Fullback James Develin has 20-1 odds of becoming the first Ivy League player to score a touchdown in Super Bowl history. Television announcers talking about whether the New England Patriots used deflated footballs also could win money for bettors.
Develin scored his first touchdown of the season in the Patriots’ 45-7 victory against the Indianapolis Colts Jan. 18 in the American Football Conference championship, a game that spurred the National Football League’s “Deflategate” scandal.
While it was just the second touchdown of Develin’s four- year NFL career, him scoring is among hundreds of proposition bets available for the Feb. 1 Super Bowl between the Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. The popularity of prop bets has been a boon for sportsbooks in Nevada and online, often accounting for more than half of their Super Bowl wagers. Last year, the Super Bowl drew a record $119.4 million in bets.
“As the prop bets get to be a bigger and bigger percentage of the handle, the odds of Vegas losing, even under the worst of circumstances, goes down,” said RJ Bell, the founder of handicapping information website Pregame.com. “It’d almost be impossible for the books to lose them in aggregate.”
Over the past 24 years, Nevada sportsbooks have lost money on the Super Bowl twice. The most recent time was in 2008, when the game also was held in Glendale, Arizona, and the New York Giants upset the previously unbeaten Patriots 17-14. In 2014, the game generated a $19.7 million profit for sports books.
A significant portion of that was from prop bets, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook offers odds on more than 400 scenarios this year. Among them are the game’s longest touchdown (over/under of 44 1/2 yards), whether three or more players will have passing attempts and if the final-round score posted by Tiger Woods at golf’s Phoenix Open on Super Bowl Sunday will be higher or lower than the total receiving yards of the Patriots’ Julian Edelman.
At Bovada.lv, bettors can target props that aren’t decided on the field, including whether the Dow Jones Industrial Average will be up or down on the day after the Super Bowl. Other props at the online sports book are how long it will take Idina Menzel to sing the national anthem (an over/under of 2 minutes, 1 second), who will be voted the Most Valuable Player and how many times “deflated balls” will be referred to during the NBC telecast (over/under of 2 1/2).
In the Deflategate controversy, which has dominated news coverage of the game, the NFL is investigating whether 11 of the 12 balls the Patriots supplied for its offense to use in the AFC Championship Game were improperly inflated. The Patriots conducted their own investigation, which failed to turn up a reason for the flat footballs.
“I’m embarrassed to talk about the amount of time that I put into this relative to the other important challenge in front of us,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
One of the more popular Super Bowl prop bets every year is whether there will be a safety, with gamblers who wagered on “yes” winning the past three years. It was the first scoring play last year, as the Denver Broncos snapped a ball over Peyton Manning’s head 12 seconds into the game.
The odds of a safety being the first score this year, by either team, are 33-1 at Bovada.
The odds that Develin, 26, will score this year’s first Super Bowl touchdown are 50-1, which means a winning $10 bet would return $500. The odds of him becoming the first Ivy Leaguer to score a touchdown at any time in the Super Bowl are 20-1 at Bovada. Develin, who played at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, had three rushes and six catches during the regular season before his touchdown reception in the AFC title game.
“It’s nice, but I know my role on this team and I’m very happy just to go in there and do the dirty work,” Develin said. “That’s my role on this team and I love doing it.”
Develin isn’t the only Ivy League alum playing in the Super Bowl, as Seattle Seahawks receiver Bryan Walters is back for the second straight year. Walters, who played at Cornell University, had six receptions for the defending Super Bowl champions this season and returned 27 punts. His odds of scoring a touchdown at any time in the game are 20-1.
The only other time a Super Bowl has included opposing skill-position players from Ivy League colleges was in 1983, when Princeton’s Bob Holly was the backup to Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann and Yale’s Rich Diana saw time on special teams and running back for the Miami Dolphins.
Not surprisingly, Develin and Walters are among the longshot prop bets at this year’s Super Bowl. By comparison, a bettor would have to wager $130 to win $100 that Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski scores a touchdown.
“I know as a fullback, they don’t call my number too much,” said Develin, whose two NFL scores have come from the 1- yard line. “But if I’m that close to the end zone and I don’t get in, the ball is not going to come my way very often.”
–With assistance from Mason Levinson in New York.
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