And they said it wouldn’t last: The Bracket Fiasco turns 25!

BradleyTopper

The March of time: When the Fiasco began, I thought I was loco; decades later, we've got this snazzy logo.

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.

Mike Mills, exultant in victory. (AJC photo by Joey Ivansco)

Mike Mills, exultant in his Fiasco victory. (AJC photo by Joey Ivansco)

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.

(The official entry page can be found by clicking here.)

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

45 comments Add your comment

MatthewH

March 8th, 2012
8:56 am

Never entered. Maybe this year, I’ll give it a shot.

Mark Bradley

March 8th, 2012
8:58 am

Please do, sir.

MatthewH

March 8th, 2012
8:59 am

Maybe I’ll get my 3 year old to give me advice. Can’t do any worse than some brackets I’ve done for other pools in the past.

T-Bone

March 8th, 2012
9:00 am

is there a first for this?

wes

March 8th, 2012
9:07 am

I love March Madness.

BEST TIME OF THE YEAR!!

wes

March 8th, 2012
9:07 am

Look for Detroit or ILU Brooklyn to do or at least scare the hell outta something.

T-Bone

March 8th, 2012
9:08 am

MB, don’t you long for the days when we mailed in our brackets (I remember mailing mine in)? You can’t write anything on the envelope or have one notorized when it’s all online!

T-Bone

March 8th, 2012
9:13 am

It’s my favorite time of the year as well — Braves Spring Training and March Madness at the same time! Can’t beat it. I remember in 02 I was able to go to the Braves home opener in the afternoon and to the Final Four on the same day. I recently told someone, unfortunately in my wife’s hearing, that it was one of the best days of my life. She’s just begun speaking to me again.

Mark Bradley

March 8th, 2012
9:17 am

I do miss that part, T-Bone. I enjoyed hearing from familiar names.

Sonny Clusters

March 8th, 2012
9:19 am

Working on our picks now but slowed down a bit by soreness in our thighs. We was noticing that Chipper and Celine Dion went on the DL the same day and we was wondering which one will be back at their position first? Sitting up in a tree stand will sometimes make your thighs cramp and when you climb down sometimes it can cause tweaking and flu-like symptoms. Same thing for sitting in a bass boat for too long. In addition to cramping it can make you irritable and cranky and sometimes you miss a period like Chipper is missing a period of 5-6 games. Whoa!

Gordon

March 8th, 2012
9:31 am

“for the record, I’ve hit on 41 of 88 Final Four teams over the first 24 years”

Wouldn’t that be 41 of 96 teams? 4 times 24 = 96. Or did you miss some years?

Mark Bradley

March 8th, 2012
9:42 am

Yes. Should be 96.

fds

March 8th, 2012
9:46 am

it should be 92 gordon.

Dawg Boy

March 8th, 2012
9:47 am

One of the few years I haven’t entered was in 2002 when it was in Atlanta. I did enter a bracket in a contest with 680 the Fan and picked the correct Final Four…Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma and Indiana (Indiana was the upset pick that year). I won $500 and 2 nosebleed seats for both the semis and the finals. Can you send me a sweatshirt/hoodie for that Mark? I still kick myself for not entering!!

fds

March 8th, 2012
9:48 am

if the first one was in 89, then it’s 92. if it was 88, then it’s 96.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

March 8th, 2012
9:57 am

Done & done…last year was a mess with all the upsets for me…thinking KY & Cuse are 2 locks for the 4. We’ll see how the conference tournaments play out this week.

Larry

March 8th, 2012
10:31 am

I’ll pass, Mark. It is a shame that one has to “open” and account or share personal information just to fill in a bracket.

T-Bone

March 8th, 2012
10:43 am

Larry, Get your head out of the sand. Do you use the Internet very much?

bali

March 8th, 2012
10:51 am

25 years …hard to believe you have had this contest going for so long….i have always enjoyed participating in this contest…never came close to winning the coveted sweatshirt,maybe this is the year all wrongs will be right…just registered and went on the site to get the lay of the land…congrats on the contest continued growth…bought time someone from south georgia won the fiasco

SimpleDawg

March 8th, 2012
11:22 am

A lot has happened in the past 25 years…….an awful lot.

Ted Striker

March 8th, 2012
11:46 am

Awesome column. You get better and better. And you were pretty good to start with.

Just up the Street

March 8th, 2012
12:27 pm

25 years and at the end of the day…still meaningless.

