Re-post: March Madness nearly ruined my life

18 Mar

Three years ago, Showcase Magazine asked me to write an essay about March Madness. Below is what I wrote. It was also posted on this site.

Whenever people ask how it all started, my reply is always the same: “I just wanted to win.”

I had never won a March Madness bracket before. I’d followed college hoops on the periphery, and every single year I filled out a bracket and entered a pool. But I never won — not in high school, college or at the office — and so last year I decided I’d had enough. Enough losing.

Research took over my life. I purchased a supplemental college basketball channel, subscribed to magazines, pored through websites, calculated and adjusted for each team’s difficulty of schedule, even custom-created a spreadsheet intended to cross-analyze teams in different conferences. I was a man possessed — even taking a few “sick” days — but when I finally submitted my completed bracket, I knew I had it in the bag.

As you now know, I did win my office pool, comfortably beating the runner-up/secretary Esther Coughlin. I’ll never forget the pathetic look on her face as I celebrated my well-deserved victory with some aggressive taunting. Talk about sour grapes.

I am not ashamed to say the victory was the biggest accomplishment of my life.

Things changed pretty quickly after my victory was announced to the media. There was a parade, autograph sessions, first-pitch-throwing at the ballgame, and, eventually, a state holiday named in my honor. As I shook hands with the governor that fateful day, our wide smiles beaming toward the dozens of flashbulbs, I knew my life would never be the same.

The endorsements piled up rather quickly. I did commercials for Herberger’s, New Balance, Office Max, Buick…I can’t even remember them all. My point is, the abundance of commercial work was the main catalyst in my abrupt move to Hollywood.

It was there everything changed.

I still remember when I first saw Rachel Bilson: I was at a Halloween party for some hotshot director of a Wite-Out commercial who was trying to get me to appear in his next ad. I wouldn’t have been caught dead hawking that third-rate product, but the guy promised celebrity appearances (beyond just myself) and unlimited sushi, so I figured I’d stop by before moving on to the A-list soirees.

So Rachel walks in, I walk over, a few words are exchanged, and by the time I’ve detailed my strategy behind choosing Bradley to upset Pitt in the quarterfinals, we’re completely in love. It was amazing. Like a truckload of firecrackers had just been set off in a closet full of explosives inside a house laced with kerosene. I’m talking serious sparks. I don’t remember ever enjoying life more.

Rach and I were inseparable. She was by my side for the spreadsheet seminars, the talk show circuit, the bracket lectures at USC, the data analysis roundtables, the dinner at The White House.

Life was a perpetual whirlwind. I had every A-list director in town hounding me about doing movies. I was mauled relentlessly by the paparazzi. My agent had her own agent. My posse had their own posses. It was pure pandemonium, and Rach and I were basking in the fame.

We could have been happy. We should have been happy.

I’ll admit, most of the eventual demise was my fault. As she stated in her recent Us Weekly interview, she was entirely faithful throughout our relationship.

As any internationally-renowned celebrity can attest, with fame comes groupies. I loved Rachel more than words can express, but I got careless and selfish, and the deplorable urges got the best of me. After the groupies — once enthralled by my bracket genius but eventually stung with rejection — spread news of my infidelity to the gossip blogs, the relationship took a nosedive. Rachel left me, allegedly striking up a rebound with that jerk from Scrubs.

Media outlets blame my resultant two-week “bender” (as People called it) on the break-up. I won’t argue that. What with all the pressures surrounding me, I needed to cool off. My original intention was to take a few weeks to relax with my posse. Simple as that.

However, while pure intentions are noble indeed, your actions can sometimes betray you. That is how I justify the fistfight with that homeless guy, and the numerous paparazzi flip-outs, and the time I choked that Burger King employee through the drive-thru window, and the arrest-inducing sucker-punch of that jerk from Scrubs at the New Year’s Eve party I’d snuck into.

After posting bail, I called an emergency strategy session with my PR agent. It was time to get back to basics, she said, time to return to my roots. We forged ahead with a campaign refocusing on my office pool victory. I offered to counsel bracket competitors, analyze spreadsheets, create a scheduling metric nearly identical to the one that helped me mop the floor with Esther the year before…anything. I called everyone I knew.

Sadly, I received no response. Zilch. It seemed I’d overstayed my welcome in Hollywood, and when my expense of living collided with my sudden lack of income, I was quickly out of money. There went the groupies, there went the posse. I finally knew what Hammer felt like.

When a last-ditch text message to my comrade Seacrest went unanswered, I finally knew the dream was over. I was broke and desperate, and thus agreed to the invitation extended by my mother to move back home.

We have fun together, Mom and me, and she helps me in times of need. As we were in the middle of our pilates exercises yesterday, I mentioned that a magazine had recently asked me to pen an article about the unforeseen dangers of office pools. She slowly dropped her chubby arm, looked up at me and said only, “tell them your story.”

So I did.


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