Washington Football Great Brian Mitchell Talks Super Bowl Betting Then and Now

Posted on February 4, 2021 - Last Updated on February 5, 2021

Washington Football Team great Brian Mitchell knows the Super Bowl and sports betting go hand in hand.

The 52-year-old former running back and return specialist spent 14 seasons in the NFL, including 10 with Washington.

During his prolific career, he tallied 23,330 all-purpose yards. That tally trails only Jerry Rice, one of the most prolific players in NFL history.

But when Mitchell looks back on his storied career, one game sticks out more than the others. In fact, the magnitude of the night was so immense that Mitchell can’t even really remember the first five minutes of the game.

However, he clearly remembers the buildup to the game, which was Super Bowl XXVI. More specifically, he remembers how the opposing Buffalo Bills reacted when oddsmakers instilled Washington as a 7-point favorite.

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Sports betting and the Super Bowl

Although sports betting has become more popular in the wake of widespread legalization in the US, the subject was still fairly taboo during Mitchell’s playing years from 1990-2003. Sure, maybe they didn’t know the spread or moneyline odds of the game. But, Mitchell said, all players knew which team was favored and which team was the ‘dog.

“I know people cared about [the odds],” he told PlayVirginia this week. “Because it was a pride thing. ‘We’re the favorite.’ Or, ‘We’re the underdog.’ And a lot of times, when we were underdogs, we saw that intensity go up in practice.”

For Mitchell’s Super Bowl appearance in 1992, the Bills were the aggrieved party. Washington breezed through the postseason that year, and oddsmakers made them a touchdown favorite over Buffalo heading into the season finale.

Mitchell remembers his opponents taking it as a slight. The oddsmakers set the line, but, in the Bills’ mind, Washington was going to pay for it:

“I remember the Super Bowl against the Bills, and the Bills were talking all week about how bad they were going to beat us and that they thought they were actually the better team than us. We got so intense in practice that Coach (Joe Gibbs) had to stop practice. He had to have a conversation with us because (quarterback) Mark Rypien got hurt in practice, got rolled up his ankle. He got that intense because that’s what guys were thinking about.”

Ultimately, Washington won. And like all great teams, they also covered, winning Super Bowl XXVI by a score of 37-24.

Super Bowl betting no longer taboo

Ahead of this year’s Super Bowl, Mitchell has done some promotional work for FanDuel Sportsbook. It was the first sportsbook operator live in Virginia after the market officially launched last month.

These days, sportsbooks bombard football fans with all types of promotional offers geared around The Big Game. In fact, for new customers, FanDuel is offering 55-1 odds on either side of the Super Bowl.

Think Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can win as 3-point underdogs over the Kansas City Chiefs? If you bet $5 and the Bucs win, you’re going to net $275 in profit.

Mitchell’s career concluded long before sports betting had come out of the shadows. Now, though, he’s an NBC Sports Washington TV host and analyst who’s also a veteran of the Washington sports radio scene. Now, sportsbook companies such as FanDuel are some of sports media’s biggest advertisers.

Mitchell understands the NFL’s shift on sports betting, which became a lot more palatable when US sports bettors finally had legal and regulated options available.

” I think it was inevitable,” Mitchell said. “You know, when I look at just a few years back when we saw that the NFL changed their rules about sports betting, and then we see basketball and all those different entities starting to get involved with it, you knew it was not a long period of time way.

“I just felt that, you know, it was kind of looked at this little taboo type thing. But ultimately, when you look at different communities and them needing the tax money and things of that nature, a lot of money made is being made in gambling. They could pump a lot of stuff back into the community, which makes things easier for everybody.”

Mitchell’s Super Bowl LV prediction

Mitchell made his lone Super Bowl appearance in his sophomore NFL season. He got close with some other teams, but 1992 remains the one season he got to experience the game’s highest high.

Now, he’s part of an informal fraternity of fellow Super Bowl champs. The COVID-19 pandemic largely spoiled this year’s festivities. However, the players often get together each February to share stories of their former gridiron days.

“A lot of the stories get bigger and well, you know, the lies basically they get a lot bigger too,” Mitchell said with a laugh.

Now, though, he said the Super Bowl festivities have grown beyond anything they could have imagined.

“I remember when we went to to the Super Bowl, and tickets were maybe $150 at face value,” he said. “Now they’re maybe $1,600.

“It’s just, it’s so big. It touches everything.”

However, with more and more US states going online with sports-betting markets, it’s impossible to ignore the wagering aspects of this year’s Super Bowl. And on Sunday (6:30 p.m., CBS), when the Chiefs and Bucs tangle in Super Bowl 55, Mitchell has a lean.

And perhaps as no surprise, the man with 14,014 kickoff return yards and 4,999 punt return yards is big on quickness.

“To be honest with you, I would say you look at the speed of Kansas City,” he said. “They probably have the edge there. They can put Mecole Hardman back there. Or they could put Tyreek Hill back there, depending on how big of a play you need.

“I know Antonio Brown is on the other side. He’s had big moments. But the speed of Kansas City? It’s like you’re taking the United States Olympic track team and putting them out there on the football field.”

Photo by AP / Nick Wass
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Dann Stupp

Dann Stupp is a longtime sports journalist who’s written and edited for The Athletic, USA Today, ESPN and other outlets. He lives in Lexington, Virginia.

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