NEW YORK — The Chicago Bears were such big favorites over the New England Patriots in the 1986 Super Bowl that bettors were reluctant to put their money on either team.
But many of them couldn't wait to place a few bucks on the chance Bears coach Mike Ditka might give William "The Refrigerator" Perry the ball on short yardage and let him try to score a touchdown.
Ditka did just that, and Perry made the move pay off. The defensive lineman scored a touchdown in the third quarter of a 46-10 blowout, and bettors who got up to 40-1 odds on the proposition bet scored along with him.
"That was the prop that put everybody on the map," Jimmy Vaccaro said. "We lost $40,000 on one bet and the guy across the street blew so much he wanted to go upstairs and jump off the roof."
Linemen still score touchdowns only rarely. But betting on the so-called "props" put up by Las Vegas sports books has become big.
At Vaccaro's South Point hotel sports book, gamblers can bet on some 300 different proposition bets, from who will win the opening coin toss to the 1,000-1 odds on either the Denver Broncos or Seattle Seahawks scoring a touchdown in the big game.
Find an offshore book to wager with, and the props become even more exotic. At the Bovada website, bettors can wager on things as diverse as how many times Peyton Manning will say "Omaha" during the game (over/under 271/2) to how long it will take Renee Fleming to sing the national anthem (2:25 is the book's guess).
"It's a higher number than we've offered in the past," said Bovada oddsmaker Pat Morrow. "But after seeing some of her performances we figured as an opera singer she would have a higher tendency of drawing out a note. We had to watch a lot of YouTube to make that line."
Prop bets have become a major part of Super Bowl wagering in recent years, making up some 30 to 40 percent of all betting. They may be even bigger this year as casual gamblers look for something to keep their interest in the game other than the 21/2-point spread currently favoring the Broncos.
Last year, a record $98.9 million was bet legally on the game in Nevada, with untold millions more with illegal bookies and sports books that operate outside the U.S.
At the LVH sports book, bettors can bet on which coach will use the challenge flag first (11-10 odds on both Pete Carroll and John Fox) to most yards receiving between Doug Baldwin and Wes Welker (minus 15.5 yards for Welker).
The bets that reach across two sports are always popular, with the number of points scored Sunday by Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant (plus 7.5) up against Manning's total pass attempts. Another offers birdies made by Tiger Woods in the fourth round of the Dubai Desert Classic (plus 0.5) against the number of receptions for Denver's Demaryius Thomas.
Vaccaro said betting across sports became popular after some books posted a line in 1996 on the amount of points Michael Jordan would score against the Phoenix Suns against the points scored by the Dallas Cowboys later that day against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jordan dropped 31 on the Suns, while the Cowboys won 27-17, and a lot of bettors cashed tickets.
"We actually wrote well over $100,000 on that prop," Vaccaro said. "All I know is I lost $25,000 on one bet."