by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Time flies when you’re having fun!

So it goes for us at THE GOLD SHEET as we approach the conclusion of another football season with this Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI at Indianapolis. It seems like yesterday, but we were there, in person, for the first Super Bowl forty-five years ago, when the Packers and the Chiefs collided at the L.A. Coliseum. Moreover, we had already been publishing TGS for ten football seasons when they teed it up on January 15, 1967.

So, Super Bowls really do have a special meaning for us at TGS, because we’ve seen them all. Which we believe makes us well-qualified to rate each of the games, best to worst; check out that much-discussed list, which can be accessed ont he front page of this website.

(Also on this websirte, we have a retrospective on what we believe was the game that really “changed” pro football, Super Bowl III and Joe Namath’s Jets over the Colts, including some interesting observations about that afternoon in Miami that still has a few oldtime fans quite curious, 43 years later.)

We have long believed that the first Super Bowl has been somewhat shortchanged by pro football historians, especially those who were not around to experience it. Which would include those who like to remind everyone that Chiefs-Packers was actually dubbed the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game,” and not the “Super Bowl.” Technically, that’s true, but Chiefs-Packers was in fact referred to as the “Super Bowl” by almost every media concern. Nobody called it the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game,” even though that’s what the game tickets and game programs said. Although it took a couple of years for Commissioner Pete Rozelle to officially affix that “Super Bowl” label, and the attached roman numerals, to the championship game.

(It is also said that the seed of the “Super Bowl” name was the old Wham-O “Super Ball,” which was familiar to Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt because his children had played with the small and extra-bouncy sphere, about the size of a jai alai pelota.)

It is also hard for those of the ESPN generation to relate to the media dynamics surrounding Chiefs-Packers, being that it preceded the all-sports cable network by more than twelve years. To suggest that Kansas City vs. Green Bay was played in some sort of a vacuum would be wholly inaccurate; the game was covered as comprehensively as possible by the sports media outlets of the day. Indeed, both CBS (which had the NFL’s TV contract in those days) and NBC (which had the AFL’s TV contract) would telecast the game simultaneously. Which was a dynamic with its own unique storylines, including how the rivalry between the leagues had spilled to various employees and technicians of the networks, even to who would hold the microphone in the post-game interview sessions when CBS’s Pat Summerall and NBC’s George Ratterman engaged in a not-so-subtle tug-of-war for the equipment as they asked the questions of players and coaches.

The unique specifics surrounding that Chiefs-Packers matchup are also unlikely to ever be replicated, given that teams from the rival leagues had never faced off before. In those days, there was palpable disdain for the AFL from many old-line NFL fans who viewed the upstart league as gimmick-laden and not worthy of attention, much less respect. Until Rozelle became the commissioner of both leagues in the summer of 1966 as a result of the merger, NFL stadia would not even announce AFL scores during the course of the established league’s games, although the AFL was far more gracious letting its fans know the scores of NFL contests going on at the same time.

The NFL disdain for the AFL was reflected no greater than by Vince Lombardi and the Packers, who were loathe to acknowledge the new league. Subsequently, it was revealed that Lombardi indeed had great respect for Hank Stram and those 1966 Chiefs, although the Packer coach did a good job of hiding it in the 60s.

Yet we have always believed that the real flash points of the AFL-NFL rivalry in those days came in the preseasons of 1967, ‘68, and ‘69, when interleague games were conducted. Those battles took on war-like traits, with teams taking results very seriously. For a thorough retrospective of those colorful preseason days, we suggest referring to our archives section at of this website and seek the story entitled “When Preseason Was Really A Blast.”

But Lombardi and the Packers (even in the year after Lombardi departed for the Redskins, in 1969) would never schedule a preseason game with an AFL team in those three summers. Neither did the Giants in 1967 or 1968, although the pleas to finally face the crosstown Jets reached deafening levels after Namath’s Super Bowl triumph in January, 1969, practically forcing the establishment G-Men to relent and face the Jets in ‘69. To this day, there are some longtime Big Apple football followers who believe the first preseason game between the two, held at New Haven’s Yale Bowl on Sunday, August 17, 1969, was the most-hyped pro football game in the city’s history (the Jets, by the way, romped to a 37-14 win).

