Vegas bookmakers look back at Bears' Super Bowl XX run -- and the prop that changed sports betting
Vegas bookmakers look back at Bears' Super Bowl XX run -- and the prop that changed sports betting
For long-suffering Bears fans who thought this might be the year, we thought we’d look back at the last time the Windy City hoisted the Lombardi Trophy -- from a betting perspective, of course.
For long-suffering Chicago Bears fans who thought this might be the year – *[damn you, Cody Parkey](https://www.betchicago.com/cody-parkey-bears-eagles-missed-kicks-playoffs)* – we thought we’d take a look back, from a betting perspective of course, at the last time the Windy City hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. In 1985, the Bears were the toast of the town. Michael Jordan was just a Baby Bull, only a glint in Phil Jackson’s eye. The Cubs were still the Cubs. The White Sox wouldn’t win a World Series for another two decades. The Blackhawks were good, losing in the conference finals that season, but 25 years away from their run of three Stanley Cup titles in six years. Meanwhile, the Bears romped through the '85 season, ripping off 12-straight wins before losing to the Dan Marino-led Dolphins on a Monday night, 38-24. That would be their only setback, as they rolled to the Super Bowl title and solidified their place as one of the best teams in pro football history. They treated bettors well, too, at least those willing to lay the points that continued to inflate as they piled up wins. But in Las Vegas, there weren't enough of those bettors to make a dent in sportsbooks' coffers. Long-time Las Vegas bookmaker [Jimmy Vaccaro](https://twitter.com/JimmyVaccaro) says the Bears' 15-3-1 record against the spread did not result in major losses at the book he ran at the time, the bet shop in the original MGM, which later became Bally's. "The general public wasn't going crazy (betting weekly NFL games)," Vaccaro told BetChicago this week. "Nah, it wasn't like booking when (Peyton) Manning won every game, when (Tom) Brady won every game. It was a little different back then. I would have remembered if it was a bad season concerning a team like that." Vegas books lasting through the Bears' season unscathed can largely be explained by the fact that sharp bettors accounted for a larger percentage of the betting handle than they do now, when casual bettors line up to fire on the favorites. Sharps aren't usually anxious to lay a lot of chalk - and sometimes that works to the benefit of the books. In other words, in '85, wiseguys were betting against the Bears, while the public was laying the points. “We always had the comeback from the other side," said Vic Salerno, a legendary Las Vegas bookmaker who ran Leroy’s Horse and Sports Place for more than 30 years. "I don’t remember it being a really bad year for the books. You have a guy betting $30,000 and losing, that makes up for a lot of the public’s winning $30 bets. ... "Wiseguys were going against the public, but the public was always on the Bears.” __PLAY:__ [Enter our $10,000 Super Bowl 53 props contest](https://betchicago.chalkline.com/games/10k-big-game-blitz) ## Super Bowl XX Chicago opened the '85 season with 10/1 odds to win the Super Bowl, [according to](http://www.sportsoddshistory.com/nfl-main/?.y=1985&sa=nfl&a=sb&o=r) SportsOddsHistory.com. The 49ers opened as the 3/1 favorites, and the Raiders (8/1), Dolphins (8/1) and Seahawks (9/1) also had shorter odds than the Bears. By the time the Bears brought their 15-1 record and all-time great defense into the playoffs, the futures market had caught up -- Chicago was even-money to win the Super Bowl as it began its postseason campaign. But they kept covering massive point spreads. For their divisional round game against the Giants at Soldier Field, the Bears closed as 9-point favorite; they won 21-0. In the NFC Championship Game against the Rams, they were 10.5-point chalk; they won 24-0. The Bears were becoming the stuff of legends. It'd be one thing if they were just winning. They weren't just winning. How often do you see two-consecutive shutouts in the playoffs? Is it any surprise, then, that the Bears were favored by a preposterous 10 points in Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots? The Patriots had to upset Marino's Dolphins to get there. While the teams split their regular-season meetings, Miami was a 5.5-point home favorite in the AFC Championship Game. With one of the best offenses in football and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, the Dolphins were expected to give Marino another shot at a title. Instead, Tony Eason threw for three touchdowns that Sunday in Miami, despite throwing for just 72 yards, and the Patriots intercepted Marino twice in a 31-14 win. “It would’ve been much better with someone like a Marino,” Salerno said of the Super Bowl XX matchup. “Eason, I’m not even sure he should’ve started the game (he went 0-for-6, was sacked three times and fumbled for a loss before being replaced by Steve Grogan). That reflected in (Chicago) being a 10-point favorite. The public was in love with the Bears.” With such an overwhelming mismatch, the line was set drastically in Chicago’s favor. Didn’t matter much: The Bears [dominated 46-10](https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198601260chi.htm) in one of the most lopsided title games in football history. Thanks to sharp money, it was a good result for the books. “The smart guys