Bet on it: Downstate couple misses out on a million bucks

The Packers’ flop in the season finale against the Lions cost a Springfield couple $600,000 in a seasonlong contest.

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Downstate residents Eric and Marissa Chestnut won $460,000 in Circa Sports NFL contests, capping a roller-coaster season. Eric picks the Chiefs to beat the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII on Sunday.

Rob Miech

LAS VEGAS — Eric and Marissa Chestnut never cared for Aaron Rodgers. She supports Denver, he is a lifelong Tampa Bay fan. So the Green Bay quarterback’s domination of the Bears hasn’t influenced the Springfield, Illinois, couple.

That shifted Jan. 8, in the NFL’s final game of the regular season, which spotlighted Detroit at Lambeau Field.

For Green Bay, win and it was in the playoffs. For Eric, the Packers covering a five-point spread would make him a millionaire, claiming the Circa Sports Million IV contest.

Instead, the Packers flopped, losing 20-16 to the inspired Lions. A Michigan group won the million bucks. Chestnut won $400,000 for third place.

“I am done with him,” Eric told me at the Circa sportsbook on Jan. 21. Marissa said, “We didn’t like him before, and we definitely don’t like him now.”

SECOND-QUARTER SUCCESS

That game provided a bittersweet cap for Eric Chestnut, who partook in the Westgate SuperBook contest for two seasons before switching to Circa, and this was his fourth shot at its Million and Survivor prizes.

In Million, contestants pick five NFL games a week against the spread. Survivor entails picking one team per week just to win; if it does, the contestant advances, and teams can be used only once. Entry in each costs $1,000, and individuals can enter up to three times per contest.

A 35-year-old electrical dispatcher, Chestnut failed to win the seven-figure oversized check, but he still received a huge final sum and won the Million’s second quarter.

“You always want to win it all,” he said. “It was a helluva season, but getting first place is what you strive for.”

A 2-3 third week zapped his first-quarter chances. In the second quarter, he went 4-1, 3-2, 4-1, 5-0 and 4-1 to finish first, winning $60,000.

His father, Tim, previously had scheduled a trip for two, with chartered air service and hotel stay, to Caesars in Laughlin, Nevada. Tim and Eric flew to Laughlin, rented a car and drove to Las Vegas on Nov. 18.

Eric arranged the deposit, and Circa owner Derek Stevens presented them with limo service and tickets to a T-Mobile Arena suite to watch Illinois play No. 8 UCLA. The 19th-ranked Illini trailed by 15 points early in the second half but rallied to win 79-70.

“It worked out where I could collect and we could watch the Illinois basketball game,” Chestnut said. “Derek was so personable, and the Illini came back and won. There were a lot of Illinois fans there.”

CURSING OR CHEERING

Chestnut exorcised almost all radio and television influences this season.

“I quit listening to talk shows and sports shows,” he said. “I’d start to think like them, and I knew I needed to eliminate that. I’ll make my choices instead of listening to what somebody else says.”

He’d catch early-week lines and track them, formulating a plan. A certain Thursday podcast — he asked me not to divulge it — helped him confirm some thoughts or beliefs regarding injuries, tendencies or whatnot.

He’d try to watch every play of every game. One week, two Hail Mary passes benefitted him. “In years past, I’ve been on the wrong side of those,” he said.

He tried scouting pertinent look-ahead potholes, but Week 3 taught him to sharpen that strategy. Kansas City played in Indianapolis, then went to Tampa the next week.

“It was the first time the Chiefs played the Bucs since [Super Bowl LV],” he said. “The Chiefs wanted to pound the Bucs, so they weren’t as focused on the Colts as they should have been.”

The Chiefs lost to Indianapolis 20-17 but beat Tampa Bay 41-31.

For Survivor, Chestnut had used Kansas City against Indy, so that eliminated him. But for Million, he sat atop the perch until the very end. For both, he used Chicago native Matty Simo and Toni Law’s Football Contest Proxy service.

“As the season went along, I’m sittin’ at the top, sittin’ at the top … the stress just got more and more intense,” Chestnut said. “Once I got my picks in Friday, it was like a sigh of relief.”

He went into that final weekend with a one-point lead. Pittsburgh and Miami covered for him; New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Green Bay all lost.

“Lots of ups and downs,” Marissa said. “Lots of either cursing or cheering.”

CHIEFS ARE THE CHOICE

On the phone Sunday afternoon from Springfield, Eric said he and Marissa, who oversees a trucking company’s finance department, have paid off their home.

He graduated from Rochester High, she from Springfield Southeast High. They first met nearly five years ago and married in 2020. They likely will plan a special vacation with their infant daughter.

He was surprised how much the early Kansas City-Philadelphia line flipped back and forth for Super Bowl LVII.

The Eagles have settled as 1œ-point -favorites, but Eric favors the underdog Chiefs, who are playing in their third Super Bowl in four seasons.

“I don’t know if the moment will be too big for the Eagles,” he said, “but I feel like Kansas City has been there and knows what to expect. So I think the Chiefs will play better.

“And [Chiefs coach] Andy Reid has such a good record off a bye. With two weeks to prepare, I feel like that will be a huge key. I think it’ll be a one-score game, and Kansas City wins.”

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