Old School

March 8th, 2012
1:02 pm

As always, great job MB. Unfortunately for me it has been 25 years of futility. The one thing I have learned though is never pick Pitt :)

Sonny Clusters

March 8th, 2012
1:53 pm

This just in . . . Chipper still sore. We was wondering if it may be more than that? A tweak? A turn? A boo boo? What in the world is happening down there in Florida? We apologize for posting about baseball on here but nobody’s posting too much basketball either. If we was Fredi Gonzalez we would be worrying about now about how to get this team ready because losing could become a habit if they do it enough – and they certainly appear to be headed in that direction. Who’s steering the ship? Is his cap in his eyes? Tipped, maybe?

Lowcountry Bulldawg

March 8th, 2012
1:57 pm

13 Years have passed since Mills won? Time flys for dang sure. Can’t wait to submit mine MB! Having my wife pick mine this year. She knows nothing about the game or the teams. So she is just as well equipped as me to submit a winning bracket.

Old School

March 8th, 2012
2:02 pm

Appears like Waiters sure bailed out Syracuse, man what an ugly game.

Whopper Dawg

March 8th, 2012
2:10 pm

Mark,

To your knowledge when was the first time brackets were used with increasing points per round for “fun” purposes? I think I invented it, no kidding.

Whopper

Common Sense

March 8th, 2012
2:20 pm

Always enter, never win. It’s my year!

JSS

March 8th, 2012
3:05 pm

@ Mark Bradley…
Did they get those registration problems from last year cleared up?

Metro Coach

March 8th, 2012
3:21 pm

Registered and ready to go Mark, I anxiously await your phone call….to tell my wife that her bracket won. She smokes me every year, a minimum of 2 Final Four picks right every year since we started playing as a teenage couple, including more than 1 national title game picked correctly.

UGA Insider

March 8th, 2012
3:55 pm

Mark, have you heard about the point shaving scandal at Auburn yet?

Alpha Mike

March 8th, 2012
4:44 pm

Mark, here is the first prediction. UK and Duke seeded 1-2 in the Atlanta region. Final Four on the line on the 20th anniversary of the tournament’s best game.

Auburn Caught Again

March 8th, 2012
5:31 pm

The NCAA, FBI, and SEC all back at their usual offices in Auburn.
I bet the coffee pots were still warm.
BBUUHHUUWWAAHHHAAHAHAHAHAHA

George

March 8th, 2012
6:04 pm

Mark was kind enough to give me a T-shirt in 2000 for being the only one to pick Wisconsin for the big dance. Best part of all, he called me!! Sounds just like his picture.

Rabun Dawg

March 8th, 2012
6:06 pm

Old School, Kansas and Arizona have always been my downfall, and yea, Pitt also! If UK and Syracuse don’t make the final game, then I quit! However, if UNC plays as well as they did against Duke last week, well, they surely can make some noise also.

Mark Bradley

March 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

I would say I’ve missed most on Kansas, then on Syracuse, then on Pittsburgh and Arizona.

Mark Bradley

March 8th, 2012
6:31 pm

I think I remember that, George. I’m flattered you do.

Mark Bradley

March 8th, 2012
6:32 pm

I have heard about the Auburn thing. I have one word: Whoa.

IceColdATLien

March 8th, 2012
9:34 pm

For what it’s worth, MB, I really dig these types of promotions which aren’t so completely full of themselves. Your self-deprecating humor is part of why I enter each year since I was a freshman at Emory in ‘94 (damn, just dated myself). All the “big boys” can keep their cars and vacations and other big prizes… I just want that damn sweatshirt!!!

Mark Bradley

March 8th, 2012
10:34 pm

Thanks, IceCold. I’m obliged.

twoiron

March 9th, 2012
7:48 am

Is there a special prize for picking the Georgia team that goes the farthest?

[...] About the Fiasco: A bit of history and details of this year’s fabulous prizes can be found here. [...]

SuperB

March 9th, 2012
5:47 pm

The real fiasco is the NCAA letting in nobodys like LIU, and all thos eitty-bitty teams– while the likes of NC State, Miami, etc. have to “play their way in.” Give me a break!

Sautee

March 10th, 2012
5:36 pm

Mark called me in ‘93. A co-worker had tied for the prize, but had not left his phone #, but our entries were in the same envelope. We talked for about 30 minutes, and argued whether the ‘92 Duke- Ky game was the best ever. I favored the ‘74 ACC final between NC State and Maryland. That was before at-large teams were allowed, so even though they were #1 and #2 in the country, only the winner advanced to the NCAA Tourney. NC St. won in overtime when Tom Burleson blocked John Lucas floater. But both games had high drama, and a gazillion lead changes.

Briet

March 15th, 2012
11:07 am

Just where can i obtain your rss feed?