It is one of the most memorable plays in one of the most memorable Super Bowls in NFL history, but for me, I only know it as the worst beat of my gambling life.
Let's rewind to Super Bowl XLIII. I bet the Arizona Cardinals +3.5 in the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Arizona trailed by three points (10-7) with 18 seconds left. It's first-and-goal on the 1-yard line, and I was probably a -8000 favorite to cash (80-1 odds to lose).
Inexplicably, James Harrison picks off Kurt Warner and returns it 100 yards for a pick-six with no time left. I can still see Larry Fitzgerald chasing him down, swerving out of bounds to avoid teammates blocking his path. I just needed someone to tackle a 240-pound linebacker sucking wind. They had plenty of chances during that interception return, but no dice. He landed on the goal line.
Rip that ticket up.
Perhaps worse than that, my 35-1 futures ticket on the Cardinals winning the Super Bowl also went out the window.
Thanks, James Harrison. And I guess Kurt Warner. And I guess everyone else on the field at that moment.
Every single bettor has his or her war stories. Just this past week, we saw a couple of doozies in prime time. I genuinely sympathize with anyone on under 65.5 in the Ohio State/Purdue game. They combined for six touchdowns in the fourth quarter to land the total on 69 points.
The New York Giants created a circus Monday night with their two-point conversion attempts, too. The Giants ultimately covered as 4.5-point underdogs, generating pain for Atlanta backers who certainly liked their chances nearly the entire fourth quarter, but the Giants put everyone through the wringer with questionable decisions -- including quarterback sneaks with a 37-year-old and a running clock in the final minute.
Games like those make you wonder why we put ourselves through such theatrics. After all, the end of nearly every game in all sports is played so completely differently from the rest. In basketball's final minute, one team usually chucks and fouls, while the other team is trying to show sportsmanship. In football, one team is running the ball to chew clock or allowing short completions on defense. Hockey teams pull goalies, which often results in empty-netters, and baseball teams strategize differently with bullpens and bunting in the late innings. Everything changes in the final minute.
And don't get me started on overtime.
Here is what I like this week (4-1 last weekend):
Oregon -9.5 (at Arizona): The Ducks showed a lot of fortitude earlier this season by crushing Cal to bounce back from a demoralizing home loss to Stanford. They hit the road again off a loss, and this effort should be much easier. The Ducks might not face a weaker defense the entire conference season, plus Arizona QB Rhett Rodriguez is extremely limited and will likely start, as Khalil Tate continues to recover from an ankle injury. I highly doubt the Wildcats can keep pace with Oregon's offense.
Clemson/Florida State under 49.5: I expect FSU to have an incredibly difficult time moving the ball and scoring. Clemson might have the nation's best defensive front, and the Seminoles have major offensive line issues. Meanwhile, the Tigers are coming off a huge win over NC State, and that typically leads to a subdued effort. I anticipate a sleepy effort to do just enough for a road win.
Syracuse +2.5 (vs. NC State): I expect a giant flat spot for the Wolfpack after suffering their first defeat in an embarrassing 41-7 loss to Clemson. I question how much focus they have had this week. On the flip side, Syracuse has had a buzz all week with the school's first Saturday night home game since 2010. The offense is built for the Carrier Dome, where the Orange average 46 points this season. Plus, NC State must prepare for two quarterbacks with contrasting styles. Eric Dungey provides a dual-threat option, and Tommy DeVito will throw deep accurately.
Fresno State -25.5 (vs. Hawaii): The Bulldogs are not grabbing national headlines, but college football bettors are quite familiar with this team. They have covered five straight and are 6-1 ATS this season. The defense has allowed the fewest points in the country, holding opponents to one score in each of the past three games. The offense has quick-strike ability with quarterback Marcus McMaryion and should should carve up a horrible Hawaii pass defense. The Rainbow Warriors will have traveled 30,000 miles counting this fifth trip to the mainland. This has all the makings of a rout.
Iowa/Penn State over 52.5: This is as simple as two potent offenses with big-play abilities. Both upperclassman quarterbacks are effective passers, and all trends point to a high-scoring game. Eleven of Penn State's past 14 games have gone over the total. Iowa had gone over in four straight until last week's game that had 25 mph winds. There will be no such elements in Happy Valley.
Rams -9.5 (vs. Packers): Aaron Rodgers is amazing and perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history. In fact, he's never been this big of an underdog. However, the Rams are an absolute juggernaut and worthy of such distinction. Plus, I always like to fade the underdog that is attracting significant action from the betting public, which seems to be the case here. The Rams have a giant coaching edge, which allows me to feel comfortable laying this big of a number against Rodgers.