LAS VEGAS – Tony Gordon, using the alias DURBIFY, won the $1 million first-place prize in the third-annual Circa Sports Million pro football handicapping contest. His triumph should not be viewed as an overnight success story, but instead as a more than 20-plus-year journey for the 45-year-old entrepreneur from Atascadero, Calif., that in a lot of ways came full circle at the Circa sportsbook Sunday in downtown Las Vegas.
Picking five NFL games a week against the spread for the entire 18-week schedule, Gordon went 63-27 against the spread (70 percent) to top a field of 4,087 football handicappers that put up $1,000 per entry. The DURBIFY-1 entry (Gordon had two contest entries; more on that later) was actually tied for first place by MAD RUSSIAN, who went 5-0 on the final Sunday, but after the contest’s first tiebreaker on the number of winning selections (both had 63 with no pushes), the second tiebreaker was on the number of winning weeks during the season and DURBIFY won that 17-14 as Gordon only had one losing week the entire season; also more on that later).
We need to begin our story back in 1999. Gordon was a single guy living in San Luis Obispo with two roommates named Kevin, one of which had a dog named Durby. After working different jobs out of college, including being a delivery driver for The Ribline barbecue restaurant in SLO, Gordon bought the business. Like many small-business owners, it was many long days trying to make ends meet with food costs, payroll, etc. while his friends were out partying.
He kept plugging away while indulging his hobby of sports betting. This was still in the early days of offshore betting and the Carib Sports site decided to run a mirror contest of the then-Hilton SuperContest starting in 2001, with entrants paying $250 to pick five games a week against the contest spread. Gordon won the first-place prize of $25,600.
“That was a lot of money at the time, at least to me,” Gordon said, “and really helped me make ends meet and was the start of everything that’s followed. I was able to sell the business in 2011, which allowed me to be a stay-at-home dad and be there to help raise my son Brady while my wife, Erin, works as a nurse.”
As for the DURBIFY alias, Gordon said: “Durby would rip up the place when we were away, so when we’d come home we’d say the apartment was ‘durbyfied,’ When we’d party, we’d also say we were ‘durbyfied,’ so when I started entering more contests online and joining posting forums, I decided to go by Durbify.” (Note: to this day, he is a member of my forums at ViewFromVegas.com as well as EOG.com.)
Even after winning the Carib Sports contest, Gordon said he wasn’t really aware of the Las Vegas contests at that time, until 2006 when he read a story by some reporter named Dave Tuley in the Daily Racing Form about Robert Burns, who won the Hilton SuperContest and another major contest at Station Casinos using the alias Jarhead. Gordon also learned that out-of-state players could hire a Las Vegas local as a proxy to put in weekly plays, so he contacted Jarhead’s proxy, Bob Fredricks, and started playing the SuperContest the following year in 2007.
As we said earlier, despite his early online victory, this was a long journey to major contest winner.
“I didn’t cash the first 11 years,” Gordon said. “Even though I won the Carib Sports contest, I thought I got lucky. But I saw to cash in the Vegas contests, it usually took 60 percent and I felt I could do that because you just have to go 3-2 every week. Of course, that’s not as easy as it sounds, so it took a long time to become the handicapper I am now. I consider myself a hybrid handicapper. I didn’t think I could be the stale-line guy like [two-time SuperContest winner] Fezzik or the ‘eye-test’ or injury-report guy like [2015 SuperContest winner and current VSiN host James] Salinas. I credit you with opening my eyes to consider more underdogs, and I also do a lot of fantasy sports comparisons and have found a way to equate that with the point spreads and find edges.”
While not wanting to give away all his secrets, Gordon said “it’s no small coincidence that I started having more success after Daily Fantasy Sports became very popular with DraftKings and FanDuel. There’s so much more information available now.”
