Aside from the acrobatics of the catch, aside from the counterintuitive play call, aside from how ... aesthetic it looked in those gray helmets and neon socks, it was the Vegas action that made Oregon's 4th-quarter two-point conversion in last night's BCS National Championship game interesting—to some people at least.
With a bold pass that tied the game in its final minutes, Oregon QB Darron Thomas entered another play into the alternate, monetarily significant history of big games maintained only in the heads of gamblers. Here's a shaky video of the conversion:
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No, the Oregon Ducks didn't win the national title. No, they didn't even cover the spread.
What they did, however, was serve up one of the game's most exciting plays ... to the distinct pleasure, ironically, of anyone who bet on Auburn.
Oregon fans jumped up and cheered. So did gamblers who had taken Vegas's 2.5-point spread favoring the Tigers.
With two and a half minutes left in the game, the Ducks held the ball just a few yards away from the Auburn end zone, trailing 19-11. They managed to score a touchdown on a daring shovel pass, bringing the game to 19-17 ... and overtaking the 2.5-point spread.
Any gambler who bet on Auburn—aside from the hopeful Auburn fans who threw down money out of faith—was crestfallen. Unless the Ducks could tie the game on an unlikely two-point attempt, Auburn would have no reason to score any more points. Auburn would win by two, failing to cover the Vegas line.
Auburn would win, but the gamblers would lose. This was very dramatic for anyone with serious money riding on the game.
But in a moment of bold play-calling and passing-game prowess, Thomas rolled to his right and, against all conventional wisdom surrounding the forward pass, threw the ball back across his body, across the field, over the defense ... and into the hands of Jeff Maehl, the Ducks' go-to receiver all night.
As most viewers probably suspected it would, Auburn scored and won when it got the ball back. With a field goal as time expired, Auburn won by three, a half-point better than the spread.
A great moment in sports-gambling history was born.
For a handful of select individuals, this two-pointer was particularly huge. While Vegas casinos landed on a 2.5-point spread before kickoff (and I'm guessing most gamblers entered their bets with this spread in place), offshore casinos give more widely varying lines. As it so happens, two prominent online gambling sites gave spreads of Auburn +1 and Auburn +3. If anyone out there looked for value in this divergence, betting Auburn -1 on one site and Oregon +3 on the other ... well, Oregon's two-point play was pretty big—but in a bad way. A two-point Auburn win would have meant double payoff.
The TV networks, ESPN included, don't like to talk about the Vegas lines. Nobody mentions them on NCAA or NFL pregame shows. Which is a shame, as gutsy, spread-covering moments unjustly go ignored every week. The heroism of losing by 7 instead of 10, tragically, is lost.
If you've ever watched an NFL game in a bar and heard a rapt viewer groan, "Awwwwww!" as the losing team makes an inconsequential field goal in the final seconds, he is likely a degenerate gambler who had taken the spread. Those are the people who will remember this two-point conversion. Possibly even more than these guys.
So thank you, to Oregon Head Coach Chip Kelly—for your imaginative play-calling and daring offensive scheme. And thank you to Darron Thomas and Jeff Maehl—for your grit and execution with the game on the line. From all the Auburn gamblers out there. We won't forget it.
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