were all over the Patriots,” said Vaccaro, who recently relocated from Vegas to Pennsylvania, where he'll run the sportsbook at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, near his hometown of Trafford. “A lot of people didn’t like laying that big of a price. Like of a lot of events, (wise)guys like getting the big number. It surely covered up the public.” It also covered up a loss the books took on a wagering option that changed the course of sports betting history. __MORE:__ [Our favorite cross-sport props](https://www.betchicago.com/super-bowl-53-cross-sport-prop-bets) | [Gronk among 5 strong MVP longshots](https://www.betchicago.com/rob-gronkowski-super-bowl-mvp-bets-patriots-rams) ## The Fridge prop At the time, prop betting wasn’t nearly the billion-dollar industry it is today, and Super Bowl XX will always be known as the event that set the stage for years to come with one wacky offering. Back in Week 6 that season, during Chicago's 26-10 win as 4-point road underdogs [in San Francisco](https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/198510130sfo.htm), Bears fans got their first glimpse of a grinning chubby defensive lineman nicknamed The Fridge in the offensive backfield. William Perry had a pair of carries that day for four yards, a sign of things to come. The move to insert Perry in the backfield was [payback](https://beargoggleson.com/2010/10/13/85-bears-flashback-bears-get-revenge-with-26-10-win-over-49ers/) from Ditka to San Francisco coach Bill Walsh, who used offensive lineman Guy McIntyre as a blocking back during the previous season's NFC Championship Game, a 23-0 49ers win over the Bears. But Ditka extended the strategy, and the next week, in a 23-7 win over Green Bay, Fridge took a a handoff from Jim McMahon and plunged one yard into the end zone. He scored again in a 36-0 blowout of Atlanta in Week 12. According to Vaccaro, the Fridge phenomenon gave his friend and fellow bookmaker Art Manteris at Caesar’s Palace an idea to add some spice to the Super Bowl betting platter -- offer customers the opportunity to wager on whether Perry would score in the Super Bowl. And up went the prop. Other books followed suit, including Vaccaro at the MGM and Salerno at Leroy's. Vaccaro remembers it well -- he said he's "99 percent sure" he opened Perry at 60/1 odds to score a touchdown and he's "120 percent sure" he was bet all the way down to 8/1. The means there was a lot of money on the outcome happening. To the delight of his props backers and the chagrin of Walter Payton (and many Bears fans), Perry scored from 1-yard out late in the third quarter to put the Bears up 45-3. Sportsbooks were dinged by coach Mike Ditka's decision to give the ball to the Fridge. "Not that we were taking huge bets, but I know we lost $46,000 on the prop," Vaccaro said. "I got it stuck in my behind pretty good like Art and Jerry (Ludt at the Barbary Coast) did also. I believe Arthur lost more, I think he took the prize that day. He was at Caesars, so he had a bigger clientele, so I'm sure he got whacked around pretty good." Despite taking the loss on the Fridge prop, "we did good on the game," Vaccaro said, noting props accounted for only “five or seven” percent of the Super Bowl XX handle at his book. But the bigger story, from history's perspective, was the prop ushering in a whole new world of sports betting. Within days of the prop’s posting, Chicago-area newspapers and radio stations flooded Las Vegas bookmakers with questions. “When the Associated Press and the big papers found about it, every time a big event came up, newspapers called to see if we were doing anything, whether you were or weren’t,” Vaccaro said. “It started to get bigger and bigger. Once you start feeding this beast you’ve got to keep going. It’s one of the reasons everyone in Las Vegas got creative.” “We really didn’t know what they’d discovered or started then,” said Salerno. “As you can tell today, there are 100 pages of props, everything imaginable.” Rumors, including those [purported by McMahon](https://chicago.suntimes.com/sports/examining-jim-mcmahons-claim-that-mike-ditka-bet-on-william-perry-super-bowl-td/), have persisted that Ditka bet on the Fridge to score. “I think we’d know by now if Ditka placed a wager,” said Salerno, who as president of [U.S Bookmaking](https://twitter.com/USBookmaking) will run BetChicagos' future sportsbook. “They certainly weren’t taking large bets on props at the time.” Years later, Salerno was introduced to the other side of the Fridge controversy: Payton himself. Salerno and a partner of his were in the midst of introducing a sports-themed casino and hotel near the Tropicana, a former Howard Johnson’s. They wanted Payton to represent the brand. “I thought (my partner) was kidding, but he brought Walter over to my house. He was a gentleman, really a nice guy. One of the nicest people, really a regular guy,” Salerno said of Sweetness. “Not pretentious at all. We wanted to use Walter as the spokesman and face of casino. "We said, 'What do you want to do this?’" Payton's ask wasn't a small one. "‘Well, number 34 has always been good to me,’" Salerno recalls Payton saying. "He wanted 34 percent of the gross. Thirty-four was his number. That was a little bit too much. I would have rather had his deal than mine." __MORE:__ [Selling the Bears in 2020](https://www.betchicago.com/bears-chargers-nfl-odds-2020-super-bowl-buy-sell)2019-01-31T16:26:43.607Z2019-01-31T11:26-05:00