Brian Westbrook is responsible for one of the most memorable — for better or for worse, depending on your perspective — fantasy football moments of this century.
On Dec. 16, 2007, with the Eagles clinging to a 10-6 lead over the Dallas Cowboys late in the fourth quarter, Westbrook took a handoff at the 25-yard line, broke through, and had a clear path to the end zone. But with the Cowboys out of timeouts, instead of scoring, the veteran RB stopped one yard short of the goal line and took a knee. The Eagles ran out the clock and won. Westbrook fantasy owners were apoplectic.
That moment aside, Westbrook’s name has not been linked much with sports gambling — until the last few months. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned PASPA in May 2018 and sports betting has been legalized in several states including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the 39-year-old former All-Pro has, just like in his playing days, spotted the openings and scooted right in.
He has a stake in SeventySix Capital, which is invested in several sports betting and related tech companies; he made the first bet when Harrah’s Philadelphia opened its sportsbook in January; he spoke on a panel, alongside retired Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, at this year’s Betting on Sports America conference; and most recently, Westbrook became an ambassador for FanDuel, which opened its online/mobile sportsbook in Pennsylvania this week.
On Wednesday, Westbrook spoke with Penn Bets about his burgeoning interest in sports betting, some plays he likes this upcoming NFL season, and more.
Penn Bets: You’ve been very involved in the sports betting industry over the past several months, making the first bet at one Philadelphia casino, investing in SeventySix Capital, speaking at the Betting on Sports America conference, and now you’re an ambassador for FanDuel. Is sports betting something you’ve had an interest in for a long time, or is this a relatively new area of interest for you?
Brian Westbrook: It is kind of new, especially being involved with SeventySix Capital, based on sports tech companies and analytical things, it’s kind of new for me. But it’s a very, very lucrative sector. It’s also very interesting for me, just to follow the bets and how it affects our game as well.
What led you to link up specifically with FanDuel?
BW: Well, I think they have the easiest app. They make it easy, they make it convenient. I think that the ease that you can navigate the app and find the different things that you’re trying to bet on, that’s the most important thing. It’s almost like with social media — you want to go to the app that makes it the easiest, most convenient.
When you played in the NFL, the league was very anti-gambling. That has changed in the past year or so. What are your thoughts on that pivot?
BW: I think it was smart. I think it was a calculated risk, but they understand the money that is being spent across the board on sports wagering —just in the past year, in New Jersey, $3 billion was spent on sports wagering, which is just a crazy number. I think the NFL’s marketing team, the geniuses there that they have in New York, they’ve done a great job of understanding what the culture, what society wants, and this just adds to that.
When you were a player, did the league’s anti-gambling stance bother you at all? Did you and the other players feel there was something you were missing out on potentially, or was it not really on your radar at the time?
BW: You know, it really wasn’t on our radar. I was more focused on the game and continuing to try to help the team win. I was aware of the gambling side of things, but I wasn’t focused on it very much at all.
What’s it like as a player to know that people are betting on your performance, risking money on you? Is that something you ever used to think about while playing? And did you ever have to deal with the “you cost me my fantasy championship!” crowd?
BW: (laughs) I never looked at it as people are wagering on your performance. But that’s exactly what it is. I never thought of it that way. It’s pretty interesting as well — I mean, if you’re spending a bunch of money and I’m not feeling good or I’m sick today or I just didn’t have a good game, I would be pissed off if I’m a fan. But, as far as fantasy-wise, I get complaints all the time and praises all the time, saying, “Hey, you cost me my league,” or “You won me my league,” which is always pretty funny that people remember that from 10, 15 years ago when I was playing.
How much attention was paid to sports betting in the locker room? Did you guys always know what the line was on your game? Did you pay any attention to line movement?
BW: You know, we didn’t — I didn’t. I think I kind of lived in a bubble just a bit. I don’t know that it was a lot of conversation about sports wagering when we were playing, or the line, because for us, it didn’t matter if we won by one point or 15 points. It was more about just winning. And making sure that we handled our business that way. So the line really didn’t have any impact on us at all.
Is anything surprising you about how fast sports betting is taking off since the Supreme Court’s ruling last May?
BW: I think that any time any businesses, and I’m using the NFL as the example, they understand that there’s money to be made surrounding their business, they’re going to move pretty fast and make sure that it’s up and running for their prime-time, their season. I don’t know that there’s any coincidence that a lot of these apps and things like that are being launched right around football season. Football is huge for sports betting, and America loves the game, and they love betting on the game as well.
Speaking of America loving betting, I’m curious for your personal preferences. What types of bets do you like to make? Futures, individual games, in-game betting? I know you placed a futures bet on Villanova basketball to win the title this past year.
BW: That didn’t work out very well. (laughs) Actually, that was a short-lived bet. I love the Eagles, the over at 9½ wins with the Eagles. I’m betting on wins, I’m betting on what Carson [Wentz] is going to do this week vs. last week, these types of things. That’s where I’m putting my money.
Would you say 14/1 is good odds on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl?
BW: I’d put a hundred bucks on that. Because, listen, the way I think about it is, you lose a hundred bucks, that’s not too bad — especially over the course of few months. But the truth is that they have just as good a chance as anyone else to win it. Why not take the 14/1?
Do you feel you have an advantage betting on football, that because you played the game you sometimes know more than the oddsmakers?
BW: (laughs) I had thought that that would be the case, but then I keep looking down, and it’s like, Oh, I lost that bet, I lost that bet. And sometimes, I think about that in my daily fantasy stuff. I know that he’s going to have a good game, he’s gonna get these touches and carries, and something totally different happens. So I would think I would have that advantage, but it’s been proven that I do not have that advantage.
I will not ask for an exact accounting of your winnings or losses —
BW: Please don’t. My wife may see this.
Do you have any particular NFL players or teams you have your eye on for futures bets this year? A longshot MVP candidate or a Super Bowl team that you think will surprise people?
BW: Obviously, the Browns are a hot team, a lot of people love the Browns, with what they’ve been able to accumulate as far as talent. But the Browns are playing in a very tough division, and they’re gonna get beat up just a bit. I really like the LA Chargers, I like what they did last year. I think if they can get a healthy Melvin Gordon all season long, if he comes to camp, then they have a good opportunity to have a chance there. Of course, I love the Eagles. And, I don’t even know why, I keep getting the Colts jumping into my head for some reason. I think Andrew Luck being healthy, I saw what that offense was able to do under Andrew Luck last year, and I think playing in that AFC South is a good opportunity for them as well.
How important was it to you to stay involved in sports after retiring from the NFL? Was there ever a thought of going in some totally different direction, or were you pretty determined to find a way to keep working in sports?
BW: I love sports. I’ve been involved in sports since I was kid. Having the ability to talk about sports and analyze what’s going on, particularly with football, it’s been a pleasure. I obviously want to stay relevant and still want to stay involved with the game and that’s something I take pride in and work really hard to do, so it’s just really been a pleasure to be around the game. I owe almost all that I have to the game, so this is just another opportunity for me to build on that.
Photo by Eric Hartline / USA Today Sports