By Matt Youmans
VSiN Senior Editor
Although he never won a Super Bowl, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino represents a memorable part of the game's history in Las Vegas.
More than 30 years later, the memories are fuzzy. But according to sports betting archaeologists, Marino was the subject of the first Super Bowl player proposition wager in 1985. Marino was putting up prolific passing numbers, sparking the imagination of oddsmakers.
"I remember yardage and touchdown passes with Marino. That was an easy one," said Jimmy Vaccaro, a Las Vegas bookmaker since the 1970s. "That's probably where it started."
Now, several hundred propositions are posted on the Super Bowl, and each significant player in the game is a prop topic. But in the early 1980s, the prop menu was brief, generic and team-related.
Marino was the start of something bigger. In 1984, his second season in the NFL, Marino passed for 5,084 yards and a record 48 touchdowns. Still, the Dolphins were 3 1/2-point underdogs to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XIX.
Vaccaro said he threw out the prop sheet long ago, but Marino most likely went under his posted totals. He passed for 318 yards and one touchdown in Miami's 38-16 loss.
Michael "Roxy" Roxborough, a longtime oddsmaker who founded and operated Las Vegas Sports Consultants from 1982 to 1999, said he believes Vaccaro is correct about Marino being the origin of the individual player prop.
However, most historians credit Chicago Bears defensive tackle William "The Refrigerator" Perry for launching a props explosion by scoring on a 1-yard run in Super Bowl XX in 1986.
A unique and infamous prop was posted—first by Art Manteris at Caesars Palace—on Perry to score a touchdown. Late in the third quarter of the Bears' 46-10 blowout of New England, Perry plunged into the end zone. The prop, a popular play with bettors, opened at 20-1 odds and closed around 5-1.
"We got buried on the bet. All we did was pay," Roxborough said. "And then it mushroomed. In the late '80s and early '90s, our guys stayed up all night to release some Super Bowl props on Monday at noon."
Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay and his staff worked long hours before posting more than 400 Super Bowl props last Thursday. The unveiling attracts a big crowd and becomes an annual spectacle.
Kornegay, who formerly ran the Imperial Palace book on the Strip, said, "In the early '90s, we had 20 or 30 props at the most. But that changed in 1995. That's when we knew the game was going to be boring, so we more than doubled the menu."
San Francisco closed as an 18 1/2-point favorite over San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX. The line briefly soared as high as 20. The previous three Super Bowls were double-digit blowouts, and the 49ers continued the trend by crushing the Chargers 49-26.
"One of the reasons the props became so popular is because in the early '90s all we had were blowouts," Kornegay said. "All we were trying to do was keep everybody interested.
"Back in the early '90s, the props really weren't that popular because they were labeled as sucker bets and a lot of people stayed away from them. Over the course of time, the general public had success and won, and some crazy things happened during the Super Bowl and people were rewarded for betting these."
In 1996, when Dallas was a two-touchdown favorite over Pittsburgh, the cross-sport prop was born, linking the NFL with the NBA. Who would score more points on that Sunday: Dallas in Super Bowl XXX or Michael Jordan in the Chicago Bulls' game against the Phoenix Suns?
"I took a $25,000 bet within about 10 minutes of putting that prop up," said Vaccaro, director of The Mirage sports book at the time.
For the record, the Cowboys beat the Steelers 27-17, and Jordan scored 31 points.
Propositions initially accounted for only about 5 percent of his book's Super Bowl wagering handle, Kornegay said, and now props are 50 to 60 percent of the handle.
When the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons meet Feb. 5, almost every play in the game will decide or help decide a prop bet. The focus will be on the quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan.
Marino's moment in prop time was mostly forgotten, overshadowed by "The Refrigerator" in 1986, but both were unwitting pioneers in changing the way the Super Bowl is bet.
"Those were the years of the quantum leaps," Vaccaro said. "If you booked no props before Perry, the next year every book in the state had some props up."