GELFAND: Betting the Big Game -- Super Bowl 54

Please Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not a guy who likes to stroll down memory lane. Too many potholes. As my friends in The Program say, after a few falls into the abyss, it’s best to take a different street.

For hardcore football fans, though, it’s fun to look back this weekend at some of the most remarkable Super Bowls.

I always think back to the second Super Bowl, in 1969, which was played the year before the two leagues merged. (These are football games, not dynasties, so there will be no Roman numerals here.) Everyone loves to see David crushing Goliath, unless, of course, you’re heavily invested in the stock market. I was still a teenager then, and so innocent that I didn’t even have a bookmaker. So I still remember Joe Namath, representing the upstart and seemingly inferior AFL, guaranteeing that his Jets would defeat the mighty Baltimore Colts. Which they did.

Actually, that might be one of the two Super Bowls whose winners I can recall — the second being last year’s, when I vaguely remember that the Patriots embarrassed the Rams. No idea what the score was, but I know it was an under.

Gambling can have that effect. I do my best to make at least one wager every day of the year except Christmas Eve. I would bet any game on the board on Christmas Eve, but so far no league has responded to the urgent needs of gamblers. Sports and gambling are pretty much the same industries now. It’s only a matter of time before pro teams build their own luxury casinos in Las Vegas. Within a few years, there will be an annual Atheist Bowl on Dec. 24.

It probably sounds like what I do remember is how my wagers turned out, but I recall very few of those, too. Within a month or so after the best of all hits and the worst of all beats, the memory disappears like the numbers on the flash sheets that bookies once used to record their clients’ wagers. (Cops knock on the door, you drop the little squares of paper in a pot and then pour water and stir. Instant nothing!)

Jan 30, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA; A general view of the Super Bowl LIV logo off Ocean Dr. in South Beach Miami prior to Super Bowl LIV between the San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs. Please Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Purists, if there are any left, might argue that compulsive gamblers are destroying the beauty of the game by demeaning the sport itself. To which I say Youbetcha and then pause to let the irony sink in.

If we were to engage in Socratic dialogue in an attempt to find truth — a phenomenon once-respected even in America — we might question how much beauty really exists. Football is dangerous and disgusting and I would say on a par with cockfighting, except I used that comparison a couple of weeks ago when I was writing about baseball and especially the Houston Astros. Your local college athletic department is drowning in its own hypocrisy. I could go on, but I’m not trying to bring you down. That being something I’m good at without even trying.

But for those of us who were born with the anxiety gene, sports betting is superior to any nostrum precisely because we never have to care that much about any game. If things go bad you write in the “L” and start doping out the West Coast games or, for those of us who really chase things that disappear, the late double somewhere in the Heroin Belt.

There is, however, one rule: you can bet on the Super Bowl, but you can’t make a Super Bet. Forget the hype because every game is just another game. Remember: your goal is to stay in action from your first wager as a college student to your last bet from the memory care unit.

I violated those rules a few times in my younger days. The worst was a $3,500 bet on the Rose Bowl back in the 80s. Iowa vs. Washington, as I recall. No idea who won the game, but I won the bet. And never got paid. Even bookies tap out.

So, about that Super Bowl. I rarely bet “the side,” meaning which team will win. The line now is Kansas City minus-1, and that line has probably survived a billion dollars in wagers — some legal, most probably not. Opportunities for American gamblers are growing each day, but the committed sports bettor still has to rely on offshore casinos banned but not vanished in the U.S.

There are many other ways to beat the Super Bowl, as we all know from the cute stories about proposition bets. The media like to focus on wagers such as the over-under on the National Anthem. Last time I looked it was 1:58. As we speak, there are people eagerly Googling Demi Lovato National Anthem and it seems to me that we’re talking Over here. (Watch the video yourself. Anyone with pipes like that is not going to be able to resist injecting a little showmanship. A few pauses for applause, the occasional ululation, and pretty soon we talking 2:10.)

But, as readers of this space know, my favorite prop is the over-under on yards gained on the first carry by the most prominent running backs.

Jan 30, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA; A general view of the Super Bowl LIV, FOX logo sign off Ocean drive in South Beach Miami prior to Super Bowl LIV between the San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs. Please Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Traditionally, this is a wager that heavily favors the under. Casual bettors might be unduly influenced by the average yards-per-carry of a given back, but that’s a whole lot different than yards gained on the first carry. That first carry is rarely a surprise, and the average gain of a good runner is always inflated by (cliche warning) chunk plays.

I figured this out a long time ago, and at this point would like to share my favorite Super Bowl memory. The year was 2009, the teams were Pittsburgh and…well, someone…and the Steelers coach was Mike Tomlin. A very steady and predictable guy who could be counted on to do whatever was most obvious. I had crunched the numbers. I knew that Willie Parker almost always got the ball on Pittsburgh’s first play and that he went up the middle and was lucky to be on the plus side. Happily, the Steelers won the toss. I had put a honeybee on Parker under 3 1/2 yards for his first try. Parker ran into a six-man line and came out with a two-yard gain.

I allowed myself a very small fist-pump and turned off the game. Elapsed time: eight seconds. I still have no idea who won the game and am not even curious enough to look it up.

So it’s back to my comfort zone this time, but with heavier juice. Damien Williams is the Chiefs’ top running back, but he’s an obscure sidekick on this show. (Not knocking him: I happen to think the world of obscure sidekicks.)

I looked at Williams’ first carry in his most recent eight games. Actually, he was pretty consistent, usually getting two or three yards; but his first carry went over four yards just once. I’m still not thrilled about laying 135 to make 100, but in exchange, the folks at inflated the total to 4. (I found the line at Bovada first, so that’s the one I’m using.)

The 49ers have one of the top run defenses in the league, but it’s also possible that a logical fear of Patrick Mahomes might yield Williams an extra yard or two. But I still consider this bet as sound as any wager I made this year, so I’m going to risk $67.50 to make $50.

Jan 27, 2020; Miami, FL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left) and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (right) are interviewed on stage during Super Bowl LIV Opening Night at Marlins Park. Please Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Now for two more wagers, just to help us all stick around for the commercials and the bad delivery pizza and the beer and Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. And, of course, the Clash of the Candidates, featuring challenger Mike Bloomberg vs. champion Donald Trump in competing $10 million commercials. I know, seems a bit pricey when you could buy 20 state legislatures for that kind of money.

I can’t even guess the winner of this game, but before last year’s fiasco, six of the previous eight Super Bowls have produced more than 50 points. I don’t think the Chiefs can stop the 49ers running game and although San Francisco’s defense is top-notch, I don’t think anyone can stop Mahomes. So I’m going to put $50 on the over, with one provision: I’m going to use the consensus line as of 5 p.m. on Sunday. I’m doing this because the public generally inflates the total in early betting, while the inside guys tend to wait until deadline approaches and then go the other way. Right now, the total is 54 1/2, so I’m betting that I’ll get a lower number on Sunday. But, if not, I eat the higher price.

Then there’s the always popular MVP wager. You can’t put your money on Mahomes, because he’s not much better than even money, and for good reason.

But it’s by no means certain that Jimmy Garoppolo would be the MVP if the 49ers win, so I’m going to risk $10 to make $55 on Raheem Mostert and, because I think a defensive player would have a great chance to win the award if Mahomes can be contained, I’m risking $8 on Nick Bosa to make $144.

The bankroll, which started the season with a fresh $1,000, now sits at $936. I’m just hoping to break even on Sunday, because I need the money.

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