started to think that someday I could move to Las Vegas and make a living betting on football and basketball. Eventually, you learn the hard way that it’s not easy.
Super Bowl XXV, Giants vs. Bills (Jan. 27, 1991): This was my first Super Bowl as a true “professional” bettor/handicapper. Being a neophyte when it came to betting big money, I had tied the Giants, a 7-point underdog, with the “Under,” which was set at 40½. I should note 1991 was likely the last time I’ve played a parlay. But I did so that day, and had my first “real” clients on the side and total—and I offered a money-back guarantee. At 24 years old, it was easily the most money I had ever tied to a sporting event up to that point in my life.
Late in the game, a 21-yard field goal gave the Giants a 20-19 lead. Since the NFL didn’t incorporate 2-point conversion attempts until the 1994 season, the Giants plus-7 was in the bag when the Bills began their final drive on their own 10-yard line with just over two minutes to go. The total, however, was not—if the Bills so much as made a game-winning field goal, I would be screwed.
At this point, I should mention that, instead of watching the biggest game of my life at home, I had joined a couple of friends at a local establishment on what we then called “Stripper’s Row,” also known as Industrial Avenue. So I’m a nervous wreck as Jim Kelly drives the Bills all the way to the Giants’ 29-yard line, setting up a Scott Norwood’s now-famous 47-yard field-goal attempt.
As Norwood set up and with all eyes (including those not wearing tops) on the game, the girl in front of me—perhaps eager to earn, perhaps just a young lady perfecting her craft—continued with her dance. I literally had to stand up and gently lift the young lady up in the air, moving her about two feet to the right just so I could see whether I was going to be able to afford to pay that bill. The rest is history: Norwood’s field goal sailed wide right by less than a full yard, and the girl—who moments earlier was none too happy with my “smooth move”—turned quite happy when she received a nice tip.
To this day, every single Super Bowl Sunday, at least one friend brings up that night, that move, and a little nickname I gained because of it—a nickname that cannot be mentioned in these pages.