In 2018, Gordon finished 12th in the now-Westgate SuperContest by going 54-38-3 ATS (65.9 percent) and followed that up with a 9th-place finish in 2019 at 53-29-3 ATS (64.6 percent). He took a step back in 2020 when he played both the SuperContest and the second season of the upstart Circa Sports Million, finishing just above .500 (44-39-2) at the Westgate and 41-42-2 at Circa, though that was dragged down a bit by trying to pick losers for a Quarterly Booby Prize when he was out of contention..
That brings us to this season. Gordon opted to just go with Circa Sports Million and bought two entries, DURBIFY-1 and DURBIFY-2, from the three maximum allowed. If you meet him, don’t remind him that he would have also won the SuperContest first-place prize of $335,000 with the same picks as his top Circa entry, which would have matched the historic feat of Jarhead, plus earned him a SC ring that he coveted for so long.
Gordon was a model of consistency all season-long as he went 4-1 each of the first two weeks, followed by four straight rock-steady 3-2 marks to stand at a solid 20-10 ATS (66.7 percent) after six weeks, though only in 243rd place in the field of 4,087, the largest field in the history of Las Vegas high-end football contests (deemed as an entry fee of $1,000 or more). In fact, his DURBIFY-1 entry only had one losing week the entire season as it went 1-4 in Week 12. He made up for that two weeks later in Week 14 when he posted his only perfect 5-0 week to put him at 49-21 ATS (70 percent) on the season and into a three-way tie with his own DURBIFY-2 (which had fallen behind for a while but then had 5-0 marks in 3-of-5 weeks from Week 10-14 to catch up) and MAD RUSSIAN. They were both trailing longtime leader HANNIBAL BARCA, who had two of his three contest entries in 1st and 2nd place.
HANNIBAL BARCA is the alias of Hannibal Johnson, a 41-year-old Navy veteran originally from San Pablo, Calif., who ended eight years of service in 2018 and has been living in San Diego for 11 years. He now is a full-time rideshare driver.
These contests usually come down to the top contenders’ last five plays in the final week, and so it was that HANNIBAL BARCA and DURBIFY held the top four spots heading into Week 18, alternating with HANNIBAL BARCA in 1st with 60.5 points, DURBIFY-1 in 2nd with 60 points, HANNIBAL BARCA-2 in 3rd with 59.5 points and DURBIFY-2 in 4th with 59 points (note: in the official standings in these contests, a win is worth 1 point while a push is worth half a point).
Full disclosure here: after Fredricks passed away in 2018, Gordon started using me as his proxy. After 17 weeks of not asking for any input or advice, Gordon asked me on Thursday if I thought HANNIBAL BARCA would use the same five plays on each entry or go opposite on all or some of his picks on his second entry. I said I thought he would probably go opposite on at least some plays, but I said he shouldn’t assume that because he hadn’t done it most of the season, including the most recent weeks.
There was much speculation on Twitter (including from Fezzik) about how each should approach their final picks, and even more debate when HANNIBAL BARCA went with the same exact picks (Chiefs -10 at Broncos and Eagles + 4.5 vs. Cowboys on Saturday, plus Patriots -6 at Dolphins, Bills -16 vs. Jets and 49ers + 4.5 on Sunday) on both entries while DURBIFY used his top five picks (Eagles + 4.5 vs. Cowboys on Saturday, plus Lions + 3.5 vs. Packers, Bears + 5.5 at Vikings, Saints -4.5 at Falcons and Seahawks + 6.5 at Cardinals) on his first entry and went complete opposite on his second entry.
“I felt I played it right,” Gordon said. “When I finished 12th in the SuperContest in 2018, SQUAREPANTS [aka George King, who also won that year’s winner-take-all SuperContest Gold for $640,000 under the alias THERE CAN BE ONLY 1] finished ahead of me by going with opposite plays on his two entries and I never forgot that.
“I obviously was hoping to win with my top picks – my favorite play was the Saints -4.5 and I nearly used that on both tickets – but by playing this way I felt I was guaranteeing both entries would finish in the Top 10 and possibly both in the Top 5.”
