Despite the obvious novelty value of the NFL staging its first Super Bowl in Las Vegas, CBS is unlikely to subject its 110 million-ish viewers to a whole lot of loose talk about gambling during Sunday’s broadcast. Even if Tony Romo is in the grips of one of his signature free-association fugues, the emphasis of the final football production of the Sean McManus era will be squarely on the game itself, rather than the game within the game. That said, there are roughly 23 billion reasons why many of us who’ll be tuned into the Big Game might welcome the odd aside about the spread, the over/under or the likelihood of Joe Biden taking a big healthy whiff of Taylor Swift’s hair.
According to the American Gaming Association, some 67.8 million Americans will place a bet on Sunday’s 49ers-Chiefs showdown, laying down a projected $23.1 billion on Super Bowl LVIII. A healthy chunk of those dollars will land on prop bets, bookie argot for the hundreds of novelty wagers that may be placed on highly specific and often trivial outcomes. While many of these props still center around the particulars of the broadcast—in the matter of who will utter the pop star’s name first, Jim Nantz is listed at +110, while his partner is at -150—the sure-thing wagers of yesteryear seem to have fallen by the wayside.
In the run-up to Nantz and Romo’s first tandem Super Bowl effort in 2019, the online sportsbook BetDSI was taking action on the content of the in-game commercials, a strategy that presented anyone with a friend at one of the big New York media agencies a shot at taking full advantage of a bunch of predetermined outcomes. For example, if you had an internet connection and an old college buddy at Wieden+Kennedy, you could have made a killing on the prop about whether the Bud Light ads that aired during the broadcast would feature the then-ubiquitous slogan “Dilly Dilly.” (If you don’t recall that extensive medieval-facing campaign, which ran from 2017-2019, fear not; once ads are pulled from circulation, the half-life of even the most inescapable commercial tag can be measured in Planck time.)
If Nantz and Romo’s first Super Sunday collaboration has been remanded to a sort of cultural memory hole, the easy money flying around during the early post-PASPA epoch is hard to forget. (Reflecting earlier this week on the Patriots’ 13-3 win over the Rams, a soporific exchange of punts that may as well have been sponsored by Ambien, Nantz sighed, “I don’t think anyone actually remembers Super Bowl LIII, except for us.”) The same year CBS got saddled with that snoozer, wagering shops invited bettors to guess how many dogs would pop up during the ad breaks—a prop which amounted to a Danny Ocean-grade score for anyone who’d paid even the slightest attention to the spots that had been released in advance of the game.
The over/under was set at five-and-a-half canines. In the entirely unlikely event that marketers had trotted out five-and-a-half dogs over the course of the broadcast—as in five intact dogs and another unfortunate pup who for some reason had been neatly sliced in half, either straight down the middle at around the T13 vertebra or in some sort of grisly cross section—that would have been a push. No winners or losers there. But since no fewer than six dogs could be seen romping around across the load of in-game ads that hit YouTube well before the opening kickoff, the smart money was on the over. If you were even peripherally associated with the ad industry, you threw as much money on that partial-puppy prop as the books would take.
If the stateside shops have wised up to the commercial grift, there are still a few offshore books willing to roll the dice on the sanctity of Madison Avenue’s nondisclosure agreements. At this point, even the guy who works the sandwich cart at the agency that developed Uber’s Super Bowl ad knows which of the Beckhams will appear in the brand’s starry-eyed spot first, and since the running order of the commercials is now more or less locked in, there are plenty of media buyers and network staffers out there who can tell you if the Bud ad will air before the Ted Lasso-themed Michelob Ultra spot. Since he’s set to appear in the latter, anyone who has Dan Marino’s phone number may want to send him an exploratory text. While you’re at it, needle him about that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective cameo.
If Super Bowl props are a tacit acknowledgment that we won’t be seeing any real football again for another seven months—in the face of such an extended absence, it’s perhaps best to go out in a blaze of Valentine’s Day-blowing glory—they also provide a glimpse of the American psyche as seen through a cracked funhouse mirror. Of all the ecstatically stupid props on the board at the you’ll-need-a-VPN book Bovada, perhaps the most tempting is the +100000 bet that asks you to imagine Taylor Swift kissing George Kittle after the Niners steal a victory from her Chiefs. Should Travis Kelce’s special friend pull the ultimate heel turn, the Internet will implode and Death will stalk the land astride a Clydesdale, but you’ll also make enough money to buy your very own draught horse. (That’s if they honor your bet, which, um, caveat emptor and good luck with all that.)
Even more tempting is Bovada’s “Taylor Sniffed” prop, a multifactor bet that presents an alternative reality in which: a) the Chiefs win, and b) Taylor and Travis go to the White House, where they enthusiastically endorse Biden, who c) seizes on the confluence of fate and good vibes to give Taylor’s ‘do a good long snuffle. As unsettling as that may be to legions of Swifties and pretty much anyone else with a functioning cerebral cortex, just think of the songs we’d get out of that one.