The History of Super Bowl Betting

Super Bowl Trophy With NFL Game Images

The Super Bowl has risen from humble beginnings to become the preeminent sporting event in the United States. And a large part of that popularity comes from the fact that people love to bet on the game either informally, at sportsbooks, or at real money gambling websites. We’re going to take a look back at it all with the history of Super Bowl betting through the years.

When the Super Bowl game began, most sports experts looked at it as a curiosity at best, a poor idea at worst. But that idea quickly caught the attention of the American public. Unlike in the other three major US sports (baseball, basketball and hockey), football’s ultimate champion would be decided by one game instead of a series.

And by combining the AFL and the NFL champions, it would be a winner-take-all scenario. Once the New York Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in the the third Super Bowl to solidify the standing of the AFL, there was no stopping the ascent of the game. After the two leagues merged in 1970, there would never again be a doubt as to who the ultimate champion in the sport would be, for the Super Bowl would decide it.

Namath Puts a Spotlight on the Betting Aspect of Super Bowls

Super Bowl III, which we mentioned above, was crucial for another reason in the history of the Super Bowl. Heading into the game, the Colts were made 18-point favorites by oddsmakers. But Jets’ quarterback Joe Namath brashly guaranteed a New York victory to the press.

NFL Quarterback Joe Namath

Namath indirectly put a spotlight on this point spread with his prediction. And when he went out and lived up to his word by leading the Jets to the victory, he produced the first upset in the history of the Super Bowl. Suddenly, betting terms were being used to describe the game.

Since then, it is impossible to talk about the Super Bowl without also talking about the favorite, underdog, over/under, prop bets, and so on. The advent of legal online sports gambling for real money has only intensified the betting interest in the game. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at the history of Super Bowl betting history.

Super Bowl Betting Firsts

We start this page on Super Bowl betting history with a look at the very first Super Bowl game.

The NFL’s Green Bay Packers took on the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. Most neutral observers felt that the NFL, which had been in existence for a much longer time than the AFL, represented a better brand of football. And the odds for that first game reflected it.

The Packers were made 14-point favorites heading into the action. And they left no doubt about it with a 35-10, covering the spread with relative ease. They would cover a 13 ½ point spread the following year against the Oakland Raiders to make it two in a row as the favorite.

First Over/Under

The over/under was a concept that took a bit longer to achieve popularity in sports betting circles, at least compared to the point spread. Hence, there is no recorded over/under for the game between the Packers and the Chiefs. With a 35-10 final, one guesses that it would have gone just over the set number.

A year later, the game between the Packers and the Raiders would end up a 33-14 final. There was an over/under line set on that contest at 42. The game went over, meaning that if you bet the Packers and the over in that January 1968 contest, you would have hit the parlay.

Records of Super Bowl Favorites and Underdogs

Over the course of 54 Super Bowls played to this point in history, favorites have covered the spread 28 times, compared to 23 underdogs. There have also been two games that ended in a push and one game that was a pick-em (more on them in a bit). But it’s been interesting to watch how the tide has turned in terms of favorites versus long shots over the years.

In the early years of the Super Bowl, favorites were pretty dominant. The biggest culprit was the 1970s. With the exception of the Dallas Cowboys covering as an underdog in Super Bowl X against the favorite Pittsburgh Steelers (who won the game), favorites covered every Super Bowl in a 10-year stretch covering 1971 to 1980 (Super Bowls V through XIV).

Super Bowl X Image

The favorites held onto that sizable edge in the covering department until the new millennium changed things. In a 15-year stretch from 2002 to 2016 (Super Bowls XXXVI through 50), the favorite covered just three times. In fact, the “dogs” actually narrowed the favorites’ advantage in covering to 25-22 by 2016, until favorites covered in three of the last four years to widen the gap again.

Underdogs Winning Outright

We mentioned the Jets upset as 18-point dogs in Super Bowl III over the Chiefs. To this day, they remain the biggest upset squad in Super Bowl history. They would be the first of 17 underdogs to win outright.

As far as other Super Bowl shockers, here is a list of the biggest underdogs ever to win in Super Bowl history:

  • Super Bowl III: New York Jets (+18) defeated Baltimore Colts, 16-7
  • Super Bowl XXXVI: New England Patriots (+14) defeated St. Louis Rams, 20-17
  • Super Bowl IV: Kansas City Chiefs (+12) defeated Minnesota Vikings, 23-7
  • Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants (+12) defeated New England Patriots, 17-14
  • Super Bowl XXXII: Denver Broncos (+11) defeated Green Bay Packers, 31-24

As far as an upset that went in the complete opposite direction from what the oddsmakers projected, consider Super Bowl XLVIII. The Denver Broncos, with their powerful Peyton Manning offense, were favored by 2 ½ points over the upstart Seattle Seahawks and their rugged defense. But the Seahawks dominated from pretty much the opening snap and won the game 43-8.

