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Sweet and sour Super Bowl betting memories stick with you

You never forget your first time. Mine was in the fourth grade.

That was the first time I remember betting on the Super Bowl.

I had a crush on my teacher, Miss Koutsos, and for some reason became enamored in the NFL playoffs of Denver’s Orange Crush defense.

I’m not sure if I backed the Broncos because I also loved Orange Crush soda at the time or simply because most of my classmates picked the Cowboys to win Super Bowl XII on Jan. 15, 1978. But I clearly recall betting 50 cents or $1 with seemingly every kid at my elementary school that Denver would beat Dallas.

I had no clue at the time about point spreads or the fact that I should have been getting 6 points, but it didn’t matter in the end, as the Cowboys’ Doomsday Defense dominated the Broncos in a 27-10 win — inadvertently sending a certain 9-year-old curly-haired kid in Manchester, New Hampshire, into a panic.

I have a vivid memory of crying to my poor mother that I owed the whole school $13, which seemed like a fortune at the time.

Not sure if I took out a lunch money loan or went on a payment plan to settle my debts, but I recouped my losses 12 years later, when I called in my first $100 wager to my college bookie on the 49ers to cover the 13-point spread against the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV on Jan. 28, 1990. If only they were all as easy as that 55-10 rout.

We’ve asked some of the city’s most respected handicappers and sports book directors to share their Super Bowl betting memories, and we’ll run them in the Review-Journal each day leading up to Super Bowl LI between the Falcons and Patriots.

Here’s one from Super Bowl XX (Bears-Patriots, Jan. 26, 1986) by former Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans, an ESPN Radio host who also works for Brent Musburger’s new Vegas Sports Information Network (VSIN):

“I always get asked, what’s your favorite NFL team? It’s the team I’m betting on, so it always changes. I grew up near Chicago but never was much of a Bears fan. That changed in 1985, when the Bears had great characters and were crushing opponents, finishing the season 15-1.

“As a high school freshman, I had just started betting football and basketball games through a bookie. It was all small stuff, mostly $20 bets. But that Super Bowl was my first $100 wager. That was about half of my net worth at the time. I was scared at the possibility of losing that much cash yet went ahead and called in Bears minus-10. When the game started, I turned off the lights in my bedroom and watched it on a small black-and-white TV. I was nervous as hell. Of course, the Bears ended up blowing out the Patriots 46-10. It was a great adrenaline rush.

“Young and naive, I figured betting NFL games was going to be pretty easy. I started to think that someday I could move to Las Vegas and make a living betting on football and basketball. Eventually, you learn the hard way that it’s not easy.”

Boyd Gaming sports book director Bob Scucci can relate. Before becoming a bookmaker, he lost a substantial wager on Super Bowl XXII (Redskins-Broncos, Jan. 31, 1988) that hastened his move to the other side of the betting window:

“I was a (22-year-old blackjack) dealer at the Barbary Coast. I just thought the Broncos were the best team I had ever seen up to that point, and I was so confident the Broncos were going to win that year. I bet a large amount and laid 2½ with the Broncos. They jumped out to a 10-0 lead and recovered a fumble, and it looked like they were going to go up 17-0. I thought I had a lock. But John Elway and the Broncos never scored again in a 42-10 loss. It devastated me.

“I still remember one play. It’s funny how a bad beat sticks out in your mind. Redskins quarterback Doug Williams went back to pass, and I had never seen this call before. He went down without being hit by the Broncos, and he broke his fall with the football. The ball squirted out, and the Broncos recovered at the 10-yard line. But the referees got together and said Williams gave himself up and therefore it wasn’t a fumble. For me, that was the turning point of the game. The Redskins kept the ball and scored 35 points in the second quarter.

“I got into the business a year later.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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