02/06/2006 1:00AM

Boring game? Not for prop bettors


Super Bowl XL wasn't a masterpiece. It was pretty mediocre as far as football games go and isn't likely to be seen on ESPN Classic.

But none of that mattered here in Las Vegas. It was still the Super Bowl. It was still an event, and the crowds showed up in droves, as more than 95 percent of the city's 135,000 hotel rooms were occupied this past weekend.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 21-10, to cover the 4-point spread, and the game easily went under the total of 47. Those numbers are the bread and butter of sports betting and is where the majority of the handle - which will likely break last year's record of $90 million and threaten the $100 million mark - still goes, but it's not what most people were cheering for during the game.

The under was never in doubt, and the spread only looked as if it would be a factor when the Steelers led 14-10 early in the fourth quarter and when the Seahawks had a chance to get a touchdown for a backdoor cover in the final minutes.

For those watching in Vegas sports books, proposition wagers were being decided on nearly every play. Props are often referred to as the "game within the game," but to many bettors, they are just as important as the outcome of the game, and in many ways far more suspenseful.

Here's a rundown of Super Bowl XL from the prop bettors' point of view.

* Nevada gaming regulations require that sports betting results be decided on the field, so even though the Seahawks called tails on the coin flip and it landed tails, the result of the "Who will receive the opening kickoff?" prop wasn't official until they actually received the kickoff. But that didn't stop huge cheers from erupting during the coin toss (some offshore books had the "tails" as a +150 underdog). Many books offered reduced juice at -105 on the prop.

* The first pass by Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was complete, which was a -180 favorite over an incomplete pass at the Las Vegas Hilton, which offered 300 propositions covering 15 pages of 8 1/2-inch by 14-inch paper.

* Neither team mustered much offense early on, and when the Seahawks punted on their first two possessions, the Hilton had its first big win of the day. The Hilton offered a prop asking, "What will happen first - Seahawks punt twice or score?" with the Seahawks scoring opening a -130 favorite. The Seahawks were the highest-scoring team in the NFL this season, so bettors jumped on it and bet it up to -200. Race and sports book director Jay Kornegay said both big professional bettors and small recreational players thought they had found a gimme.

* That also made winners of those who bet that there wouldn't be a score in the first 6:30 of the game (-115).

* The Seahawks did get on the board first on a 47-yard field goal by Josh Brown with 22 seconds remaining in the first quarter. That rewarded those who bet the Seahawks would score first (+115) and that a non-TD would be the first score of the game (+130). It also made winners of those who bet over 44 1/2 yards for the longest field goal of the game (-115), and led the Seahawks to win the first quarter 3-0 as a half-point underdog.

* Among the most popular prop bets every year is "Who will score the first touchdown?" Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed a 37-yard pass to Hines Ward at the Seattle 3-yard line with just over three minutes left in the half. Jerome Bettis was given the ball twice but was stuffed by the Seahawks' line to bring the first half to the two-minute warning. On 3rd-and-goal, Roethlisberger faked to Bettis and ran it in himself with 1:55 remaining. The play had to be reviewed before being made official. Kornegay said the Roethlisberger TD was a big loser for the Hilton, which opened Roethlisberger at 25-1 and saw him bet down to 15-1. Asked if Bettis, who was the 6-1 second choice in the prop, would have also been a bad result for the house, Kornegay said, "Bettis was a popular bet, too, but we weren't giving 25-1 on him."

* Unknown to a lot of people, Caesars Palace had a prop on when the first TD would be scored. "After the 28-minute mark," the winning bet, opened at 100-1. If either of Bettis's rushes had resulted in scores, that bet would have lost.

* Roethlisberger's touchdown gave the Steelers a 7-3 lead, but the half wasn't over. The Seahawks mounted a nice drive before terrible clock management forced Brown to attempt a 54-yard field goal in the closing seconds. The Steelers were 2 1/2-point favorites for the first half, so a successful kick would have made it 7-6, resulting in a non-cover, but Brown missed wide right.

* After the halftime show, in which some offshore bettors cashed on the Rolling Stones to start their set with "Start Me Up," the 7-2 favorite, the Steelers took control of the game when Willie Parker set a Super Bowl record with a 75-yard touchdown run to give the Steelers a 14-3 lead. The run made winners of those who had over 42 1/2 yards on the longest TD of the game (-115) as well as Parker to score a TD (+250), Parker over 59 1/2 rushing yards (-115), and Parker's longest run over 15 1/2 yards (-115).

* The Steelers were in position to blow the game open midway through the third quarter, when they had the ball inside the Seattle 10-yard line. Kornegay was cheering for at least a Pittsburgh field goal, which would have been its third straight score in the prop that asked, "Will either team score three straight times?" The "yes" was a -165 favorite with the "no," which the public always loads up on, at +145. Roethlisberger was picked off by Kelly Herndon, who returned it a Super Bowl-record 76 yards (surprisingly, no prop on longest interception return) to put the Seahawks back in the game.

* Seattle finally scored a touchdown with 6:45 left in the third, when Hasselbeck connected with Jerramy Stevens to bring Seattle to within 14-10. It would be the only touchdown pass of the game for Hasselbeck, who had an over/under of 1 1/2 TD passes.

* The Seahawks had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth quarter, but their momentum was killed when Hasselbeck was intercepted by Ike Taylor at the Pittsburgh 5. (The "yes" on "Will Hasselbeck throw an interception?" was -165.) That eventually set up the clinching touchdown for the Steelers. Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El got the ball on a reverse and threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Ward to give the Steelers a 21-10 lead. (The "over 2 1/2 players to throw a pass" was -180; Ward scoring a touchdown was -110.)

See how much more exciting the game was when viewed this way?