MIAMI — Everyone remembers the Atlanta Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots. Some remember it more vividly than others.
Somehow, the Falcons blowing that game delivered perhaps the two worst beats for gamblers in Super Bowl history. Not only did the Patriots improbably cover the 3-point spread on an overtime touchdown, the game went over the total that was between 57 and 59 points. The Falcons had a 99.6 or 99.7 percent win probability at their highest point, according to various models. New England won 34-28. Imagine having a parlay of Falcons plus-3 and under 59 points.
“I’ve been doing sports gambling for 30 years,” said Nolan Dalla, the former media director at the World Series of Poker. “The first Super Bowl I gambled on was Super Bowl V, when the Cowboys beat the Colts 16-13, and I lost $1. I was eight years old.
“I’ve bet on almost every Super Bowl since that one. [Patriots over Falcons] was probably the worst defeat I’ve had on a Super Bowl.”
You may have seen Dalla’s Facebook video from after the game. He had the under on the game, which was a virtual lock if the Falcons didn’t collapse. The video was viewed by more than 25,000 people. The YouTube version blew that away, with more than 262,000 views. If you can handle (a lot of) swearing, his eight-minute rant will be familiar to any bettor who has taken a bad beat.
And there’s just something a bit more memorable when the bad beat comes on Super Bowl Sunday.
Gamblers remember the bad beats
The psychology of bettors is odd. There’s a popular line from the movie “Rounders” in which Matt Damon’s character quotes “Confessions of a Winning Poker Player” by Jack King.
"Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career,” Damon says in the movie.
So if someone in Super Bowl XLIX had the Patriots, who snatched a cover away from defeat when Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson on the most infamous play call ever, they might not recall the win (though the anonymous bettor who laid a seven-figure bet at MGM probably does). Seahawks bettors probably still are complaining about Marshawn Lynch not getting the ball.
“People don’t remember the lucky fumble they got to win a bet,” Dalla said. “Gamblers are fatalists. They remember the worst.”
And while Dalla says he’s over the Falcons beat — he lost $1,600 on his bet of under 59 points, he said in the video — he still can tell you the specifics of the play that turned it around. Truth be told there were plenty of plays that the Patriots needed, but Dalla remembers Matt Ryan being sacked for a 12-yard loss when the Falcons were at the Patriots’ 23-yard line, already in field-goal range.
“That one play was catastrophic for my wager,” Dalla said.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons’ offense coordinator during that Super Bowl collapse, has been asked repeatedly about that game this week.
“Everyone asks about what I learned from that Super Bowl, and I wish I could say there’s some easy answer that would fix us not blowing that lead,” Shanahan said. “I’m hard on myself on everything. I know the plays I wish I called different, especially the second-and-11 pass that led to a sack. I wish I had called a run there.”
A lot of people do, including Dalla.
Malcolm Butler cost the sportsbooks a lot of money
The other stunning bad beat in Super Bowl history came on the Butler interception.
No other play in NFL history has swung a championship so dramatically. The play call will be debated forever. Had the Seahawks just handed Lynch the ball, Seattle bettors probably would have cashed their tickets.
While there are plenty of Seahawks bettors who probably couldn’t believe what they were seeing, MGM Resorts International director of trading operations Jeff Stoneback said that the Butler interception was a bad result for the sportsbook. The game was mostly a pick ’em, and most bettors were on the Patriots. It was a seven-figure swing for MGM, Stoneback said.
“That one was big,” Stoneback said. “I’m from Seattle, so that added to my woes.”
Stoneback remembered being in his office, watching a feed that was slightly delayed. MGM’s vice president of race and sports books was in an adjacent office watching a different feed that was faster. Stoneback knew something bad (for MGM, anyway) happened before he saw it on his screen.
“I heard him slam the wall. Then I saw the interception,” Stoneback said. “Then you heard the crowd roar.”
Not many Super Bowl bad beats
There was one other rather infamous bad beat for the sportsbooks in Super Bowl history.
In Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers-Cowboys line bounced between 4.5 points and 3.5 points. Then came the worst-case scenario for the sportsbooks: The Steelers won 35-31 after a late Cowboys rally. That meant all the Cowboys bettors who had a ticket at plus-4.5 won, as did all the Steelers bettors that had tickets at minus-3.5. The books got middled.
There haven’t been too many bad beats in Super Bowl history. Los Angeles Rams bettors likely weren’t thrilled in Super Bowl XIV, when the Steelers covered a 10.5-point spread by outscoring the Rams 14-0 in the fourth quarter. Maybe there was a random prop bet ticket or two that was torn up when Leon Lett was chased down by Don Beebe in Super Bowl XXVII. But mostly, Super Bowl results have not been close enough to the point spread for any horrible beats.
That’s probably good for Dalla’s sanity. Facebook wasn’t around when he was 8 years old and lost that Cowboys bet in Super Bowl V, but it was when he ranted against the Falcons, Shanahan and pretty much everyone else after he lost the under. Dalla said he knew he looked ridiculous before he posted the video. But anyone who was on the Falcons or the under that day felt his pain.
“It was actually therapeutic in a sense to blow off some steam,” Dalla said.
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