It was 1986 and “Cheers” was everyone’s favorite TV show.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what happened 30 years ago, the year Boston sports fans were forced to suffer through one of the most exciting — and most depressing — years ever.
In October of ’86, the Boston Red Sox won the American League pennant. Unfortunately, any joy experienced from that feat was sucked out by a trio of Clemens-Schiraldi-and-Stanley and a rolling ground ball off the bat of New York Mets’ outfielder Mookie Wilson that trickled through the legs of a certain first baseman in Game 6 of the World Series.
I was nine years old, and I remember it like it happened yesterday. You probably do, too.
Bill Buckner’s inability to field his position only added salt to the wounds of all of us who were already feeling the sting of embarrassment following what the Chicago Bears did to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX earlier that year.
The final score was 46-10, but it FELT like 460-10.
I’ve lived all over the country in my 20-year radio career and have met proud Boston sports fans at every stop. Most love to sit around and talk about the last 17 years like we all have a pet unicorn living in our backyards. We can’t believe that while our childhoods were full of sports heartache, as adults, all we’ve seen is winning.
Since 2000, the Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics and Patriots have combined for nine championships. Since 2004, every major Boston sports team has reached the championship round at least two times.
It’s a ridiculous amount of success.
In January, Yahoo! Sports Radio moved my family and me to Las Vegas where I host a national sports talk show from the No. 1 sports bar in America – Lagasse’s Stadium. I work a few feet from a sports book window and every night I get to see the lines of nearly every major game before it goes off.
With Boston being such a passionate sports city, I started to wonder if the lines being set in Las Vegas were being done differently now than they were prior to 2000. Has winning changed Boston sports when it comes to gambling?
To help me answer those questions, I elicited the help of a native New Englander who just happens to be the COO of one of the biggest gaming companies in Las Vegas.
Matthew Holt was born and raised in Nashua, N.H. and is currently the VP of business development for CG Technology, a company that sets lines daily for major sporting events worldwide. CG Technology is also one of the leaders in mobile sports betting in Las Vegas.
I met Holt at his company’s headquarters in a non-descript building just a few blocks off the Vegas strip.
In his office, Holt has several pieces of Boston sports memorabilia and it’s clear that his New England roots are still important to him. However, he also has a frame filled with autographed pictures signed by the stars of the 1986 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears.
After I pointed it out as a source of childhood pain, Holt kindly informed me that a former employee had put that up and he just hadn’t taken it down yet.
With that out of the way, I got right to the point in the interview. I wanted to know if all the winning has changed the way CG Technology handicaps games involving Boston sports teams.
“In 2001, prior to the Patriots winning that Super Bowl, that year, they went 0 and 2 to start the season and Drew Bledsoe gets hurt,” Holt said. “At that exact moment when Drew Bledsoe got hurt, you could have bet on the Patriots at 100-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. 100-to-1! In fact, the Patriots are the last triple digit team to ever win a Super Bowl.”
Remembering that fact was pretty wild because we’ve seen so much winning from New England, I think we brush past just how badly Vegas missed on the Patriots rise to dominance.
“They were 0-and-2 that year and Drew Bledsoe getting hurt and they were going on the road to the play Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning,” Holt said. “They were a two touchdown underdog. They were bringing in a quarterback named Tom Brady that nobody had ever heard of and it looked like 0-and-3 was a guarantee. Instead, they win that game and they go on to win the Super Bowl.”
Ok, we all know the story of Tom Brady. However, I wanted to know if there was a different gambling approach in Vegas towards Boston sports teams now. Does CG Technology see more action on New England sports?
“Boston is one of those cities that is similar to [Chicago with] the Cubs,” Holt said. “Prior to last year when the Cubs made the playoffs, we would take unbelievable amounts of action on the Cubs to win the World Series every year, the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup because Chicago is such a great sports town.
“With the Red Sox, look at this team, this is a team that finished last place and while they added David Price, who is not an ace, and yet they are the overwhelming favorite to win the American League East. That just goes to show you how times have changed and what winning does for a city that is already known as a great sports city.”
Holt went on to explain that the Patriots’ success over the last 17 years has created an environment where the public feels so confident in their ability to cover the spread, that Vegas has to adjust how they predict the outcome.
The Patriots aren’t the first team that gets a special Vegas sports book adjustment because of a diehard fanbase.
“Anytime we make a Cowboys line, we always shade it a point extra towards Dallas because they are the most popular betting team in the United States,” Holt said. “In Nevada, the Cowboys are the most heavily bet team. So we understand that if our true math says Dallas should be -2 this week vs. the Giants, we are going to make Dallas -4.”
That’s an unbelievable stat when you stop to think about it.
The Cowboys are bet on so heavily, that Vegas has to anticipate the public moving the line by 1 or 2 points before the game is even released. The amount of money bet needed to do that is gigantic.
And the Patriots are right there with them.
“I think the Patriots have become on equal footing with Dallas,” Holt said. “We know Brady is suspended for four games this year. At 38 years old, he is the elder statesman now of quarterbacks in the NFL. Their defense isn’t exactly the greatest stop unit in football. Yet, they are the overwhelming favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and have been for seven consecutive seasons now, going into the start of the season, each and every year.”
The championships won over the last 17 years matter to the fans of New England. Yet, winning and covering the spread matters to the gamblers of Las Vegas. Forcing Vegas to anticipate enormous amounts of money being played on Boston winning puts a lot of pressure on companies like CGT to anticipate the behavior of the public.
“That’s what winning does to a great sports city,” Holt said.
It’s situation that I don’t think many of us from New England ever thought we would contemplate in our lifetime.