On the one hand, the Super Bowl is “just another game” for a professional bettor. On the other hand, the Super Bowl has two major differences.
First and foremost are the prop bets; quite literally hundreds of wagering opportunities that allow bettors to wager on everything from the coin toss and the length of the national anthem to whether Russell Wilson will throw more touchdown passes than Manchester United will score goals on Super Bowl Sunday. I’ll write about those next week.
The other biggest difference between Super Bowls and other games is simple. The Super Bowls stand out in our memories; every one of them. I’ve been in Vegas since the 1998 football season, and I can tell you where I watched every Super Bowl, what the point spread was and who covered. Thank you in advance for indulging me a brief trip down memory lane.
My first Super Bowl in Las Vegas was when the Broncos faced the Falcons as favorites of about a TD back in January 1999. I watched the game in the stadium seating at the Imperial Palace race book. My handicap was simple, thinking Denver and John Elway had a big edge having beaten the Packers in the Super Bowl the previous year.
I’m not sure it mattered after Falcons cornerback Eugene Robinson was arrested for soliciting the night before the game; throwing Atlanta off their game. The Broncos won and covered, and other than Tim Dwight’s kick return touchdown, the game wasn’t much of a sweat.
In January 2000 (back when Super Bowls were still played in January), I watched at Mandalay Bay the Rams-Titans classic battle. The game was not a good one for the house, with both St. Louis -6½ and Tennessee +7½ available for line shoppers.
Isaac Bruce’s late 73-yard catch and run TD led to a seven point St. Louis victory. Most bettors pushed; good bettors won regardless of which side they had. I can still remember the longest post-game lines I’ve ever seen at the sports book – just about everyone who made a bet on the game had a ticket to cash, even if it was only a push.
I watched Baltimore destroy the New York Giants at Caesars Palace the following year. The Ravens were favored, but a flood of late Giants money turned that game into a pick ’em at some books by kickoff. There was little drama in a game where the Giants’ only points came on a kick return touchdown.
The biggest Super Bowl upset since the Jets beat the Colts occurred the following year, as the Patriots upset the Rams as two TD underdogs. I watched that game at MGM; and that book, like many books in town, was inundated with Patriots money line wagers.
New England’s straight up win left a handful of books with some downright ugly balance sheets for the game and cost at least one sports book director his job – well, that and failing to get Charles Barkley’s signature for the half million dollar bets he made on the Pats on credit.
My favorite Super Bowl since I’ve been here came the following year when the Raiders faced the Bucs. Tampa was the underdog, but they sure played like the favorite against an Oakland squad that didn’t react well after starting center Barrett Robbins went AWOL in Tijuana.
I don’t drink very often, but I was at a locals pub with friends that day and we all had Buccaneers tickets in our pockets. I was absolutely plastered by halftime because we did a shot after every Oakland turnover and have nothing but blurry memories of the second half.
I watched the next two Super Bowls at Mandalay Bay, and they were both thrillers, with the Pats beating the Panthers and Eagles by a field goal each time; the beginning of a string of four consecutive ATS losses for New England in the big game. I distinctly remember my OVER 46½ bet for the Pats-Panthers looking completely dead – the game was scoreless for the first 25 minutes – before a wild fourth quarter scoring frenzy.
The Steelers became the first 6 seed to win a title the following year, the start of a continuing trend that has seen “hot” lower seeded teams emerge as Super Bowl favorites. Pittsburgh was in the range of -4 and benefitted greatly from a handful of fairly controversial penalties in their 11 point victory – the refs were probably the most memorable part of the entire game.
This game also began a four year stretch for me where I watched at a friend’s place or at home instead of in a sports book.
I was in a season long online betting contest with $50k on the line for first place and everything riding on my Super Bowl XLI pick. Indy was favored by a TD in the rain, but I bet on Rex Grossman and the Bears, and watched his fourth quarter pick six with absolute dismay. Of course, the offshore book that sponsored the contest folded the following week – the winner never got paid and I never got my second place money either.
The first of two recent Giants-Patriots Super Bowl showdowns came the following year, when the G-men spoiled New England’s perfect season; the beginning of the modern “don’t lay points in the Super Bowl” era (only one favorite has covered since). The game is best remembered for David Tyree’s “helmet catch” on a desperation heave from Eli Manning that propelled the Giants to their three point win. Much like the last time a double digit dog won in straight up fashion, the sports books around Vegas did not fare well, suffering enormous liability from the bevy of money line wagers on New York.
I was on one of the best NFL runs of my career when the Steelers and Cardinals met in February 2009 and was convinced Arizona was good enough to hang tough as TD underdogs. The Cardinals looked to be on life support following James Harrison’s 100 yard pick six to end the first half, but some Kurt Warner/Larry Fitzgerald second half magic got Arizona the money even though Ben Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers for a last minute victory.
When the Saints upset the Colts as five point underdogs in 2010, there were two key plays that still stand out as I watched at the new Cantor Sportsbook at the M Resort and Casino. Sean Payton’s onside kick to open the second half gave New Orleans the momentum and Peyton Manning’s fourth quarter pick six to Tracy Porter ended Indy’s chance of a comeback.
In 2011, I had cameras following me at the LVH for the “Life on the Line” sports betting documentary as the Packers faced the Steelers, another 6 seed that was favored in the Big Game. The key to the Packers’ six point, spread covering victory was their +3 turnover margin, with Rashard Mendenhall’s fourth quarter fumble looming as the biggest of the bunch.
The second Giants- Patriots meeting came the following year, with New England going off as 2½ or 3 point favorites. Again, heavy money came on the Giants money line, and the combination of Mario Manningham’s incredible catch along with key drops by Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez allowed Giants backers to cash following their late TD drive.
I was at LVH again last year when the 4½ point underdog Ravens used a huge first half from Joe Flacco and a kick return touchdown from Jacoby Jones to survive the second half power outage and subsequent momentum change toward the 49ers. It was yet another straight up win for the underdog, continuing the prevailing current Super Bowl betting trend of “take the points.”
What memories will Super Bowl XLVIII bring? At press time the Broncos are lined at -2½ over Seattle with the total in the range of 48. At first glance, this matchup of No. 1 seeds has all the makings of another instant classic; the type of game bettors could still remember vividly a decade or two from now!
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]