Over/Under Super Bowl Betting History

As we said earlier, Super Bowl over/under records don’t start until Super Bowl II. That means there have been 53 Super Bowls held with over/under lines. Incredibly, it’s about as close as it can be, with the over holding a 27-26 margin in terms of which side covers.

Interestingly enough, the under was the way to go in the early years of the game. After Super Bowl II went over, the next seven Super Bowls went under, reflecting the defensive nature of the sport at that time. As football has opened up through the years, the over has been coming in more often in Super Bowls, to the point where it now holds that slight edge.

Some interesting over/under tidbits in Super Bowl betting history:

  • The highest over/under line in Super Bowl history came two years ago in Super Bowl LII, with the high-powered offenses of the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams battling with a line of 57.5. Ironically, the game ended with the Patriots winning 13-3, which is the lowest point total of any Super Bowl game in history.
  • The lowest over/under lines in Super Bowl history came in three consecutive years: 1972-74 (Super Bowls VII, VIII and IX). Oddsmakers kept going lower with the lines to reflect the defensive powerhouses playing in those games. But it wasn’t low enough, as all three games went under.
  • There has never been a push in Super Bowl over/under history, even in years when the line was set at a whole number, making a push possible. There have been close calls, including three times when the total was just a half-point off the number. In addition, there were two years when the total was set at a whole number and the final score missed by just a point.

Odd Super Bowl Betting Occurrences

There have been two pushes in Super Bowl history, meaning that the point spread at the start of the game turned out to be dead-on. Those two games occurred within a four-year stretch. First, it was Super Bowl XXXI. The Green Bay Packers hit the number dead-on when, as a 14-point favorite, they defeated the New England Patriots 35-21.

Super Bowl XXXIV Image

The more memorable push came three years later in Super Bowl XXXIV. That’s when the Tennessee Titans came a yard short of tying the 7-point favorite St. Louis Rams, losing right on the number at 23-16. Had they scored that touchdown, the game would have gone into overtime, which would have made a Tennessee cover as the underdog a certainty.

There was also one game in Super Bowl history when the oddsmakers couldn’t come up with up a favorite. In Super Bowl XLIX, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots were sent off as a pick’em. The oddsmakers turned out to be right about the closeness of the game, as the contest was in doubt until the final seconds and the Patriots barely held on to a 28-24 victory.

Super Bowl Good/Bad Beats

Every gambler that enjoys betting on football probably has a horror story about how a wager they seemed destined to win was taken away from them in the final moments. On the flipside are those who can boast of incredible fortune in winning a bet. Here are some of the Super Bowl occasions when bets were won or lost thanks to an unlikely turn of events.

  • Super Bowl X: The Dallas Cowboys, trailing 21-10 as 7-point underdogs, drove for a score with under two minutes to play. This allowed them to cover and took the win away from Steelers fans who were probably counting their money. Dallas actually got the ball back in the closing moments as they tried for a score that would have won the game, but their last second heave was intercepted.
  • Super Bowl XII: Facing a three-score deficit and a hopeless 4th-and-23 yet within field goal range, the Denver Broncos decided instead to go for it with 3 ½ minutes in the game against the Dallas Cowboys. The incomplete pass thrown by backup quarterback Norris Weese had no impact on the outcome of the game. But the score stayed 27-10, whereas a field goal would have pushed the total over the line of 39 for the over/under.
  • Super Bowl XLIII: Most people watching the back-and-forth battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals were likely focused on who would win the game. Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes in the closing moments gave it to the Steelers by a score of 27-23. But it also quietly pushed the game from under to over as well, as the line was set at 46.
  • Super Bowl XLIX: We told you that this pick’em between Seattle and New England came down to the final moments. But it was how it ended that made it a good/bad beat, depending on who you had. Seattle seemed poised for the winning touchdown, but mystifyingly called for a pass at the goal line, a pass that New England intercepted to preserve the 28-24 victory.
  • Super Bowl LI: Those who bet on the Atlanta Falcons getting 3 points from the New England Patriots were probably feeling pretty confident as the Falcons roared to a 28-3 lead in the third quarter. Then, they probably watched in horror as Tom Brady and the Pats erased that lead and sent the game into overtime. To add insult to injury, New England scored a touchdown to win the game 34-28, denying Atlanta bettors of, at the very least, a consolation push.

Conclusion

We hope that you’ve enjoyed this look at Super Bowl betting history. Who knows what Super Bowl LV will have in store when it takes center stage in February? Probably the only thing we can be sure of is that bettors everywhere will be glued to the tube, waiting to see if their wagers turn out to be winning ones.

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