I probably shouldn't admit to this, being the old sports writer that I am/was, but for the first time in memory (well, in my memory), I didn't participate in an NCAA brackets pool.
At least, not voluntarily.
As the tournament approached, I received the usual requests for my pool participation. I'd been playing NCAA pools for probably the entire 40 years I've lived in Lexington, and in all those years, I only won once.
That was in 1983. It happened like this: We had the usual brackets pool at The Dispatch, where I worked, but then we had a Sweet 16 pool, where you drew the name of a team out of a hat at $5 a pop. I wasn't there for the drawing (I think I was actually out on assignment), but a colleague of mine drew for me, pulling N.C. State.
Oh, great, I thought, thinking that's $5 I'll never see again. Until N.C. State won. Oh, great! I thought, and promptly bought myself a Members Only jacket with my $80 in winnings.
But every year since then, I've been a poor loser. It usually cost me $5 to fill out three brackets, but even with my supposedly sports writer insider knowledge, I'd only occasionally get tantalizingly close to winning the $120 pots. Usually, the winner was someone who picked their teams based on school colors or how they liked the team nicknames. Very prescient of them, but probably as good a system as any.
So this year, I just said the hell with it. I just didn't want to play any more. It was a dead-end street. Money out the window. And with that decision not to fill out my brackets, I felt decidedly liberated. No longer did I have to suffer agonizing bracket-buster upsets. I could just sit back and enjoy the games. In fact, I didn't even have to watch the games, if I didn't want to. I was free. Free to change the channel. Free to go outside in the middle of a game. Free.
Until Thursday morning, when my wife called. There was an ESPN pool her office was participating in. One of her colleagues would fill out our bracket if I just picked the Final Four teams. Sigh. OK. Easy enough. And it didn't cost anything to enter. So I picked Virginia, Xavier, Villanova and Michigan State, with Villanova to win the title (Villanova is a Philadelphia school. I might still have to ride those Super Bowl coattails).
But I didn't have to fill out a bracket. Somebody else in Kim's office volunteered to do that based on my final four teams.
I kind of like this surrogate selector idea. Going into today's games, our bracket is currently tied for first place, even surviving Virginia's stunning upset to the UM-Baltimore County Retrievers (a great team nickname, I think, right up there with the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs).
I'm still not clear what happens if we win the pool. Not sure if money is involved or not. Could end up being a pat on the back. Suits me. I'm still free.