The Fridge and the First Super Bowl Prop
In 1986, if you were one of the lucky few to own a personal computer like the Commodore 64, your online experience involved a 1200-baud modem and a BBS. How times have changed.
That was also the year the world was introduced to a brand new idea in Super Bowl betting. The proposition bet has been around for well over a century, probably originating in the early days of professional baseball in the 1870s. But it wasn’t until Super Bowl XX that we saw the first ever Super Bowl prop: Will William “The Refrigerator” Perry score a touchdown?
To understand the history behind the first Super Bowl prop, you have to understand life in the mid-80s. The Internet as we know it had yet to surface. ESPN was still a fledgling cable network. FOX was a tiny collection of independent TV stations. For millions of people, following sports meant reading the morning paper or weekly magazines like Sports Illustrated. And betting on the Super Bowl was something you did in Las Vegas – or under the table.
Little did we know that we were on the verge of a media explosion. The timing was just right for a motley assortment of larger-than-life football players to stake their claim on the national consciousness. QB Jim McMahon became the brash gunslinger at odds with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Beloved RB Walter Payton played “good cop” to McMahon’s “bad cop.” But the man who became the most famous of them all was, appropriately enough, part of Chicago’s signature “46” defense.
William Perry was Chicago’s first-round pick in 1985, a 340-pound giant of a man (unusually big for an NFL player back then) who played defensive tackle in college for the Clemson Tigers, winning the national championship in 1981. Perry’s girth and his infectious smile quickly made him a fan favorite in Chicago. However, Bears defensive co-ordinator Buddy Ryan didn’t want to play the rookie.
So head coach Mike Ditka did. Ditka decided to use Perry on offense as a fullback in short-yardage situations, blocking for Payton and occasionally getting the ball himself. The sight of Perry lumbering into the end zone was unforgettable. Perry scored three TDs during the 1985 regular season, and “The Fridge” became a household name while the Bears dominated the NFL at 15-1.
Seeing a chance to capitalize on a hot commodity, Caesars Palace bookmaker Art Manteris posted the very first Super Bowl prop, setting odds of 20-1 that Perry would score a touchdown at Super Bowl XX against the New England Patriots. So many people bet “YES” that the odds were soon driven down to 2-1. Perry did indeed reach the end zone in a 46-10 Bears victory; the prop was a smash hit, and although it cost Caesars Palace $120,000 in payouts, a new betting market was born.
As always, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. Some purists will tell you that the first Super Bowl prop was whether Perry would be used at all on offense, with the first odds set at 100-1. But it’s the Caesars Palace prop that has gone down in history. Thank you, Mr. Manteris, and thank you, Mr. Fridge.