Legendary Bets, Intriguing Stories Swirl Around Super Bowl

Legendary Bets, Intriguing Stories Swirl Around Super Bowl

Johnny Avello remembers the bettor, but won’t share the name. And he remembers the discomfort that he caused as his thousands compounded into millions against the odds Avello had set.

There are epic bets, and then there are epic Super Bowl bets. Epic Super Bowl bets in Las Vegas are even better.

Some of the stories can be confirmed through the pained recollection of a sage bookmaker like Avello. Or someone who was at the after party.

Some dubious stories are deified in sportsbook mythology just because the details are simply too entertaining to debunk.

Avello has these details of a few, in particular, memorized.

“It was a hotel guest and he bet the Giants to win the Super Bowl,” Avello, now Director of Race and Sports Operations at DraftKings told Gambling.com. “It was ‘12.”

In a tale absurd, but all too verifiable, a New York Giants team that finished the regular season 9-7 marched through the playoffs and came from behind in the final minute to beat the New England Patriots, 21-17, in Super Bowl XLVI. A midseason play at 30-to-1 had paid off handsomely.

“At the time, they weren't looking too good,” Avello said of the first ticket. “It was probably somewhere around half the season and he bet the Giants to win a million dollars in the future book. He wasn't the type of guy to hedge, so when we got to the playoffs, he bet $500,000 on the Giants in the first game of the playoffs that he rolled that over and actually bet another $500,000 on the Giants in the Super Bowl, a million dollars on the Giants.”

"He wasn't the type of guy to hedge, so when we got to the playoffs, he bet $500,000 on the Giants in the first game of the playoffs that he rolled that over and actually bet another $500,000 on the Giants in the Super Bowl, a million dollars on the Giants.”

And then he celebrated.

“I remember that when the Giants won that game, he was with a bunch of guys and they were just going absolutely nuts,” Avello recalled. “And I know that his night was quite entertaining, that night at The Wynn.”

Avello still seems to marvel at the run.

“He had $35,000 on it [on the futures bet]. … He actually only had $530,000 in the action to win somewhere around close to $3 million,” he said. “He was a gambler, liked to play and got on a run and everything felt right.”

Sometimes they wake up feeling that way. And so begins Avello's tale, from 2015, when a bettor awoke two days before Super Bowl XLIX with the notion that the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, then a two-point favorite, would fall to the Patriots.

“I should not forget this game,” Avello lamented. “He had a million dollars on the Patriots in that game and we had a lot of money besides that. We were really heavy on the Patriots in that game.

“I remember he wired the money in and it came over and just bet it all on the Patriots. And I just asked him why he liked the Patriots and he said he had a dream. He had a dream that the Patriots are going to win.”

Trailing, 28-24, with 26 seconds left, running back Marshawn Lynch just rushed for four of his game-high 102 yards down to the Patriots 1. Seattle needed a touchdown to win. Those who bet them would in position to cover. But on one of the most lambasted coaching decisions in sports history, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was intercepted by Malcolm Butler to effectively end the game.

So many bewildered angry persons, for so many different reasons.

“[Seattle] would have covered. Everybody was wondering why Marshawn Lynch didn't run the football,” Avello said. “It was a dream and a nightmare for me.”

A Fridge, A Thought, a New Proposition

Some have made legendary bets. Jimmy Vaccaro made some bets legendary. "Prop" bets, specifically.

Whether he invented or propagated them into mainstream sports vernacular, Vaccaro is key in their roaring popularity in becoming some of the most-discussed and wagered during major events like the Super Bowl. Nevada Gaming Control Board analyst Michael Lawton told Gambling.com that while exact figures are not kept regarding the percentage of handle or tickets comprised by props, the figure is anecdotally understood to be around 35 percent and growing.

There’s moneylines on innumerable outcomes and match-ups, enough to entice seasoned bettors or Super Bowl party dilettantes.

