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Las Vegas influence? You decide

Bizarre end to Steelers game brings up age-old question

November 16, 2008

If after Sunday's Pittsburgh Steelers game you don't think that Las Vegas or bookies have influence on the outcome of national sporting events, you're watching with your eyes closed.

First off, before any Steelers fans get in a huff, Pittsburgh won the game fair and square. No debate there. A field goal by Jeff Reed put the Steelers up 11-10 with less than 10 seconds remaining in the contest.

After the ensuing kickoff, the San Diego Chargers had one last gasp attempt to try to win. Quarterback Phillip Rivers tossed a short pass over the middle, the Chargers tried twice to lateral the ball, and on the second attempt Steelers defensive back Troy Polamalu knocked a lateral down causing a fumble, picked it up and ran it into the end zone for a seemingly meaningless score, and a 17-10 win.

Meaningless to everyone except those that had money on the game. (And no, I didn't have money on anything Sunday).

According to a recent Associated Press story, "The National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimates that each year an average of $230 billion is illegally wagered on sports in the United States. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health concluded 4.2 million Americans are addicted to gambling, 60 percent of whom have yearly incomes under $25,000."

Needless to say, there was some money riding on the outcome of Sunday's game.

According to USA Today, at kickoff Pittsburgh came into the contest a five-point favorite.

For those that don't know what that means, if you were to place a bet through Las Vegas, a bookie or wherever, it basically spots the Chargers five points. So if you placed a bet on the Steelers, they would have to win by more than five points for you to win.

That last fumble return by Polamalu put the Steelers up by six.

According to the Associated Press, the call was overturned after review as officials determined one of the laterals was an illegal forward pass. The AP also reported that referee Scott Green said after the game that the officals said the touchdown should have counted.

Clearly, there were no forward passes. Green actually came onto the field, said there was an illegal forward pass, the penalty was declined, and then raised his arms to signal a touchdown for the Steelers. But then the score flashed 11-10. Commentator Phil Simms even questioned the call before the game went off the air saying he didn't see a forward pass.

And yet again, if there was and the play wasn't called dead, why wouldn't the penalty be declined and the Steelers awarded another score?

The Steelers and Chargers waited for around five minutes while the fiasco was being reviewed wondering what on earth it mattered? After all, one would assume no one playing in the game had any money on it -certainly not the coaches. And it didn't affect the outcome of the game whatsoever.

Just the score. And just the money swing among gamblers and Las Vegas.

USA Today posted the opening line of the game with the Steelers as three-point favorites. At kickoff it was five.

More gambling lingo here. When a line opens at three and moves up by kickoff, it's almost always an indication that more money is placed on the team that was initially favored by three. That would be the Steelers.

What other reason did they hold up the game? It didn't matter in the win-loss column. It only mattered as it pertained to the point spread. It mattered to Vegas and bookies who stood to lose a lot of money by a fluke touchdown in the final moments.

Some of you might be saying, who cares? And understandably if you don't bet on football.

But it's not the first time something this bizarre affected a point spread, or the outcome for that matter.

See "The Tuck Rule," where literally no one had a clue what that even was until it happened to Tom Brady and the Patriots went on to beat the Oakland Raiders and eventually win the Super Bowl.

See "Super Bowl XL," where a host of questionable calls seemingly put the Seattle Seahawks behind the eight ball early in the contest and led to a Pittsburgh win. Even Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren questioned the play calling in a post-game speech where he said he knew the Seahawks would have a tough enough time playing the Steelers, but didn't know they would have to play against the officials as well.

I'm not saying sports are fixed. But every so often something clearly weird happens that affects the outcome of either the game or the point spread. It can't help but make you wonder.

E-mail B.J. Lisko at



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