UB students win big during Super Bowl 50

Two students combine for 60K in Super Bowl square winnings


*Editor’s note: This student asked his name be changed to protect his privacy

Denis Murtagh was ready to take out another student loan and find a full-time summer job to help pay for tuition, off-campus housing and other bills.

Thirty minutes of a football game – and a couple lucky numbers – changed all of that.

Murtagh won $10,000 from betting on Super Bowl boxes with his friends.

“All of my debts were cleared just by sitting on a couch,” Murtagh said.

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest betting days in the country. A record $132.54 million was bet on Super Bowl 50, according to the Nevada Gaming Control, and it’s estimated that Americans bet an additional $4.1 billion in illegal bets. Murtagh and fellow UB Joey Silva*, who won $50,000 with his father, both won big on their Super Bowl squares.

Super Bowl square pools are one of the more popular ways to bet the Super Bowl, mainly because anyone can win without having any extensive knowledge of the teams playing the game.

Participants buy boxes on a 10x10 grid representing the possible last digits of the two team’s scores. At the end of each quarter, the participant with the box that matches the final digit of the current score wins a cash prize.

Typically, halftime and the final score pay out the most. In Silva’s pool, the payouts were $15,000 for the first and third quarters, $20,000 for halftime and the grand prize for the final score was $50,000.

A Peyton Manning 2-yard pass to Denver Broncos wide receiver Bennie Fowler for a 2-point conversion won Silva and his father $50,000 – enough for pay Silva’s UB tuition more than five times over.

Silva, a sophomore economics major, said he does not normally bet on sports, but he likes to annually bet on the Super Bowl by filling out Super Bowl squares. And when Denver scored the 2-point conversion, it made the score 24-10 with three minutes remaining. His numbers for the final score were 4-0, putting him in position to win $50,000 – as long as the score didn’t change.

“I was in shock,” Silva said. “From that moment, down to three minutes left when the numbers lined up to the end of the game, it was the most stressful time.”

Silva called it the “longest three minutes of [his] life.” He didn’t sit down for the rest of the game, as he anxiously paced back and forth in the living room of his University Heights apartment. He didn’t say anything. He was just hoping and praying that nothing out of the ordinary happened.

“I started saying something and people around me were like, ‘What did he say?’ I didn’t want to jinx myself, but I just couldn’t help myself,” he said.

But the Broncos’ defense, like it did all game, shut down Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton again to preserve the final score of 24-10.

And clinch Silva’s jackpot.

“It was shock that just hit,” Silva said. “Now, it’s real. It’s officially real. I ran to the back, called my dad to make sure it was real. He told me it was real and I was jumping and dancing in celebration.”

Since he and his father split the $1,000 square, each of them ended up with $25,000 – all paid out in cash – after his numbers, Broncos 4, Panthers 0, hit.

Silva understands how much this money can be a difference maker for him and his family. He said that a large sum – roughly $20,000 – will go toward his UB tuition. The rest of the money will be “a safeguard in the future as savings” and is expected to stay in the bank, Silva said.

Murtagh decided to join in on the action by placing wagers on Super Bowl squares in a pool run by his home friends. He registered three boxes for a total of $2,100. At first, he was skeptical and sure he would just be wasting his money.

His perspective changed at halftime, when he realized one of his boxes, Broncos 3, Panthers 7, was the halftime winner.

“Like, s***, I just won 10 grand,” Murtagh said. “I spent a lot of money on the pools, but I still profited.”

Murtagh was more or less relieved about his winnings. He wasn’t expecting to win, but said it was a “nice surprise” when he did. He didn’t even realize he won until a couple minutes into the halftime show.

But Silva knew right away. He couldn’t wait until the game ended. But once it did, all he felt was euphoria.

“[It’s] nerve-wracking. Unreal anxiety,” Silva said. “Just how your life can change based off of two numbers. And how much adrenaline comes from winning. It’s through the roof adrenaline. It was a great experience.”

Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman