What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so the story goes. Yet, once a year, Las Vegas permeates the American landscape on Super Bowl Sunday, when millions of fans from all demographics wager on the most highly anticipated sporting event of the year. Fans who cannot even spell Belichick place all kinds of bets, especially the gimmick bets that Vegas sports book love to win. Even my Aunt Elma places a bet on the outcome of the game. She usually takes the favorite.
The Super Bowl is not about cute commercials or an over the top halftime show. It is about cashing in on the squares game and hoping that our team covers the spread. We watch the game with focus intent, but only because we want the kicker to hit a late field goal to send the game over the total point line. Whenever a player drops a late game, wide-open touchdown pass, we do not cringe because our hometown team just lost the game. We cringe because the team we bet on failed to cover the spread. More money changes hands on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year, including Black Friday. Sometimes, the worst hangover occurs inside of our wallets.
Gambling also forms the premise for the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. You do not have to be a math wizard to understand the equation. The larger the point spread, the bigger the upset. However, where do we mark a line in the point spread sand? Some argue that any Super spread in the double digits sets the standard for upsets. For our sake, the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history involve underdogs that were getting more than 7 points.
Super Bowl III
New York Jets 16 Baltimore Colts 7
A brash, young quarterback did all of the boasting before Super Bowl III. New York Jets quarterback, “Broadway” Joe Namath guaranteed a victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, a team that only lost one game the entire season. Most people thought Namath was out of his mind, but he delivered an MVP performance that shocked the gambling world. Not only did the Jets upset the Colts, they manhandled a team that was favored by 18 points. Injured star quarterback Johnny Unitas helped the Colts avert a shutout by driving his team to a touchdown as time expired.
Super Bowl XXV
New York 20 Buffalo 19
The surprising part of the build up to this game was the 8 point spread in Buffalo’s favor. Bettors seemed to discount the return of a team that had won a Super Bowl a few years before. Moreover, Bill Parcells had established himself as one of the coaching greats of all-time. While the spread hovered near 8 points for most of the week, many football analysts predicted the Bills and their potent no huddle offense would trounce the Giants. As in the NFC Championship Game, the Giants physically dominated a supposedly more talented team on both sides of the ball. Scott Norwood’s missed field goal at the end of regulation ensured this game would become one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.
Super Bowl IV
Kansas City 23 Minnesota 7
One year removed from the Jets upset of the Colts, bettors still did not give the fledgling AFL any respect. Favored to win by 12 points, the Vikings did not show up against the highly motivated Hank Stram led Chiefs squad. The Chiefs took a 16-0 lead at halftime, and they did not let off the gas en route to a 28-point swing from the betting line, the second largest swing in NFL history. Gambling was center stage for more reasons than casual fan betting, as Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson had to disclaim rumors that his MVP performance derived from a personal betting stake he had on the outcome of the game.
Super Bowl XXXII
Denver 31 Green Bay 24
Often mistaken as one of the greatest games in Super Bowl history, the match up between the Broncos and Packers may be the biggest upset in the game’s almost half-century legacy. The Packers, coming off a Super Bowl win a year earlier, were installed as 12-point favorites. Moreover, the NFC had won 13 consecutive Super Bowls, most in convincing fashion. John Elway and the Broncos were the recipients of two of the NFC beat downs. Terrell Davis, despite playing with an acute migraine, ran for over 150 yards and three scores to cement the MVP award.
Super Bowl XXXVI
New England 20 St. Louis 17
The Rams, known as “The Greatest Show on Turf” had plowed its way through the NFC en route to its second Super Bowl in three years. The team’s 14-point average margin of victory did not bode well for the Patriots, who barely squeaked by the Raiders in the infamous “Tuck Rule” AFC Championship Game. It did not take long to realize that the 14-point spread would not be indicative of the game’s outcome. Bill Belichick’s brilliant defensive game plan stifled the Rams for just over three quarters and a young quarterback named Tom Brady led the winning drive to culminate one of the biggest Super Bowl stunners of all-time
Super Bowl XLII
New York Giants 17 New England 14
Belichick’s Patriots came into this Super Bowl favored by almost 17 points. A record setting offense led by Brady and Randy Moss had many pundits wondering how lopsided the game would be. However, Tom Coughlin out coached Belichick on the game’s grandest stage and it became apparent from the start of the game that this affair would come down to the final minute. A little miracle from David Tyree kept alive the winning drive that punctuated the biggest Super Bowl upset of all-time.
This year, Aunt Elma plans to stick with her wagering formula. She likes the Patriots -3.5 against the Giants in Super Bowl 46. Whether Aunt Elma nails the bet or not, one thing is for sure: a 3.5 point spread means that this time around, the Giants will not have pulled an upset if they win the game.