02/07/2005 12:00AM

Best possible result for the bet takers


Super Bowl XXXIX was one for the books. The record books. And the sports books here in Nevada.

The Patriots won their third title in four years to get added to the list of NFL dynasties, and their 24-21 victory over the Eagles was just about the perfect result for bet takers.

The Patriots were favored by 7 points for 99 percent of the time in the two weeks between the AFC and NFC title games and the Super Bowl, with most books taking in more money on the Pats and moving the price on the Pats -7 to -120 (risk $1.20 to win $1 instead of the standard $1.10) and even -125 at some books. That meant that most sports book directors needed the Eagles to cover the spread, but that rooting interest conflicted with the fact that many had taken significant money on the Eagles to pull an outright upset at 2-1 odds or better.

"When the favorite wins and doesn't cover, that's usually a great situation for the books," said Robert Walker, race and sports book director at the MGM Mirage. "Tens of millions of dollars in the state probably changed hands on that late Eagles touchdown."

The turning point of Super Bowl XXXIX came when the Patriots scored a touchdown on their last possession of the first half and first possession of the second half to turn a 7-0 deficit into a 14-7 lead. That led to the Eagles playing catch-up, which they did at 14-14, but then the Pats turned that into a 21-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Walker said his company wouldn't have been hurt if the winning margin landed on the number 7, though sports books in general prefer a decision one way or another instead of refunding a lot of tickets.

"At that point, we were just hoping that it didn't turn into a shootout," said Walker, explaining that the worst-case scenario was the Patriots covering and the combined final score going over 47 1/2 points.

The key point of the game in the parallel gambling universe was when the Pats were up 21-14 and had first-and-goal at the Eagles' 4-yard line with 10 minutes to play. A touchdown would have put the Patriots up by 14, pretty much relegating the Eagles' bettors to cheering for a push while leaving over bettors within one touchdown of going over.

The Pats, however, had to settle for an Adam Vinatieri field goal to make it 24-14 and keep the point-spread result in doubt. As a patron at the table next to me at Caesars Palace said, "That left the back door open."

The Eagles did get within the spread at 24-21 with a Greg Lewis touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb with 1:48 remaining.

Jay Kornegay, race and sports book director at the Las Vegas Hilton, called it the best possible result - but he added that it led to some heart palpitations.

"We had it where we wanted, but it was scary when the Eagles got the ball back in the final minute deep in their own territory," Kornegay said. "We were just hoping for anything but a fumble in the end zone or an interception returned for a touchdown."

After two plays netted only 1 yard, McNabb threw the ball over the middle and it was intercepted by Rodney Harrison at the Eagles' 28-yard line.

"I didn't even see the pass, but I heard the roar in our book," Kornegay said. "I looked at a screen and saw Harrison with the ball and no one in front of him. I'm sure my heart stopped. It gave all the New England bettors hope."

Harrison started to run but then slid down at the 22-yard line to dash those hopes of a miracle point-spread cover.

Teaser bettors cashed in as both the point spread and total fell within 4-5 points of the lines, so anyone who bet a two-team teaser with the side and total cashed no matter what combination they used. But the volume on those bets is so small compared to the straight betting and parlays that the bookmakers were happy to concede those.

Bankroll has super ending

I was certainly on the books' side in this one, as my bankroll plays were on the Eagles +7 for 1 unit and the under for 2 units. The two winning selections improved my playoff record to 8-4 for a net profit of 3.5 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) and helps make up for a mediocre regular season. My overall NFL record stood at 49-46-3 for a net loss of 1.7 units.

I wish I would have made my proposition selections official bankroll plays, too, as I could have made up the rest of the deficit. I try to be realistic, however, even with an imaginary bankroll. Unless I find a proposition wager that is worthy of what I normally put on a game (which is rare), I think they should be viewed as recreational wagers and bet accordingly.

My prop bets went 3-2, which is profitable when taking plus-money. I lost the "first player to score a TD" prop, where I took the field at 5-1. It was looking like a great overlay when Terrell Owens started and was playing well, but then Philadelphia tight end L.J. Smith, a 15-1 shot, caught a 6-yard pass from McNabb in the second quarter for the game's first score.

I cashed with "under 13 1/2 points" being the game's biggest lead at +170, as the Pats' 24-14 lead ended up being the biggest. The back-and-forth nature of the game, as I projected, helped me cash with the "no" on the "will either team have three unanswered scores" prop. The Pats had two sets of two unanswered scores.

But my favorite bet was the "double result" with betting the combination of "tie at halftime/Patriots winner" at 10-1 and the "tie at halftime/Eagles winner" at 14-1. When the game went to halftime knotted at 7-7, I had a sure winner at juicy odds.

My other lost prop was betting "no" on "will there be a score in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter" at +105, but I was glad to lose that as the Eagles' late score won my larger wager on the spread.