Interestingly, and very contrary to the Packers, Carroll Rosenbloom’s Baltimore Colts never shied away from an AFL foe in preseason during those summers. Although by 1969 the Colts knew they were on their way to the AFL (to be called the AFC) once the merger was complete, the Colts still scheduled several interleague preseason games previously in 1967 and ‘68. All totaled, Baltimore faced eight AFL teams in preseason games those years, all away from home, and winning them all (though many in nailbiting fashion).

But let’s fast forward to 2012, and the modern Super Bowl phenomenon. And outside of the rotating host venues for the game, no city has embraced the Super Bowl like Las Vegas. It’s the biggest week of the year in town, not just for the sports books, but for the entire hotel industry.

Las Vegas Hilton Superbook Director Jay Kornegay recently related the impact of the game, not only at his property, but at others across town. “This is not only the biggest week of the year at the sports books,” said Kornegay while guesting with us last Friday on Brian Blessing’s SportsBook Radio show on 920 AM in Las Vegas, “but it’s also the biggest week for the card dealers, waiters, waitresses, maitre d’s, you name it. They all want to make sure they are working during Super Bowl week when the business is always good.”

Sports book specifics regarding this week’s Giants-Patriots battle in Indianapolis have also made news since the conference championship games, mainly because of the presence of the G-Men, who were being quoted at some longshot Super Bowl win prices at times during the 2011 campaign.

In reality, however, there were very few properties that ever had the Giants listed as high as 100/1. Although there were a handful of those tickets written, the exposure the majority of the big sports books have on a Giants win in the “futures” pool is much less than has been speculated. Still, for the “futures” money, there isn’t a book in Las Vegas that wouldn’t be far better off with the Patriots winning than the Giants this Sunday.

“We never had the Giants at higher than 80/1,” Kornegay told us last week, “and that was only for a brief period during their four-game losing streak.” How many took a bomber on the Giants at the highest price? “A few, but not many,” said Kornegay. “We really didn’t start seeing much Giants money until after the second game against Dallas at the end regular season. We have more exposure on New York at 20/1 and 25/1.”

That Hilton scenario has repeated at most sports books in town, almost all of which will still make a tidy profit on their “futures” business, even if the Giants win. MGM Resorts Sports Book Director Jay Rood related some of those specifics to the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Matt Youmans in the latter’s column last Friday, noting that MGM Resorts will be paying out roughly $1.5 million on a Giants win, but will still hold roughly 18-20% on its futures book. If New England wins, the payout will be approximately $1 million from the MGM futures book, with a hold of roughly 28%.

What Rood, Kornegay, and other sports book directors fear most is a dreaded “pointspread push,” which is why many of the books have been tap-dancing around the Patriots -3 number. There was more Giants money coming at the very early price of 3 ½, necessitating a downward move, although Rood told Youmans that he quickly adjusted the price to Patriots -2 ½ (at minus 125), which was replicated at several books around town. That 3½ price also wasn’t up long enough for the books to have serious “middle” exposure at 3 and risk a repeat of the infamous “Black Sunday” for sports books (those in existence at the time) at Super Bowl XIII, when the spread favoring the Steelers over the Cowboys hovered between 3½ and 4½, with many books subsequently taking a huge “middle” hit when the final margin fell on 4 points, 35-31, in Pittsburgh’s favor.

But the “push” scenario isn’t much better for the sports book directors. “Our worst Super Bowl,” said Kornegay, “was Rams-Titans, with the spread mostly at 7, and the game ending on 7. Everyone was cashing tickets and at least getting their money back. It was a nightmare for us.” Hence the reluctance of some books to post the Patriots at a “flat” number, especially at a key number such as three, for Sunday’s game.

The books are also expecting brisk business this week, and not only because of the higher-profile Patriots and Giants teams involved. “The Super Bowl kind of sells itself these days,” said Kornegay, “and the business will be good no matter who plays in the game.”

