Scenes from Sin City: It’s all fun and games until MSU blocks your punt

Each week during football season, Covers writer Colin Kelly will be in the Las Vegas sportsbooks profiling bettors just like you, sharing their Sin City stories, big wins, bad beats, and all the fun stuff that’s supposed to “stay in Vegas.”

Good friends Jim Doolin and Nick Benshoff both like the University of Michigan a lot. Benshoff has spent all his 45 years cultivating that fandom, having grown up in Michigan, while Doolin is a relative newcomer, having been brought along the past few years by Benshoff, as the two are co-workers in St. Louis.

“It’s just grown on me,” said Doolin, who joined Benshoff a few years ago for a trip to Ann Arbor to watch Michigan play an outdoor hockey game at the Big House. He then became totally sold when he went back last football season for the Wolverines’ meeting with Utah, despite Michigan losing. “I’m a convert, I guess.”

So while both were all in for the Wolverines in Saturday’s home game against Michigan State, they took different approaches to betting that matchup before settling into a couple of ultra-comfortable seats at the Bellagio sportsbook.

“I put $120 on Michigan at -7.5,” Doolin said. “I feel good about it. I think they’re gonna do it. I think with Jim Harbaugh at home, we’re gonna beat the Spartans and cover. And hopefully, we’ll shut them out.”

After all, Michigan entered the game having pitched three straight shutouts.

But long-time fan Benshoff took a more conservative approach, which seemed smart after a scoreless first quarter.

“I didn’t feel as good about the spread. I was shocked by that number,” he said. “So I just took Michigan on the moneyline.”

To which Doolin quickly shot, “Yeah, he’s a chicken.”

No sooner were those words out of Doolin’s mouth than Michigan scored a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead, leading to a low-key humming of “The Victors” for the two fans, who have been pleasantly surprised by the quick turnaround under a new coach.

“We had this trip planned in the summer, and at that time, I had low expectations,” Benshoff said. “I saw we were playing Sparty this week, and I was kind of dreading it. We thought it would be a beatdown.

“We’re very surprised, even after the last couple weeks. I still didn’t think Michigan would be that big a favorite. I guess Sparty hasn’t covered anything this whole season.”

Indeed, while Michigan State entered the big game at 6-0 SU, the Spartans were 0-6 at the betting window. On the flip side, Michigan had gone 4-1 ATS during its five-game winning streak and hadn’t allowed a score in a month.

Still, Doolin had a healthy attitude about his $120 wager.

“It’s worth the risk for the good time, and hopefully the Wolverines pull it out,” he said. “If they don’t cover and they win, I’ll still be happy. It’s just money. But if they win and they cover, I’ll be really happy.”

Michigan led 17-7 in the third quarter, 23-14 with about nine minutes left in the fourth and 23-21 with 10 seconds left, before lining up to punt, hoping to salt it away. Then one of the craziest plays you’ll ever see unfolded.

Punter Blake O’Neill mishandled the snap, spun around and tried to kick it, but ended up tossing it right into the hands of Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson, who ran it 38 yards for the winning touchdown as time expired.

Long before that insanity unfolded, Benshoff had said of this trip to the Bellagio, “We come here every year. This is like the church. It’s like a religious experience.”

One thing’s for certain: that last play certainly brought both these Michigan fans to their knees.


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