Sports

Record perfect bracket busted with Purdue win

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Gregg Nigl, the man with the record-breaking, perfect NCAA tournament bracket, stopped outside the Honda Center on Thursday evening and checked a score on his phone.

Purdue was beating Tennessee, and Nigl grimaced.

In the bracket he filled out when he was on cold medicine, the one in which he picked every game correctly into the Sweet 16, Nigl had picked Tennessee over Purdue to get to the Elite Eight.

For him to keep perfection, Tennessee had to win.

“Honestly, I hope they come back and I hope Purdue doesn’t win it,” said Nigl, 40, who was born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, but now lives in Columbus, Ohio. “But Purdue is a good team. I’ve seen them play a bunch this year.”

After Nigl picked his perfect Sweet 16 bracket — the only one in the world to do so — he became a national sensation. He has appeared on “Good Morning America”, the “Today Show” and CNN.

“CNN was wild,” he said. “I did some local Columbus stuff. And honestly, a few times, I didn’t know who I was talking to. Seriously. I have so many voicemails. So many text messages.”

Buick, a sponsor of the NCAA, got in touch with him and offered him tickets and an all-expenses paid trip to the Sweet 16 in Anaheim to watch Michigan. He’s been a Michigan fan his entire life.

“One of my friends forwarded it to my wife,” he said. “I don’t use Twitter, but they put it out there that they were trying to find me and potentially get me out here.”

He was in Vermont on a snowboarding trip during spring break and Buick paid for him to fly to California. When he arrived, somebody representing Buick handed him tickets.

At an entrance, a security person was in awe to meet him.

“That is awesome,” the security worker said. “My brother was telling me about you this morning.”

“I get updates about you every day on my phone,” another security person said. “Can I take your picture?”

He stood and smiled.

“Can I ask you who your Final Four is?” she asked.

Suddenly, he is the expert of all experts.

How did he do it?

“It’s a combination of things,” he said. “I watch a lot of Big Ten, so I’m good with the Big Ten picks. I watch “Bracketology” and always record it and watch it a day later. Kinda listen. That’s kinda how I picked up on Oregon this year. I don’t get to see many of those games.

“Sometimes, if I have never seen a game and don’t know anything about them, I look at their records. But then, sometimes, it’s places I have visited. Places I enjoy. Geography. States I want to visit. It’s who I like.”

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He usually picks about three brackets. This year he did four. And this was the fourth.

He had the only perfect bracket through the first 49 of 63 games of the tournament, including Gonzaga’s win over Florida State on Thursday, in the Capital One NCAA March Madness Bracket Challenge game. He didn’t even realize he had a perfect bracket until a writer from NCAA.com contacted him.

“I had no idea,” he said. “I wasn’t even monitoring this bracket,”

“You didn’t know you were perfect?” I asked.

“No, not until they told me,” he said.

About that Tennessee-Purdue game

He walked through the concourse in the Honda Center and a large screen TV showed a game in progress.

Gonzaga was beating Florida State, which is what he had picked.

But Purdue was beating Tennessee.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said. “I try not to get my hopes up. I have just enjoyed the ride.”

He walked with his arm around his son, Kaiden, 9, who wore a Michigan shirt.

“He was originally going to take my mom,” Kaiden said. “But I asked him if I could go.”

Nigl, who was born and raised in Saginaw, went to Saginaw Valley State. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, and works at the Columbus VA Hospital, but he is a huge Michigan fan.

So why does he have Gonzaga beating Michigan to get the the Elite Eight?

“In this bracket, I do,” he said. “I never, in a million years, thought I’d be in the media’s eye. Do I wish now that I had picked Michigan? Of course.”

Purdue took a 40-28 halftime lead, and it looked like his bracket was busted.

Then, Tennessee fought back, and so did his hopes.

At the end of regulation, he stood with his arms in the air, as Tennessee tied it up.

In the concourse, there were hundreds, no thousands of people, watching the game. Groaning. Screaming.

He sat in the stands, watching on the big screen. He was the only one with perfection on the line.

But in overtime, Purdue pulled away, 99-94. He sat in his stands, next to his son, eating popcorn and sipping water.

His bracket was busted.

Perfection was gone.

“I don’t know, he said. “It’s been a crazy ride. It’s been amazing. But now that it’s over, it’s a little bit of a relief.”

Michigan was being introduced before playing Texas Tech.

“Now, I can sit back and enjoy this game,” he said. “I want Michigan to go all the way!”

Follow the Detroit Free Press‘ Jeff Seidel on Twitter @seideljeff.

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