In my life, I've been fortunate to attend three Super Bowls.
Back in 2006, in fact, I covered Super Bowl XL in Detroit at Ford Field - a game in which the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-10, in front of 68,206 fans- for 97.1FM WKRK SportsTalk Radio. At the time, I was given full access to all of the "big game" events, parties and the whole enchilada.
Believe it or not, that was not my most memorable Super Bowl experience. Not by a longshot.
You see, growing up in Southern California I was a huge Los Angeles Rams fan, and I even got to know quarterback Vince Ferragamo quite well as the1979 Rams managed to finagle their way into Super Bowl XIV after starting out the season with a 4-5 record (they wound up facing the Pittsburgh Steelers).
The Super Bowl was played in the Rose Bowl that season on January 14, 1980, and it was marked by a certain distinction. The Rose Bowl was only 14 miles from the Rams' home field, which at the time was the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. This piece of information seems more noteworthy now, however, since Super Bowl LV will in fact be played in the actual home stadium of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And that, my friends. that has never happened before.
But this is where the story actually begins. A week before the game itself, the Los Angeles Times had published a noticeable element pertaining to the contest. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who would become the Rams' opponent, had been installed as a -11.5 point favorite in the game. I was shocked. And, angry...
How could my beloved Rams be disrespected in such fashion? My good buddy Craig Avrashow happened to be a huge Steelers fan, so we proceeded to make a $50 bet. And he was all too happy to lay the wood.
Me? I couldn't grab the points fast enough. For the record, neither of us knew what we were doing at the time. Sure, I could talk and write sports, but true handicapping was foreign to the both of us. But I did become very curious, however, as to how "Vegas" could make such a bold prediction against my Rams.
I proceeded to arrive at the Rose Bowl six hours before the game in order to "soak it all in." I was confident, too, especially as the Rams took a 13-10 at the halftime break. I even started to become cocky. When the fourth quarter began and my Rams were still on top 19-17, I then proceeded to start counting my money.
When Terry Bradshaw led Rocky Bleier, Lynn Swann and company to two fourth quarter touchdowns and the Steelers ended up defeating the Rams 31-19, however, I immediately fell into a near catatonic state.
For the record, the Steelers not only won the big game outright, but they had also managed to cover that large -11.5 spread, and it was seemingly because Rams kicker Frank Corral had missed an extra point.
Be that as it may, I was left shaking my head as to how the bookmakers had seemed to be so prescient in setting the line at Steelers -11.5 points and Pittsburgh eventually coming away with a 12-point victory.
As I began my course of "Vegas" study, I landed upon a truism that even today some folks still don't seem to comprehend - the betting line is NOT a predictor. It's merely an instrument to create equal action on both sides, so as to maximize the Sportsbook's profit, all while minimizing their risk at the same time.
That little thing called the 'vigorish' is simply the fee a bettor pays for the right to invite the bookmaker to record and accept his or her bet. And that's why my teeth itch seemingly every time I see an uninformed sportscaster bellow out, "Vegas has predicted the Kansas City Chiefs to win by three!"
First off, "Vegas" is not a monolith.
Lines vary from shop to shop. Plus, "Vegas" doesn't actually predict anything. Their goal is to create an equal betting market based on sophisticated mathematical tables and metrics including yards per play, yards allowed, passing stats, running stats and both offensive and defensive efficiency on first, second and third downs, just to name a few. Furthermore, the data by which "Vegas" draws from, which has been amassed over several decades, is both incredible and astronomical in its nature. Case in point: this Super Bowl LV Sunday, on February 7th alone, more than $140 million dollars will be wagered legally in Las Vegas, with likely another five BILLION dollars wagered across the country in non-regulated markets.
But when they write the history books, it will indeed be that seemingly innocent $50 dollar loss that I experienced in January of 1980 which provided the impetus for what would become a "Million-Dollar Education" for me in the fabulous and intoxicating world of sports wagering. I'm still waiting for a missed extra point to get me a cover, by the way, so it can begin to make up for the missed one that cost me!