Friday update: I’ve just been informed that we have a windfall prize for our local Fiasco winner this year — a $1,000 gift card courtesy of Kroger. So enter the contest and eat hearty!
Twenty-five years ago, Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco began not as a contest with an in-house marketing team and thousands of entrants, not even as the Fiasco at all. The name came not in the inaugural edition but the next year, when Chris Foley of Atlanta wrote on his stamped envelope — in those olden days the internet was just a gleam in Al Gore’s eye — “NCAA Fiasco ‘89.” Knowing a good word when I see one, I exercised eminent domain and borrowed it.
Twenty-five years after I first challenged readers to pick the Final Four, the Fiasco is with us still. The first run produced 295 entries, not one of whom tabbed the correct Final Four. The 2011 edition yielded 5,763 entries, not one of whom tabbed the correct Final Four. Ah, progress.
This being our silver anniversary, the contest founder got a tad nostalgic. I went back and read all the Fiasco columns I’ve written, even those before the word “fiasco” had reared its mellifluous head. I read all my picks — for the record, I’ve hit on 41 of 96 Final Four teams over the first 24 years, and only three times (in 1989, 2006 and last year) have I failed to pick a single one correctly — and reviewed all the winners, and I found myself smiling in warm remembrance.
Brad Kraay, the 1997 winner, was slow to call me back after I left a message saying I was with the AJC. “I thought it was a sales call,” Kraay said. (And he already subscribed to the paper.) Sam Grove, the 2005 champ, entered only because the mayor of Cartersville — Grove was the city manager — prodded him. The 1999 champ, Mike Mills of the band R.E.M., kept kidding me that I’d rigged the contest so somebody famous would win. Said Mills: “I’d like to thank Don King.”
And then there was my all-time favorite Fiasco story. (It was also Brent Musburger’s fave. I ran into the announcer months later and he, without prompting, said: “I loved the one about the preacher and his grandson.”) And for that we return to 1989:
The Rev. Jack H. Ballard, pastor of the Mount Carmel Christian Church in Decatur, went so far as to have his bracket notarized before mailing. “It will be the first time a perfect prediction has crossed your desk,” Rev. Ballard wrote. “Illinois, Michigan, Duke and Seton Hall in the Final Four. Believe me!”
And that would have been the correct Final Four, except …
Rev. Ballard suffered a lapse of faith. He changed his mind on the East Regional winner, crossing out “Duke” on his bracket and writing in “G’town.” His explanation: “I filled it out with my grandson, Casey Skeen. He’s 11, and he knows his basketball. He wanted to go with Duke. But right before I mailed it, I decided on Georgetown. I don’t know why. He’s probably mad at me.”
The next year, Casey Skeen entered on his own, decrying “my sometimes-not-too-bright grandfather.” He went 0-for-4, alas.
Last year, as VCU made its outrageous run, I kept noting that the Rams’ best player was named Jamie Skeen, and my Fiasco-addled mind kept flashing back to Casey Skeen and his granddad. For all the times I’ve wondered if continuing this goofy little contest was worth it — most notably in 2004, when a computer glitch forced us to discard thousands of online entries — I’ve never really wanted it to end. Because it’s fun for me, and I hope it has been a source of some small amusement for you.
When we began in 1988, I wasn’t sure if anybody would respond. A quarter-century later, I’m proud to say that the total of Fiasco entries (not counting the discarded brackets of 2004) has swelled to 48,062. I’m hoping you’ll partake of the festivities in Year 25. Starting Sunday night, you’ll be able to enter online at AJC.com — and only online; we haven’t had paper brackets, notarized or not, for a while now — and the prize is, as ever, an official Final Four sweatshirt/hoodie.
I say “as ever,” but that’s not really true. The prize back in 1988 was a CBS Sports ballcap. (Not that I had any connection with CBS Sports, my nodding acquaintance with Mr. Musburger notwithstanding. I just happened to have one lying around.) The winner was Lou Ricke of Woodstock. He got three of four, missing on the Kansas of Danny Manning and his Miracles.
Over the next few years I gave away various and sundry basketball-related items — caps, books, videotapes — before settling, in 1998, on the sweatshirt. I did this for a reason: When I went to the Final Four, I’d sometimes buy myself a sweatshirt. (I still have one from 1994 in Charlotte. I wore it Tuesday.) I thought that would make a nice Fiasco prize, and I’ve since seen nothing I like better.
If you enter the Fiasco, you’ll be automatically enrolled in the national UPICKEM contest, for which there’s a massive monetary prize. But here, yet again, I dip into Fiasco history for this, submitted in 1992 by faithful entrant Richard Kraus of Atlanta: “Even when the reward escalates to the point of big cash money, hard-core Fiasco fans will still play just for pride.”
In Year 25, I ask you to do as you’ve done, in ever-growing numbers, for the past 24 years: Enter the Fiasco, try to outpick dumb ol’ MB, play for pride but win $1,000 in groceries to boot. A good time will be had by all, but mostly by me. Twenty-five years later, this contest remains the highlight of my vocational year. To all who’ve entered over that span, I say thanks. To those who haven’t yet, I say, “Take a shot.” And, as both challenge and warning, I offer this from the guy who gave the Fiasco its name.
Wrote Chris Foley in 1989: ““Every time I do these things in a logical fashion, I get burned by an illogical outcome.”
That’s the beauty of March. That’s the fun of the Fiasco. And here, I’m happy to say, we go again.
Oh, and one thing more: I’ll be doing a Fiasco-driven live video chat on this little blog Monday from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30. Questions can be submitted via Facebook. (I’m Mark Bradley ajc.) And again I feel my age. Back in 1988, there was no Facebook. Or video chats. Or electricity.
By Mark Bradley