11/06/2001 1:00AM

Amazing finishes overshadowed (11/5)


If not for the seventh game of the World Series, the Bears would have been the sports world's top story Sunday night. It was a comeback for the ages.

The Bears, trailing 21-7 to the Cleveland Browns, scored a touchdown with 28 seconds left in the game, recovered an onside kick, and then scored again to tie the score on the final play of the game on a tipped Hail Mary pass in the end zone that was barely caught by James Allen before it hit the ground. In overtime, Mike Brown returned an interception for the winning TD.

Radio and TV reports focused on the fact that it was the Bears' second straight rally from being two touchdowns down in the fourth quarter (they scored two TDs and a two-point conversion to force overtime in a 37-31 win over the 49ers last week) only to win on interception returns in OT. It truly was the football equivalent of the Yankees' ninth-inning rallies in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series.

But what made it even more incredible from a sports betting standpoint is that the Bears covered the spread in both games. A winning field goal in overtime wouldn't have done the trick. The Bears had been favored by 5 1/2 points most of the week.

On Sunday, a lot of Browns money came in and the line got bet down to 4 at several books. The public money seems to be right-on, as the Browns were coasting along most of the game. Even a Bears field goal in overtime would have gotten them the money. The Bears' improbable 6-point victory has to be one of the all-time bad beats for those Browns bettors. We just hope the Bears bettors were able to find any tickets they threw away.

The Titans also scored a late touchdown to beat the Jaguars, 28-24. That covered the 3-point spread, though some Jaguars bettors who took the 4 1/2 points offered earlier in the week also cashed. Sunday also saw a rally from 17 points down by the Giants, and another comeback by the Packers - but neither of them covered the spread.

Saturday's most exciting game in relation to the point spread was the Mississippi-Arkansas game. Ole Miss was bet up to a 7-point favorite and the over/under was 49. Under players had to be feeling good all game long, and Arkansas bettors had to like their chances even when regulation ended with the game tied 17-17. But then the two teams traded touchdowns (with Mississippi failing to ever go up by more than six in OT) before Arkansas finally prevailed 58-56 after seven extra periods.

Arkansas bettors were rewarded for their patience, but under bettors were left wondering what hit them.

Bookies notch another win

October was a very good month for Nevada's legal bookmakers in college and pro football, and November started out a winner, too.

A lot of the big line moves, such as the Browns and Mississippi mentioned above, were losers. The dogs covered in eight of 13 NFL games Sunday, killing a lot of parlay cards, but what really helped the books was that of the five favorites that won and covered (Bears, Titans, Dolphins, Eagles, and Colts) none was getting an overwhelming majority of the action. So, the favorites that won didn't hurt the books, and the dogs almost always help the books when you factor in parlay cards.

Looking ahead

Early-line moves at the Stardust "lottery" [see accompanying chart] Sunday night were slow, probably because of the World Series game and also the fact the lines get tougher to beat as the bookmakers get a better feel for all the teams and how the public is betting them.

The early money came in on the underdogs in college football (eight of the line moves were toward the dog) and the favorites in the NFL. Georgia, bet from an 8 1/2- to a 9-point favorite over Auburn, was the only favorite to draw early money in the colleges, while the Patriots, Rams, Steelers, and Jaguars took early money in the pros.

The lottery players fared well last week as college line moves were 9-6 against the spread to improve to 102-81 on the season and NFL moves were 2-1 [with the Raiders going Monday night] to improve to 21-18.