Corey Johnson currently has the fourth-best bracket in America. The 20 best brackets will win $100,000 from Quicken Loans and Yahoo Sports, but Corey will not be among them. Corey's bracket didn't pick a champion. Where will Corey be watching tonight's championship game? "From a rope hanging from a tree," he tells me.
Before anything else, Johnson wants you to know that he thought he picked a winner. Even more important than the money is correcting all the people who think he's an idiot who just forgot. "I clicked UConn to win," he says, "put in the final score, and clicked save. I guess it didn't save."
Johnson, a lifelong Huskies fan from Meriden, Conn., didn't realize anything was amiss until last week. As the tournament progressed, his hit rate was high—11 of the Sweet 16, seven of the Elite Eight—and he couldn't help but brag to his friends. They looked at his bracket and had some uncomfortable questions.
"Who do you have in the championship game? I said, 'UConn and Kentucky'. Who do you have winning? I said, 'UConn.' They said, That's not what it says here. I said, 'Oh shit.'"
Sure enough, Yahoo hadn't registered his pick of a champion. The bracket had locked before the opening round, and it was too late to add a pick—you can trust Johnson on this, because he read every word of the contest's fine print while looking for an out. He then went through the scores of brackets at the top of the leaderboards, trying to figure out if there was any combination of the Final Four and championship game that would result in him remaining, championlessly, in the Top 20. There wasn't.
Johnson's happy he came this far. "It was a good bracket!" he exclaims, and I'm not sure if he's trying to convince himself or me, but it was a very good bracket. Fourth best of the millions entered in the Yahoo pool. That's something to be proud of. And yet. "It was like hitting the winning shot, then being told the clock had already expired."
(He's aware of the irony of his bracket being named "Corey's Champion Bracket." That's a name automatically assigned by Yahoo.)
Johnson, 28, says he would have liked the $100,000 to pay for school. (After years of working with autistic children, he's currently enrolled at the Porter and Chester Institute training to be an HVAC technician.) But he believes this is one of those things that wasn't meant to be. "Maybe someone who needs it more than I do is going to win because I won't," he says.
That still doesn't stop him from being "pissed off at the world" right now.
I asked Johnson whom he's rooting for tonight, knowing the stakes. A Connecticut win would mean he was one failed click away from $100,000. A Kentucky win would mean he wouldn't have won anyway. "I'm rooting for UConn," he says. "It's not even a question."
Art by Jim Cooke.