Safety puts surprising cap on gambling's greatest spectacle


A fine line separates the winners and losers, as is often the case. But the final score is in the book, the record shows the Baltimore Ravens as underdog winners, and there was no bigger figure in the game than Joe Flacco.

Add another name to the NFL's list of elite quarterbacks. It's not that surprising, considering the hot roll the Ravens were riding into the Super Bowl.

Flacco passed for three touchdowns in the first half Sunday, and then things got truly bizarre. A power outage was followed by a 22-point lead that nearly disappeared. And a goal-line stand was followed by a punter running out of the end zone.

"The season ends with a safety," LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said. "You're kidding me, right?"

It was a game that had it all, something straight out of "The Twilight Zone," and that's not even counting the odd Budweiser commercial with the Clydesdale.

"The entertainment value is through the roof," said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of public relations for William Hill sports books. "It really got crazy at the end."

The topic of crazy wagering decisions from Baltimore's 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers has to start with the safety. Ravens punter Sam Koch was not a big figure in the game, but when he burned eight seconds off the clock by taking an 8-yard loss and a safety with four seconds remaining, it settled a huge proposition score for the betting public.

Will there be a safety? The "Yes" side of the prop opened at plus-900 at the LVH and closed plus-400 at MGM Resorts.

"You talk about a bad beat," said professional bettor Steve Fezzik, who bet the "No" side at minus-650. "Think about how much money changed hands from the sharps to the squares and how much the books lost on that safety."

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh played it safe, so to speak, but was it a move he needed to make? If Koch had punted the ball, the 49ers needed a touchdown to win.

"It's unclear. It's kind of like you have a 99 percent chance to win if you take it or don't take it," Fezzik said of the safety. "You're really putting yourself at risk. But by getting the clock down to four seconds, it's the right play. The game was won, so it really didn't matter."

The play settled two other props. Will the game be decided by exactly 3 points? The "Yes" side cashed at around plus-400, and the last score of the game being a 49ers safety paid 35-1 odds.

That's what makes the Super Bowl the greatest spectacle in wagering.

There also was a kickoff return for a touchdown, and, most importantly, a thrilling final two minutes that decided the winning side. Just when it appeared Colin Kaepernick would finish off an incredible comeback, the 49ers folded their hand in the shadow of the goal line.

After driving San Francisco's offense to the 5-yard line at the two-minute warning, Kaepernick fired three straight incompletions. Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers' normally flawless coach, burned a timeout and called three pass plays. Why Kaepernick was not running the ball, I'll never understand, and Harbaugh has a long offseason to second-guess the play calls that allowed Ray Lewis to retire triumphantly after a memorable goal-line stand.

"I'm not an NFL coach, but I think I would have done one or two things a little different down there," MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. "Why are you throwing the ball?"

San Francisco closed as a 4½-point favorite and minus-200 on the money line at most books. Baltimore, which led 28-6 after the opening play of the third quarter, was the right side. The score flew over the total of 48.

"If the Niners could have punched that touchdown in at the end, it would have been ideal with them winning and not covering," Rood said.

That was the fine line between the books winning a little and winning a lot.

"If the Niners had scored that touchdown," Vaccaro added, "it would have switched hundreds of millions of dollars."

Flacco's prop total for touchdown passes was 2½, and the "over" side of that bet paid plus-375 at the LVH, where there were 41 props posted on Kaepernick. He rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown and passed for 302 yards and a touchdown.

"They were betting Kaepernick to have success the last two weeks, and he was by far the most popular player on props," Kornegay said. "We lost on most of them. Kaepernick was a killer. The props, unfortunately, were a disaster.

"We needed the 49ers to win the game. It was our worst-case scenario with Baltimore winning outright and the game going over the total. But it wasn't a big loss."

A majority of books reported a small win, and all reported a big handle. The Nevada record handle for a Super Bowl stands at $94.5 million in 2006, and that might fall when figures are announced early in the week.

"If our handle is replicated around the state, we'll have a record," Rood said. "We won't have a record win, but we'll have a record handle."

Vaccaro agreed, saying, "I would imagine this is going to be the highest handle the state has ever seen."

It was one of the craziest Super Bowls we've ever seen, beginning with Flacco's hot start and ending with a punter running out of the end zone.

The greatest spectacle in wagering lived up to the hype again this year.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts "The Las Vegas Sportsline" weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

 

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