After the entries were submitted before the 3 p.m. PT submission deadline on Saturday, we figured HANNIBAL BARCA had used the Chiefs since he had used them more than any other team all season, so we watched separately from Atascadero and Las Vegas as the Broncos led into the fourth quarter before the Chiefs rallied to win 28-24, but failed to cover. When everyone’s plays were posted by Circa, it was confirmed that HANNIBAL BARCA had used the Chiefs and both his entries were off to an 0-1 start.
Johnson and Gordon both used the Eagles on Saturday night, so both were disappointed when the Cowboys routed them 51-26, but that meant that the two DURBIFY entries were now tied with 60 points, both half a point out of first place, with four games to go on Sunday compared to just three for the HANNIBAL BARCA entries.
Gordon and I watched the Sunday games together in the Circa sportsbook. I’m not a good enough reporter to fully explain the non-stop tension and stress that Gordon was feeling for the better part of seven hours. This should have been filmed for a documentary (“Inside the Life of a Football Contest Player’) or a reality TV series (“Househusbands of Atascadero”). Gordon went from a very laid-back “I’m so blessed to be in this position” zen-like approach to a maniacal lunatic yelling at the players and coaches on every play. And if you’ve watched any amount of NFL football lately, it shouldn’t surprise you that he constantly went from “I’m going to win this” to “I’m going to blow this.” And back again.
While HANNIBAL BARCA’s last three plays all didn’t start until 1:25 p.m. PT, Gordon had the Lions and Bears going on his top ticket in the 10 a.m. PT window. The downside of having opposite plays on each ticket is you don't always know which teams to cheer for. Gordon started off cheering for the DURBIFY-1 ticket, which was looking good as the Bears jumped out to a 14-0 lead over the Vikings while the Lions led the Packers 17-13 even with Aaron Rodgers playing the first half. Gordon was happy to see Rodgers leave the game, but then the Vikings started to rally against the Bears and tied the game at 17-17 early in the fourth quarter. Gordon wanted one of his tickets to go 2-0 to increase his chance at the million, especially since a split would open the door for other top contenders to catch up if they ran the table.
However, a split is just what the two DURBIFY entries got as the Vikings pulled away to a 31-17 victory and the Lions held on for a 37-30 upset. While not optimal, the split did pick up a point for each DURBIFY entry as they now both had 61 points and technically in first place over HANNIBAL BARCA-1, which still had 60.5 points.
The drama was just starting as the 1:25 p.m. PT games started. Again, with the opposite plays, DURBIFY knew he would be getting at least one entry to 62 points, but he kept saying all day that 63 was the magic number, so he really needed to sweep with the Saints and Seahawks or have both lose. If he reached 63 points, the only way HANNIBAL BARCA could beat him would be by sweeping his three plays. Any loss (or push, as we had checked the tiebreaking rules to know that a push would work in Gordon’s favor as he held the first tiebreaker with most wins during the season) would give Gordon the title, the million dollars and the blue blazer.
The Seahawks fell behind 7-0 on a scoop-and-score by the Cardinals on Seattle’s second play from scrimmage, but at least Seattle responded with a quick Russell Wilson-to-Tyler Lockett 43-yard TD pass to get right back in the game. The Saints jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a TD pass by Taysom Hill, but then Hill left the game in the second quarter with a foot injury.
“C’mon, Trevor Siemian,” Gordon cheered, but you could hear the shaken confidence in his voice.
But Siemian did indeed come on, throwing two second-quarter TD passes to put the Saints comfortably ahead 24-6 at halftime while the Wilson-Lockett combo connected on another TD pass to lead the Seahawks to a 17-10 halftime lead. Both pick’s on Gordon’s top entry were covering by 13.5 points!
In the meantime, the Rams jumped out to a 17-0 lead over the 49ers and the Dolphins also led the Patriots 17-0 while the Bills weren’t covering their big spread as they let the Jets stick around, leading just 13-7 at halftime. I thought HANNIBAL BARCA was looking at a possible 0-5 on both cards, but Gordon didn’t believe it for a minute.
