The Super Bowl Prop That Changed Las Vegas Sportsbooks Forever
LAS VEGAS — Chuck Esposito was just a few years into his bookmaking career, setting up shop at Caesars Race and Sportsbook. During his prep for Super Bowl XX between the Bears versus Patriots in January 1986, he stumbled upon a goldmine — the William Perry Super Bowl prop.
In turn, Esposito and Chicago’s defensive tackle became a part of Super Bowl betting history. Perry’s signature prop ignited a firestorm of betting markets now offered for the big game.
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What Was the William Perry Super Bowl Prop?
Esposito, the now-race and sportsbook director at the Red Rock Casino, opened Perry, nicknamed the “Refrigerator,” stationed at 6-foot-2 and 335 pounds, at +2500 to score a touchdown at Caesars. There were other Super Bowl player props available before this one, but it was the William Perry Super Bowl prop that broke handle records for the Super Bowl.
“William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry was becoming somewhat of a household name and almost a folk hero throughout the season,” Esposito told TheLines, referring to Perry’s regular-season usage near the goal line. “It was kind of just Mike Ditka taking a page out of Bill Walsh’s book. The season before, Walsh had (49ers offensive lineman) Guy McIntyre in the backfield for a run against the Bears late in the game.”
The Bears experimented with Perry against San Francisco before repeating their ingenious play call on Monday Night Football against the Packers. Fridge scored — twice.
“I think from that point on, it kind of snowballed,” Esposito said.
America’s Love-Hate Relationship With The ’85 Bears
“The Bears were one of the most polarizing Super Bowl teams ever. I mean, this team cut ‘The Super Bowl Shuffle’ late in the season,” Esposito said.
Mike Ditka. Buddy Ryan. Walter Payton. Jim McMahon. Magazine covers. Newspapers. TV. The team transcended sports and entered pop culture.
“So when it came time for the Super Bowl, we started thinking about ways to be more creative with our props and put something up to make a splash,” Esposito said. “Me being from Chicago and being a huge Bears fan, I didn’t expect that he actually would score.
“In a game of this magnitude, would Ditka consider putting him in the backfield? Then, would the Bears ever be at the one-yard line?”
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Betting Interest Explodes
Bettors loved the prop. It took so much action from, sharp and public bettors alike, the odds plummeted from +2500 at open to +200 before Super Bowl 20 kicked off.
“Veteran guys in the book kept betting it,” Esposito explained. “The odds kept getting lower and lower while the liability kept growing. I was trying to assure my book, ‘Nah, he’s not going to score.’
“That was the prop that kind of propelled prop betting to where it is today. We have to be more creative and think outside of the box. We’ve done props tied to Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant in the past to name a few. Anything that we think will kind of capture everybody’s attention but draw a great betting interest as well.
“It was the first prop that we put up for a player who wasn’t a skill position player. I think some novice bettors were betting it because of that factor too, wanting to have a ticket on ‘The Fridge’ in case he did score.”
The Touchdown Heard Around Sin City
The 335-pound lineman eventually found the end zone on a one-yard touchdown plunge with 3:48 left in the third quarter.
And Esposito thought it might be the last Super Bowl prop he’d ever get to create.
“Well, I wasn’t sure if I would have a job the next day,” Esposito laughed. “When Perry first rolled in for the touchdown, I was like, ‘You have to be kidding me.’ But again, I think we realized pretty quickly what we had created. It doesn’t mean that it was anything that was catastrophic for the end-of-the-day result. It just was on that particular prop.”
Esposito was stunned Perry scored, thinking maybe he was more of just a decoy before the ball was snapped.
“It was a perfect storm,” he recalled. “The Bears were blowing out the Patriots at that point. You know Ditka loved it. He loved the spotlight. And this was an opportunity to even cement his place in history by having Perry score.”
Ironically, Ditka has said many times since that if he had to do it all over again, he would have preferred Walter Payton to score.
The loss was right around six figures industry-wide, according to Esposito. A dollar then would be worth a little more than $2.50 today.
So when you see the thousands of offerings at sportsbooks around the country each year for the Super Bowl, you can thank Chuck Esposito and “The Fridge” for pioneering the props we see today.