Instead of an instant classic, it was an immediate meltdown. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos — and throw in everyone who bet on them — suffered through four quarters of emotional torture.
It was embarrassing, humiliating and unbearable. And that was just the first half. Twelve seconds into the game, a first-down snap sailed over Manning’s head for a safety. This was the Super Bowl version of “Breaking Bad.”
By the end of it, not even Omaha wanted to claim the Broncos.
“I thought Manning would be able to do more,” said Nick Bogdanovich, the William Hill sports book director. “But when you get behind in a big game like that, anxiety sets in. The game broke wrong for the Broncos, and all hell broke loose.”
If this game pitted the sharps against the squares, it was a one-sided slaughter of the public. The Seattle Seahawks, who got a majority of the sharp action, stuck it to Denver 43-8 on Sunday in the type of Super Bore that launched the proliferation of proposition bets.
Will there be a safety? The “yes” side cashed, for the third consecutive year, at plus-550.
“I’ll talk about anything except for the safety,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “We were in a big hole. We took a punch below the belt five seconds into the game, and that was not a good feeling. Being a Broncos fan, I never recovered from that.”
The first scoring play of the game being a Seattle safety paid off 50-1 to 60-1 odds. The first score of the game being anything other than a touchdown returned plus-150. Add up the three results, Bogdanovich said, and his books took about a $140,000 loss.
“It’s not the greatest way to start a game, but we obviously overcame it with Seattle winning,” Bogdanovich said. “It was a big game for us. The game was phenomenal.”
With the Broncos attracting approximately 65 percent of the money wagered on the side, the bookmakers were smiling along with the Seahawks. The books won in a blowout, and we’ll see just how big the score was when the Nevada handle numbers are released early this week.
There were no reports of $1 million wagers at Las Vegas sports books — not even the rumored Floyd Mayweather mega-bet on the Broncos — but all five bookmakers I talked to were speaking of potentially record-breaking action.
“I’ve got to believe we’re going to break the record,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. “If we’re any indication, the state is going to go over $100 million. I would say $105 million is not out of the question.”
Bookmakers said a strong handle increased 3 to 5 percent over last year, when the state’s wagering totaled $98.9 million, the highest in Super Bowl history. Most people don’t care much about handle numbers, but they are signs of the growth of football betting.
“Based on the action and the atmosphere in our books,” Sunset Station book director Chuck Esposito said, “I think the industry has a really good shot to surpass $100 million.”
About an hour before kickoff, the South Point book had 12 windows open with at least 20 people waiting in each line.
“This is just incredible. It’s basically nonstop,” oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said as he surveyed an overflow crowd that created an atmosphere resembling a circus or a zoo. “I’ve never seen so many people in my life. I know one thing — it’s going to break the record for pedestrian traffic.”
Vaccaro, sitting by South Point owner Michael Gaughan, said, “Did you ever think it would get to this point?”
Gaughan answered, “Hell no. But it’s here.”
Vaccaro can recall the first Super Bowl. The 48th blew him away before the Broncos were blown out.
“It’s a phenomenon,” Vaccaro said. “It’s just wall to wall people. It’s not a game anymore, these are events.”
Vaccaro said about 70 percent of the people were betting between $50 and $300. Rood reported the biggest bet at MGM Resorts was on the Seahawks for $300,000.
“But more of the bigger bets ($50,000 and up) are on the Broncos,” Rood said. “We’ve got quite a few six-figure bets. We’re going to win the game. It was the best-case scenario for us as far as the side and the total.”
The South Point was the first Las Vegas book to move the line from 2½ to 3 because of what Vaccaro called a “one-way attack on the Broncos,” but the half-point turned out to be much ado about nothing. It was 22-0 at halftime, after Malcolm Smith intercepted a Manning duck and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.
“It was disappointing the game sucked,” Kornegay said. “I wasn’t expecting a lopsided game.”
Twelve seconds into the second half, Percy Harvin raced across the goal line on an 87-yard kickoff return. It was 36-0 before Manning threw his only touchdown pass and then hit Wes Welker for a 2-point conversion as time expired in the third quarter. (The odds on the Broncos finishing with eight points were 200-1 at the LVH and 250-1 at William Hill.)
Finally, Russell Wilson’s 10-yard touchdown pass with 11:45 remaining put the score over the total of 48, another minor benefit for the books.
“Overall, I think the results with Seattle and ‘over’ were good for us,” Esposito said. “I was really, really surprised Denver could not get anything going. You can’t put the entire blame on Manning. He didn’t play one of his better games. He’s still a great quarterback.”
But Manning picked a bad time for a meltdown. And for the so-called squares on the Broncos, it was like a tortured day at Guantanamo Bay.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.