“I’ve seen the Bills cover this kind of game before,” he said. It took a while, but sure enough the Bills put together two fourth-quarter TD drives to go ahead 27-10 and get the cover. The 49ers also mounted a comeback, tying the Rams 17-17 by the end of the third quarter, but the Patriots never seriously threatened until pulling within 27-24 with 2:53 left in the game – and even then it would take a miracle for the Patriots to win by more than 6 points to cover.
Gordon knew he could clinch over HANNIBAL BARCA with a sweep of his plays, though it was around this time we realized MAD RUSSIAN could also get to 63 points if he went 5-0. It was looking like he was going to be 4-0 with the Steelers, Dolphins, Seahawks and 49ers and the Raiders pending in the Sunday night finale. This was around the time that we would have been accusing the reality-TV producers of shenanigans as neither of us could get our wifi to work to check MAD RUSSIAN’s weekly records or quadruple-check the tiebreaking rules just in case. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was probably closer to five minutes we confirmed that MAD RUSSIAN had four losing weeks to ensure that DURBIFY would win the tiebreaker.
All he needed was the Saints and Seahawks to close out their wins. The Saints continued to coast to a 30-13 lead, so that even a late garbage-time TD by the Falcons to make it 30-20 couldn’t get the back-door cover (as long as they didn’t get an onside kick and another TD). And then with the Seahawks already leading the Cardinals 31-27 (remember, they were getting + 6.5), RB Rashaad Penny broke off a 62-yard TD run to put them up 38-27, covering by 17.5 points, and causing Gordon to celebrate with his wife and friends and strangers in the next booth (the video can be seen on my Twitter feed @ViewFromVegas).
“I can’t believe I actually did it,” Gordon said. “It’s made all the time and effort worth it to get to the top. I was happy just to cash before as you’re going against so many top handicappers. It used to take 60 percent to cash but now that’s not enough, and it’s even harder to win with so many entries now compared to just a few hundred when I first starting playing these contests.
“I’m really proud to have just that one losing week, and it’s fitting that ended up being the tiebreaker that makes me a millionaire and gets me a blue blazer from Derek [Stevens, owner of Circa Sports].”
Gordon will be back at Circa on Friday night to receive his Circa Sports Million III champion’s blue blazer (size: 40 regular) along with the “Happy Gilmore” ceremonial big check and, of course, the real check as DURBIFY-1 officially goes in the record books as the champ. DURBIFY-2 will also earn Gordon another $50,000 for finishing in a tie for 10th place, completing Gordon’s other goal of having two Top 10 finishes.
MAD RUSSIAN did win with the Raiders + 3 in the Sunday night finale to catch DURBIFY-1 at 63 points, but loses the tiebreaker and will settle for $325,000. Hannibal Johnson wins $275,000 for HANNIBAL BARCA-1’s third-place finish and $114,000 for HANNIBAL BARCA-2 finishing in a five-way tie for 5th place. Johnson also found solace in the fact he didn’t cost himself the first-place finish by using the same plays as he needed to go 3-2 with his top picks but didn’t. He also said his second entry would have only gone 3-2 at best if he had gone with opposite plays or any other plays he was willing to use, so he wouldn’t have held off DURBIFY-1 in any case.
In an almost equally impressive performance as DURBIFY’s, JIGGY JACK went 27-63 (30 percent) to win the $100,000 “Booby Prize” for picking the most losers, which is nearly as hard to do against the spread, especially as the assumption is that they started the season trying to pick winners. JIGGY JACK was actually 3-2 after Week 1 and still at .500 at 5-5 after Week 2. An 0-5 mark in Week 7 really set him on the way to the bottom as he had just one more winning week (3-2 in Week 8) before going 3-2 in Week 18 with the Booby Prize well in hand.
Circa Sports pays out to the Top 40 finishers in the CSM contest, plus 5 more winners of $1.2 million apiece in the separate Circa Survivor contest. All of the prize winners are invited to the awards ceremony/cocktail party at Circa on Friday night to pick up their winnings.