26.3 million.

19.2 million.

8.16 million.

And last but certainly not least…

108.4 million.

The first three numbers represent 2013’s highest TV viewership during the NBA Finals (Game 7), World Series (Game 6) and Stanley Cup Finals (Game 6).  The fourth number is the audience for last year’s Super Bowl between the 49ers and Ravens.

So what makes the Super Bowl the television behemoth it has become? For context, just remember… the first Super Bowl (Packers-Chiefs, 1967) was broadcast on two networks (CBS and NBC) well before cable existed, leaving maybe three or four other channels available as options at home.  And it still only attracted 51 million viewers… or less than half of last year’s game. 

Speed, unpredictability and ferocity of the game are obvious factors that contribute to making the NFL our new national pastime by a country mile.  But the personal investment many fans make in the sport is what really drives viewership and devotion off the charts.  Personal investment, of course, in the form of gambling that varies from blatantly illegal (wagering with point spreads through human or online bookies) to legal (fantasy football and office pools).

Prop (proposition) bets, for example, which are becoming more outlandish and trendy with each passing year, are an increasingly popular aspect of the illegal variety. A good bookie will always tell you that the more options a bettor has to choose from, the most likely he or she will find a way to lose.  Prop bets increase this likelihood by 5,000 percent.

Having said that, here are my Top 5 prop bets for Super Bowl XLVIII, an old AFC West matchup between the Broncos and Seahawks:

Will Renee Fleming wear gloves when she sings the National Anthem?

This is akin to that moment in Die Hard (the first one) when Hans and his henchmen open the Nakatomi vault for the first time and see the riches they worked so hard to steal sitting in front of them for the taking (temporarily, anyway). That said, there is absolutely NO WAY Fleming wears gloves during the anthem. Why? Fleming re-married in 2011 and has an impressive rock to show off to the world (and ex-husband). Temps will be above freezing, making gloves no longer a necessity. Go heavy on “no” to this yes or no wager.

Which sideline reporter will appear on television first after kickoff: Erin Andrews or Pam Oliver? 

No contest if there’s ever been one. Andrews is the reporter who landed the most famous postgame interview since Ali beat Liston in ’62 (“I must be the greatest!”) via the rant heard ‘round the world from Seattle’s Richard Sherman. Given the added notoriety received over the past ten days, how could Andrews not get the nod? Unless, of course, the entire Fox Sports control room is currently in Vegas betting their mortgages on Pam Oliver…

What will Bruno Mars be wearing on his head at the start of his halftime performance?

- Fedora
- Fur hat
- Tuque
- No hat

Gotta go (lightly) no hat here. Mr. Mars (actual name: Peter Gene Hernandez) will want to offer up every ounce of his being—including his hair—to the biggest audience he’ll ever be exposed to. The wrong choice of Fedora, Fur hat or Tuque (transparency alert: I have no idea what this is) could lead to a fashion analysis the next day, which always end badly. No hat…but there’s little conviction behind this recommendation when compared to…

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