Origin of NFL win totals traced to Cowboys in 1989

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© USA Today Images

By Matt Youmans

VSiN Senior Editor

It was the summer of 1989, and the Dallas Cowboys were headed into their first season with Jerry Jones as owner.

It also was the first season an NFL regular-season win total would be posted in Las Vegas, thanks to Jack Keller and Jimmy Vaccaro. Keller was a gambler, and Vaccaro was the Golden Nugget sports book director.

“His nickname was ‘Hamburger’ Jack, because from what I understand he owned about 50 hamburger stands all through the state of Texas,” Vaccaro said. “He was very wealthy.”

Keller wanted to bet on the number of games the Cowboys would win that season. Dallas finished 3-13 in 1988, the end of Tom Landry’s era. Jimmy Johnson was the new coach.

“I put up 5½, and he bet $38,500 to win $35,000 over the total,” Vaccaro said. “The 5½ just came to my head. What did I know? No one even talked about those things.”

There was a boxing match in Las Vegas that summer, and news of Keller’s bet on the Cowboys was reported by sports writers from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The Associated Press picked up the story.

“Jack was showing everybody the ticket at the fight. It was the talk of the Texas people,” Vaccaro said. “The story was filtering around. A week later, we started getting a million calls. That was the beginning of that.”

Keller’s wager was a loser. The Cowboys, routed 28-0 by the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, went on to finish 1-15.

Vaccaro moved to The Mirage in the fall of 1989. He and his book manager, Russ Culver, made win totals for every NFL team for the 1990 season.

Fast forward to 2016. As a rookie, Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing, and the Cowboys, who finished 13-3, overachieved according to their posted win total of 8½.

2016 NFL win total chart

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