But having the Patriots and Giants doesn’t hurt, and Kornegay believes the Hilton’s handle on the game has a decent chance to exceed the $87 million the Superbook took in a year ago for Packers-Steelers, which bettered the roughly $81 million in wagers the Hilton did for Saints-Colts two years ago. Still, don’t expect any Super Bowl wagering records to be broken this week. “Our best-ever Super Bowl was Steelers-Seahawks (six years ago),” said Kornegay, “but remember, that’s when the economy was going at its best.”

What Kornegay and the other sports book directors also occupy themselves with at this time of year is the expansive list of Super Bowl proposition bets. The myriad of props at the Hilton, a dizzying array totaling over 300, was finally made available last Friday, the culmination of several all-night cram sessions over the previous few days. Although the sports book staffs begin making preliminary preparations for the props weeks in advance, they can’t really begin to sink their teeth into any specific matchups until the conference championship games are complete.

At many properties, Tuesday is the all-day affair for the sports book staff to hammer out the specific props, but there’s a careful process before those numbers are available to the clientele. “It takes a little while, because we’re double and triple-checking all of the numbers,” said Kornegay, whose myriad of props are regarded as the industry standard. The props have become such a big deal at the Hilton and other major sports books in town that an early glimpse at the numbers is almost akin to the “Clarence Beaks” character getting his hands on the crop reports before anyone else in the classic Trading Places movie.

Indeed, the Super Bowl proposition bets have taken on a life of their own over the years.

As for the games themselves, Super Bowls have become far more compelling viewing since the mid ‘90s after an extended period of mostly one-sided results that were dominated by the NFC champions. Hard as it is to believe, from the 1984 thru 1996 seasons, NFC teams won every Super Bowl, many of them by lopsided margins. Blowout results were so expected in Super Bowl games during most of that era that oddsmakers were forced to adjust pointspreads in order to address the phenomenon. Which is why the biggest pointspread of the entire 1994 NFL season came in Super Bowl XXIX, when the price on the favored 49ers ballooned to 18½ over the underdog Chargers. San Francisco won that game more easily than the final 49-26 scoreline suggests, but it was also the end of an era when routs were the rule, rather than the exception, in Super Bowl games. The next year, underdog Pittsburgh made a very good game of it against Dallas, and for the most part we have seen compelling Super Bowls since. In the 17 years subsequent to 49ers-Chargers, most of the Super Bowls have been filled with varying degrees of drama, with the only exceptions being Denver’s easy gallop past Atlanta in SB XXXIII, Baltimore’s destruction of the Giants in SB XXXV, and Tampa Bay’s romp over Oakland in SB XXXVII.

Although favored Green Bay got the cover in last year’s entertaining finale against Pittsburgh, the final margin was only six points, and the recent trend of competitive Super Bowls is reflected in covers by underdogs in 7 of the last 10 “Supes” after an extended run of chalk-dominated results prior. SB favorites still lead underdogs by a 23-19-2 count (with one pick ‘em in SB XVI between the 49ers and Bengals), although that chalk edge is hardly as pronounced as it had become by the mid ‘90s.

We would be remiss, however, if not offering a cautionary reminder about football championship game history, which despite some compelling action in recent Super Bowls is still replete with blowout results over the decades. Even with many recent competitive Super Bowls, almost half of them (22 of 45) have been decided by 14 points or more, which relates to many historical results in pre-Super Bowl days when lopsided scorelines in title games were commonplace. Championship-game blowouts didn’t begin with the "Super Bowl Shuffle" ‘85 Bears; they’ve happened since the earliest days of the league, with several eras featuring more of them than others (such as the mid ‘50s, when a succession of NFL title games featured scorelines of 56-10, 38-14, 47-7, and 59-14). Note, too, that the all-time NFL blowout occurred in the 1940 title game, when George Halas’ Bears overwhelmed the Washington Redskins, 73-0! That one-sided theme has also carried over to many college BCS title games as well, similar to the one we witnessed a few weeks ago in New Orleans when Alabama whipped LSU, 21-0.

Which team do we like, Giants or Patriots, in Indianapolis this Sunday? Check out our detailed forecast to find out!

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