My Shining Moment

My screen wasn’t large enough to show you how I ranked 1,120,153rd after the first round. And I’m not savvy enough to know how to circle in bright glowing colors that moment of shining glory for the Final Four.

Know who successfully predicted the final two teams in their NCAA men’s basketball bracket? This guy! (I’m pointing to myself with both thumbs, in case you aren’t already seeing that.)

I have to confess, I started gloating early, jeopardizing the chances of San Diego State University in the final, but I must also tell you that as the tournament started — and I have witnesses to attest to this — I predicted the final score of the championship game would be 72-59. It ended up 76 for the University of Connecticut to 59 for the lackluster (I’m told) Aztecs of SDSU, but it still feels kind of savant-ish, doesn’t it?

I started my bragging rights too early (sorry, SDSU) because I had already locked up my top finish in the unrewarded, barely-remarked on competition at work and the slightly more lucrative family competition set up by my niece. Winner! Even if my team lost in the final.

But I didn’t realize, until CBS sent me an e-mail yesterday, how close I was to impressing the entire nation with my bracket savvy. Starting three weeks and 68 teams ago, I recorded all my selections on a paper bracket that Kara printed out at work. I predicted a final between San Diego State and the University of Connecticut, and look at what happened.

Apparently, according to my e-mail, I must have been the only person from among at least 1.12 million people who had brackets filed with CBS to correctly predict those two teams in the finals. However, steadfast SDSU, which had given me so much through the first four rounds of the tournament, failed me at the end, and it appears, as I attempt to glean information from the little CBS sent me, that 49,761 people called for UConn to win the whole shebang. I wasn’t one of them.

Oh how quickly are our fortunes reversed.

There doesn’t appear to have been any cash in it anyway from CBS. Maybe there would have been (not for the person placing 49,762nd) over at ESPN, but Kara failed to mention that option to me before things got rolling.

Still, I emerged the victor in our shop competition — I feel I should also mention I selected the winning men’s World Cup soccer team (Argentina) for another unrewarded, barely-remarked on shop contest — and in the family pool put together by niece Ellie, using the CBS option.

Did I go this far — first in the nation for two glorious days! — because I spent the entire NCAA season carefully following the teams and noting their strengths and weaknesses? No. Did I do this because I studied rosters and the depths of benches? No. History of performance in the tournament? No. Cooler uniforms and team mascots? As if.

(Although that did work one football season when Kara’s mom Trish, my late friend Bob and I won a weekly NFL pool three times in seven weeks, often picking teams by helmet and once based on an observation by National Public Radio.)

No, I was handed the empty bracket by Kara so I repaired to my desk and promptly went searching at the Washington Post for Neil Greenberg, who told me he’d prepared the perfect bracket. That turned out to be not quite true, but he kept me in contention through the first two rounds, although both James and Vann had more correct picks than I at work, and I was losing to a slew of people in Ellie’s contest, including two grandmothers who led the early going.

But my teams kept winning as others faltered. Neither Mr. Greenberg nor I had the foresight to go with Fairleigh Dickinson, coming out of what I’d always called the “pigtail” games but my sister Terri informs me are now referred to as “play-in.” And who, other than their fans, had any faith in Florida Atlantic? And yet, by the time we reached the Elite Eight, I had five winners to two for James and one for Vann.

I did not hew completely to Mr. Greenberg’s advice, which is why I had two teams in the final and he only had one. We differed greatly on Texas, his pick to win it all and my pick to lose in the first round to my dad’s alma mater, Colgate. Okay, I knew that really wasn’t likely — Colgate is one of those “just being invited is an honor” types — but I did it anyway, completely ignored Mr. Greenberg’s top choice for the whole ball of wax and ousted them in the first round.

Did Texas make it to Eight and then lose? I can’t remember, and really, I paid very little attention to this tournament that can suck up hours of one’s life. I filled out my bracket and then checked to see who had advanced each round, and then it turned out that while everyone else was complaining about busted brackets, I had two teams left among the top two.

CBS tells me I guessed correctly 63 percent of the time, which in academic terms doesn’t impress but sounds okay for an NCAA year filled with upsets and surprises. Was this the first time no number-one seed made it to the Final Four? Or maybe the second time — that’s how much I was paying attention.

One of Ellie’s grandmothers picked so well in the first round that she still finished fifth in the family bracket despite all of her choices losing thereafter. I suppose, technically, one could do a dreadful job and blow 30 of 32 first-round games, as long as those remaining two wended their way to the championship, where you could end up — just like me! — first in the nation. Did I note I had the best bracket in the nation for a couple days? Until suddenly it wasn’t and I slid back to about 50,000th place.

Under a section headlined “Great Minds Think Alike,” CBS informed me that 0.0 percent of the million-plus (maybe it was 1.1 million, maybe 5 million — the network didn’t provide a baseline from which to measure) brackets uploaded to their NCAA website matched mine for Final Four and championship picks. So I wasn’t thinking alike, and for one shining moment, it made me greater. Until the final, when defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.

Like horseshoes, however — which I have yet to start gambling on — close enough was good enough to lord it over both my co-workers and my family. And isn’t that really what counts?

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