Sunday, January 18, 2015

Buckeyes the ‘other’ national champ crowned this week

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Matt Duncan is a Colorado native, a 2001 Tulane graduate and winner of ESPN’s Capital One Bowl Mania game, which is no small deal since it was played by more than 300,000 people, including hundreds in north Louisiana.

He pounded us all. What Duncan did to us was far worse than what Ohio State did to Oregon, which was lap the Ducks, 42-20. By comparison, Duncan beat everyone by five or six touchdowns.

And I knew it before Matt did.

Quick explanation: The annual ESPN game is one anyone can play online, for free. (You can next year, and you can play the upcoming March Madness Bracket Challenge come NCAA Tournament time just around the corner. The website keeps up with your points, wins, losses and standings, automatically. Do it!)

So I look at the little pool we have, our little club of guys, and see that if Ohio State wins, I can win the pool. By two points. The pool of five guys.

By comparison, Matt won by 36 points. Over me and our group and more than a quarter-million other people.

So when I check our group, I look to see who’s leading in the nation and click on the top name. I see he’s in the “Fans of Tulane Green Wave” group. I email the group. I get this email back.

“My name is Matt Duncan. It looks like you are trying to reach me, although this whole thing may be a scam.”

Then Matt actually checked the standings. He was leading his group. “So I better check the national standings,” he told me later. “And there’s my name.”

A calm man, an engineer, Matt reacted differently than I would have. He saw his name and muttered, “Holy smokes.”

“And then it dawned on me,” he said, “that I might have a chance to win.”

He’d actually won after the semifinals, a week before Monday’s championship game. He was so far ahead, no one could catch him. So Monday night he watched the title game at his home in a Denver suburb with his wife and two children. The only problem was the “turmoil” had already started: his 9-year-old daughter understood that mom was “pretty surprised and amazed” that dad had won something, and that the prize was a trip for two to the national championship game next January in Arizona.

“She was telling her mother, ‘I gotta go to the game. You don’t even LIKE football.’ So I’ll have to deal with that next year,” Matt said. “I think I’ll just take the whole family and draw straws to see who goes to the game.”

Duncan was drawn to New Orleans from Colorado as a college freshman because of the town and the academic program at Tulane. The football team went 10-0 in 1998, his sophomore year. He still keeps up with the football and baseball teams, goes to a half-dozen Rockies games a year, a Broncos game every couple of years. And if there’s a football game available on television, “and I’m around,” he said, “then the game’s on and I’m watching.”

But the self-described “sports geek” won the national championship in only about half an hour. That’s all it took to make his picks, just going on initial reaction. Then his dad passed away during Christmas, so he didn’t even think about the football pool until I mailed him.

“He wasn’t really a sports fan but I played a lot and he always supported me and suffered through games with me,” Matt said. “If he knew I’d won this, he’d be very impressed -- and pretty amused.”

That’s not necessarily the case around work, where the environmental engineer is involved in waste water treatment for the Denver metro area. This year he’s cleaned house. “One of my buddies put together a small bowl pool for the people here at work, and I’m in a couple of fantasy football leagues,” he said. “I won those so … it’s just pretty unbelievable. Everybody around here seems pretty upset with me right now.”

Oh, ESPN actually hosted two brackets of the same game. The one Matt won, based on points accumulated, and the one based on straight-up picks. Had he entered that one, he’s have won it too. For an environmental engineer, that’s a clean sweep.