Credit Payton for gutsy gamble

If his big gamble had failed, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton could have been criticized, second-guessed and portrayed as the fool of the Super Bowl.

Whether you’re betting on the NFL or standing on the sideline making a crucial call in the most important game of the season, there’s often a fine line between being a goat and a genius.

Payton took a calculated risk to open the second half of Sunday’s game with an onside kick. He later said he thought the Saints had a “60 to 70 percent chance” of recovering it.

By contrast, Evel Knievel’s scheme to ride a rocket-powered Skycycle over Snake River Canyon in 1974 had about a 6 to 7 percent chance of being successful. A parachute deployed prematurely and he barely avoided drowning. As a toddler, I watched Knievel flop miserably but gave him credit for taking the risk.

Payton played daredevil with no parachute. New Orleans recovered the kick, stole a possession from Peyton Manning and rode the momentum change to a 31-17 upset of the Indianapolis Colts.

Gambling becomes a problem only if you’re losing. The Saints won, so Payton got the credit. But if the results were different, imagine the firestorm of criticism he would be fending off.

It was one of the gutsiest calls — probably the gutsiest — I can remember seeing in a football game, considering the stakes. But Payton is nobody’s fool. He’s a Bill Parcells protege and a risk taker in the category of Bill Belichick.

The Colts took a more conservative approach, both by resting starters in Weeks 16 and 17 and by putting the handcuffs on Manning at the end of the first half.

Payton went for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1, and New Orleans got stuffed. But after Indianapolis ran three times and punted, the Saints still got three points and emerged unscathed.

In a way, the game was a microcosm of each team’s season. The cautious Colts got what they deserved, because being passive in life gets you beat. The underdog Saints (who did take an honest shot at 16-0) needed a spark, and Payton proved that it can pay to gamble.

Here’s a review of some of the close-call proposition wagers from a fascinating Super Bowl:

• From the end of the first quarter until the 11:33 mark of the third, Manning completed 1 of 2 passes for 9 yards. He sat on the bench and frowned, barely involved in the game. Amazingly, Manning still went over his opening prop numbers for completions (261/2), attempts (371/2) and yards (3071/2) by completing 31 of 45 for 333 yards.

• The Saints’ Drew Brees passed for 288 yards, barely eclipsing his opening total of 2851/2.

• Will there be a successful 2-point conversion? The “Yes” side paid off at about plus-500 when Brees connected with Lance Moore in the fourth quarter. The pass was initially ruled incomplete, but the call was overturned after Payton challenged it.

• Will there be a special teams or defensive touchdown? When the Saints’ Tracy Porter intercepted Manning and ran 74 yards for a score with 3:12 to play, the ”Yes” cashed for plus-150.

• Colts receiver Pierre Garcon (10-1 odds) scored the first touchdown. Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey was at 20-1 to score the last touchdown, and the sports books caught a break when Porter (a 9-2 field bet) closed the scoring with his dramatic pick six.

• Will the team that scores first win the game? The Colts led 10-0, so ”No” was the winner at plus-160.

• The total for Saints first downs was 211/2. They finished with 20.

• The total for Colts rushing yards opened at 991/2 and they finished with 99.

• The Colts’ Reggie Wayne had five receptions, and his prop total was 51/2. He dropped a pass at the goal line with 44 seconds left.

Manning was not necessarily the goat. Garcon dropped a pass that was pivotal, and Wayne made a couple of mistakes.

But Manning looked lackadaisical at times. Brees played with more fire and was the Most Valuable Player, while Payton was the hero by being a willing risk taker in the biggest game of his life.

Ironically, almost every play in the game factored in a prop bet. The Las Vegas Hilton posted about 335 props, but one was missing: Will the kicking team recover an onside kick?

One professional gambler estimated the odds on ”Yes” would be about 10-1. Payton figured he was the favorite to win that bet.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at or 702-387-2907.

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