06/06/2005 12:00AM

Heroics end up affecting bettors


For anecdotal evidence of why football is such a great betting sport, just look at how last weekend's Arena Football League playoff games kept fans and bettors on the edge of their seats.

By now, most people have seen the replays of the ending of the Colorado Crush-Chicago Rush game Sunday, when confetti was strewn on the field after Rashad Floyd of the Crush, leading 43-40, intercepted a pass in the end zone as time expired. There was a defensive holding penalty on the play, however, and the Rush was given one more untimed down.

Chicago players swept away the confetti to allow kicker Keith Gispert to boot a game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime, and then stadium workers spent 10 minutes sweeping away the rest of the confetti.

In overtime (AFL rules require both teams to have a possession before it becomes sudden-death), the Crush had a pass intercepted and Gispert missed a 36-yard field goal before the Crush won the game, 49-43, on a touchdown pass from quarterback John Dutton to receiver Andy McCullough.

What was lost in the news reports was that the Crush was a 3-point favorite, and the results at the end of the game meant a lot to a lot of people.

When Floyd picked off the pass, it looked like the Crush would win, 43-40, and all bets with the point spread would be a refund. When Chicago was given a second chance, it looked like underdog bettors could win in overtime, especially after the Rush stopped Colorado on the first series and lined up for a potentially game-winning field goal.

When the Crush won on McCullough's touchdown, though, the 6-point victory bailed out Colorado bettors and had Chicago bettors wishing their team had never gotten that second chance and forced overtime.

Saturday's other semifinal was just as much up in the air, though not as wild. The Georgia Force was a 5 1/2-point favorite over the Orlando Predators, but trailed by 13 points in the third quarter. But the Force, owners of the league's best record, rallied to take the lead and then had kicker Nelson Garner boot a field goal with 37 seconds remaining to take a spread-covering 60-52 lead.

The Predators marched down the field, though, and scored on a 1-yard touchdown pass as time expired to cut the lead to 60-58. The 2-point conversion failed, but underdog bettors were happy to cash their tickets and not have to worry about a Georgia TD in overtime that would have made them losers again.

Wild, wacky stuff. And has been the case many times with the Super Bowl, this Sunday's ArenaBowl XIX - held at the Thomas and Mack Center here in Las Vegas - will be hard-pressed to live up to the excitement of its conference championship games.

Caesars Palace opened Georgia as a 3-point favorite over Colorado with a total of 106 points.

Sports book notes

Britain's Ricky Hatton upset Kostya Tszyu to claim the IBF light welterweight bout last Saturday night in Manchester, England (2 a.m. Sunday local time). A lot of people are calling it a huge upset, since Tszyu was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but Hatton is 39-0 and was only a 2-1 underdog at sports books here in Nevada. It certainly doesn't compare to Buster Douglas's 40-1 upset of Mike Tyson in Japan in 1990.

* Greg Biffle had already won three Nextel Cup races this year heading into Sunday's MBNA RacePoints 400 at Dover International Speedway, but was still the seventh choice at between 8-1 and 12-1 at Las Vegas sports books last week. Biffle won the race, and is second only to Jimmie Johnson in the series points race.

* Before the French Open, Spain's Rafael Nadal was bet down to 7-5 favoritism at Caesars Palaces, presumably based on his five tournament wins on clay this year. It was a little surprising last Friday, then, to see him offered at +120 (the equivalent of 6-5) in his match last Friday vs. Roger Federer. Nadal solidified himself as a rising star with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory and went on to beat Mariano Puerta in Sunday's finale.

* The biggest upset of the weekend belongs to Bart Bryant (who?), who won the PGA's Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Before the tournament, the Las Vegas Hilton had Tiger Woods as the 9-2 co-favorite along with the "field," which comprises all other golfers who aren't listed individually. Bryant was in that group, but prevailed by holding off Fred Couples, who was listed at 60-1.

This week's PGA event is being held at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. The Hilton has Vijay Singh as the 7-1 favorite, with Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson at 8-1, and Retief Goosen at 12-1.

Back on the beam

Part of the reason for football's popularity is that the games are held once a week, and everyone has time to do their handicapping and build excitement for the games. It's more difficult with baseball, which goes every day, and basketball, which has a full schedule of midweek games.

So, it was nice to bounce back from a recent slump by going 3-1 with my arena football selections - I had the Predators +5 1/2 and the Crush -3 in the aforementioned games, plus the unders in both, which I split after the Predators-Force went over and the Rush-Crush went well under despite going to overtime. I also had the under in Saturday's Heat-Pistons game.

As of noon Monday, I don't know who the Spurs will be playing in the NBA finals, which begin Thursday, but I recommend taking the underdog in Game 1. Regardless of who wins Monday night's Heat-Pistons game, I'm sure a lot of the media's focus will be on how the Spurs will be rested and the Eastern survivor will be coming off a tough series. I think this will cause the oddsmakers to inflate the line in Thursday's game, with the public looking to back the Spurs, so I'll take the points with the dog, whomever it may be.