02/03/2004 12:00AM

Prop bets put strange spin on game

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LAS VEGAS - There's no denying that being involved with sports betting makes you view the games differently. Instead of just concentrating on who wins or loses, you can't help but think of how the score relates to the point spread.

That's true a lot of times even when you don't have a wager on a given game. Maybe you know someone who does have a bet, or maybe you considered betting but now are watching to see if you made the right decision to pass.

Well, in recent years, the Super Bowl takes this to the nth degree for me. Even if I only wager on a few proposition bets, I have an obsession to try and keep track of every prop I see around Las Vegas and at offshore books.

This definitely affects my memories of recent Super Bowls. I can't picture many plays from last year's game, but I remember that Tampa Bay holder Tom Tupa bobbled a snap and kicker Martin Gramatica had to fall on the ball. The prop "Will there be a missed field goal attempt?" was graded "No" because Gramatica didn't actually kick it and was officially 2 for 2 during the game.

Two years ago, the Patriots beat the Rams 20-17 when Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winner on the last play of the game. But you might have noticed that there were several seconds left on the clock after the kick. The referees called the game and allowed the Patriots to storm the field and celebrate - unlike this year, when the Pats had to kick off to run out the last four seconds. There was a prop available on "Who would have the final possession?" so people who bet the Rams were wanting the Pats to kick off, but it never happened.

The final play of the 2001 Super Bowl, between the Ravens and Giants, was also controversial. The applicable prop was "Will the Giants convert a fourth-down attempt?" They hadn't tried one all game, but then in the closing seconds they faced a fourth-and-3 at midfield. Tiki Barber was clearly stopped short of the first-down marker, and the clock should have stopped with seconds remaining for a change of possession (and, again, if people had bet on the Ravens to have the last possession, they certainly expected that to happen). But again, the officials decided to just let the clock run and awarded the Giants an unearned first down.

And that brings us to this year. Obviously, just a few days removed from the game, I remember a lot more from the actual game, but the prop-related play that still sticks out in my mind is another fourth-down attempt, because it also involved a coach's challenge.

It came with just over nine minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Patriots had a fourth-and-inches as they needed to get to the Panthers' 37. Antowain Smith ran into the line and got stuffed. The officials spotted the ball at the 37, and the measurement gave the Pats a first down. However, replays appeared to show that Smith led with his left shoulder and had the ball in his right arm and didn't actually advance the ball far enough, so Panthers coach John Fox threw the red flag. Carolina was an even-money underdog to make the first coach's challenge (New England was -130), so that was cut-and-dried.

Referee Ed Hochuli reviewed the play but said Smith's forward progress reached the 37. The play stood, probably causing a lot of money to change hands on those "Will there be a fourth-down conversion?" props as well as at some offshore books that asked, "Will a call be reversed by a coach's challenge?"

It didn't appear to have any impact on the outcome of the game, as Vinatieri had his field goal attempt blocked on that drive.

Another incident that didn't affect the game but was entertaining was a prop at a few offshore books that asked, "Will there be a streaker during Super Bowl XXXVIII?" The "Yes" was offered at 6-1, though the books could argue that Mark Roberts of Liverpool, England, wasn't fully nude and that it wasn't "during" the playing of the game as it was right before the second-half kickoff.

Final football bankroll update

My bankroll plays went 1-1 in the Super Bowl, with a win on over the total of 38 but a loss on the Patriots -7. The bet on the spread looked good at 21-10, and I was hoping to at least get a push at 29-22.

That dropped my record in the postseason to 7-5 (6-5 on sides, 1-0 on totals) and to 62-40 overall. Because of a loss of 0.1 units to the vig (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1), my profit for the season dropped to an even 18 units.

Pats, Cats earn oddsmakers' respect

Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the top oddsmaking firm in the world, lowered the Patriots from 6-1 to 5-1 favoritism for next year's Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 6, 2005, in Jacksonville, Fla. It's a stark contrast from two years ago, when the Patriots upset the Rams and were no better than eighth choice, at 12-1, to repeat as champs.

But in this age of parity, they're still not an overwhelming choice. The Eagles and Rams are co-second choices at 6-1, followed by the Buccaneers, Titans, and Chiefs, all at 8-1.

The Panthers were also lowered after Sunday's game, from 20-1 to 10-1.

"They played well yesterday and showed they're not going anywhere," Ken White, chief executive of LVSC, said Monday. "They're a good, young team with a strong coaching staff."

The Colts, losers of the AFC title game to the Patriots, are also 10-1. The Packers and Broncos are 12-1, with the Dolphins, Cowboys, and Ravens at 15-1.

The longest shots on the board are the Lions and Cardinals at 200-1, with the Texans at 150-1, the Chargers at 100-1, the Bears at 60-1, and the trio of the Browns, Bills, and Jaguars - next year's host - at 50-1.

The other 11 teams are between 20-1 and 40-1. That's the range where the most value might lie, with my three longshots at this time being the Vikings (20-1), Seahawks (30-1), and Bengals (35-1) - all of whom just missed the playoffs this season and could be in position to make the leap next year.