Betting on the Super Bowl Coin Toss


2017-02-06 – I rarely watch the Super Bowl. For one thing, we don’t have a screen dedicated to watching such things (i.e., we don’t have a TV). But mainly, I’m not a football fan and the Super Bowl always seems to be an intrusion on a time that I generally prefer to spend relaxing and doing Sunday crossword puzzles.

This year was different.

My son brought out his laptop and asked if I wanted to watch. I thought it would be nice to do something with him (well, not actually do something, sit on the couch). So I said, “Sure.” We joined the game already in progress, somewhere around the beginning of the second quarter. After a brief flurry of activity, my son said “wouldn’t be funny if the Patriots ended up winning by 1?” I said it would be funnier if they caught up but didn’t quite win. We shoulda bet the spread at the point.

But we didn’t.

Earlier in the day, as I was driving to my writing class, I happened to catch a bit of a Freakonomics show that was giving advice on how to watch the Super Bowl. Panelists were a mix of economists and NFL players who dabble in math and econ on the side. The advice was divided into two types: advice for people who are already fans and advice for novices.

The number one piece of advice for fans and novices was: watch the ads. One of the economists mentioned that no one knows whether the advertisers get a positive return on the $5 million spent for a 30-second spot, but it’s the thing to do. So, lesson one about watching the Super Bowl was that you should pay attention to the ads. Presumably, they are a unique form of art. I am no more likely to buy a Budweiser or an Alfa Romeo today than I was before the game.

The second piece of advice for novices was to follow the ball. I suppose that’s good advice, but I believe that my central nervous system would have told me that. The ball is the focus of the camera throughout the game (at least during the action portions of the game). It’s sorta like what happens when you flash a laser pointer on the ground in front of your pet. They follow it.

The second piece of advice for experience viewers was: don’t follow the ball. They suggested picking a position or two to follow instead. This is supposed to give you deeper insight into the game. I like deep insight, but being a novice (i.e, equivalent to a pet), I followed the ball.

One of the NFL players offered a spirited defense of football as a sport, presumably in response to a statement once made by the political commentator and baseball aficionado George Will (though not mentioned explicitly): “Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.”

They player said that, although the action frequently stops, the extreme althleticism that occurs in 7- or 8- second spurts between the stops is so wonderful that it makes it all worth it. Sorta like the extreme athleticism that occurs when we at home jump up from the couch and run to the kitchen for a refill of snacks between the end of a play and the start of a commercial.

Then there was the half-time show, during which all the dancers from the east and west coasts converged on Houston in an attempt to hide, with literal smoke and mirrors, the magnificent talent of Lady Gaga.

Now, I’ve been saying that I am a novice football watcher. This is not exactly true. When I was a kid, we used to play touch football in the street. My position was offensive jokester. It was my job to put the opposing team off guard because of my stupid jokes and then, at the snap, to go long. That’s all I did: tell jokes and go long. They never passed the ball to me, but I was always down field in case they did.

One thing I do remember from that experience was that both teams were permitted to score in both halfs. When did they change the rule to require one team to score in the first half and the other to score in the second?

* * *

Oh, I forgot to mention the third piece of advice for novices. Bet. They advised going to some online betting sites—not to place your bets there, but to find out things you could bet on in the game. They advised compiling a list of about 50 things to bet on in the game and bet on them with your friends (or enemies).

When they said “50 things,” I immediately began to wonder, “how could there be 50 things in one game that you could bet on?” That reaction, apparently, marks me as a novice. They began to list some, but they mostly required me to watch more than the ball. But there was one bet that drew my attention: the outcome of the coin toss.

So let me get this straight. You want me to bet on a televised coin toss? Next year, I’m going back to crossword puzzles.

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