Gatorade color? There’s a bet for that, too. And it’s largely because of Vaccaro, a longtime South Point oddsmaker who on Friday joined Rivers Casino Pittsburgh as director of sports relations.

Setting odds at MGM in 1985, Vaccaro seized upon the national phenomenon that was the Chicago Bears William “Refrigerator” Perry and the defensive tackle's productivity as a goal line fullback. Head coach Mike Ditka had used the 6-foot-3, 355-pound rookie for touchdowns three times in goal line situations in steam-rolling to a 15-1-record and an appearance against very-pre-dynasty New England in Super Bowl XX. So anticipation grew as to whether he would reach the end zone again.

Vegas oddsmaker Sonny Reizner had posted arguably the first-ever prop in 1980 with a “Who-Shot-JR?” offering at the Hole-In-The-Wall sportsbook, but it was eventually squashed by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. So when Vaccaro posted a Perry touchdown bet at 40-to-1 odds, there was still history to be made, particularly in sports.

Ditka had future Hall of Fame running back and first-time Super Bowl participant Walter Payton in his backfield. And he tamped down speculation about Perry running the ball as much as possible. The line moved to 75-to-1, but massing media coverage and rabid fan interest prompted the line to be bet down to 5-to-1.

Perry scored from the 1 in the third quarter.

“We got beat up pretty good on the prop itself,” Vaccaro told The Sporting News of an estimated $40,000 loss at MGM. “But between all the hype from the national media after the prop was sent out on the wire and the lingering effects afterwards with follow-up stories, we got some pretty good attention.”

In a 2015 article in FiveThirtyEight.com, Vaccaro credited Caesars Palace bookmaker Art Manteris as the first to offer odds on Perry scoring a touchdown. The idea had turned much worse for his trouble, in one regard.

“We lost a quarter-million on that prop,” Manteris, now the vice president of Sports Book Operations at Stations Casino, later told the Associated Press. “I sold it to the people upstairs by saying we got a million dollars in PR out of it.”

Greatest Gambling Story of Them All … True or Not

A million-dollar bet is extraordinarily notable in 2019. Sixty-one years ago, it would have been instantly legendary.

But such is the conceit of a tale, told by five-time PGA Tour-winner Al Besselink to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2007.

According to Besselink, while watching the 1958 NFL Championship Game – the so-immortalized “Greatest Game Ever Played” - with friend and NFL quarterback John Brodie, the golfer repeatedly rebuffed the notion that the Colts would kick a late field goal to win the game despite being deep in Giants territory in overtime.

Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom, Canadian financier Lou Chesler and Miami businessman Mike McLaney, Besselink supposedly explained to Brodie, had bet $1 million on the game together at lines that varied from 3.5 to five points. That’s why quarterback Johnny Unitas, he insisted, was inexplicably still passing the ball deep in Giants territory.

Besselink, a renowned South Florida horse player and dashing character Sports Illustrated dubbed a “grand master of dolce vita,” claimed to know all this because he would collect their winnings a few days later in New Orleans, where he was playing in a tournament. His fee: $20,000.

"The three guys who made the bet are all dead or I'd never tell you the story"

On third down, fullback Alan Ameche tumbled into the end zone from the 1-yard line to give the Colts a 23-17 win and the cover. Besselink, he claims, secured a satchel full of $100 bills as planned in New Orleans.

All the other key figures have died, including Unitas, who called plays for the Colts. Rosenbloom, Chesler and McLaney were confirmed gamblers, having tried to partner in buying a casino and hotel in Havana, Cuba. In a deposition stemming from a lawsuit when their relationship eroded, McLaney claimed Rosenbloom “bet as high as $55,000 against his own team."

Various books have alluded to the wager. Colts players admitted to having heard the tale but disavowed knowledge.

Besselink, 96, was last reported in faltering mental acuity three years ago in a Miami-area nursing home.

"The three guys who made the bet are all dead or I'd never tell you the story," told the Sun-Sentinel. "They were my good friends. And they had one of the greatest betting stories you've ever heard."

Legendary, in fact.