With the 2019 national championship game hurtling toward an exciting finish and a life-altering sum of money on the line in Yahoo Sports’ first-ever Best Bracket Millionaire Contest, one of two remaining contenders for the $1 million prize was not only rooting for the wrong team — he was asleep.
Mark Watts, a 60-year-old United States Air Force veteran and fire-alarm technician from Baltimore, was oblivious. Completely unaware that his bracket, filled out based on minimal research, had the chance to be No. 1 out of 1,196,757. He was aware, however, of a side bet with a longtime friend. His buddy had picked Virginia. Watts had Texas Tech. The wager?
“So I’m actually not pulling for Virginia to win,” Watts said in a phone interview Thursday, sheepishly mindful of how absurd it sounds in retrospect.
Not until more than 24 hours later did the emails pop into his inbox, informing him that his Yahoo bracket — titled “My Bracket” — was the winner. “Am I dreaming?” he initially thought. “Is this real?”
It took multiple phone calls with Yahoo employees to finally convince Watts that it was. Late Thursday, he remained in shock.
“This still feels surreal!” he wrote in a text.
“It’s still hard to grasp,” he later said.
But pretty soon, he’ll be grasping a million bucks.
The $1 million bracket
Watts said he only filled out one bracket – this one. There was no pool with friends or colleagues, no special competition. Just the Best Bracket Millionaire. And his entry was golden:
Watts only missed seven total picks — three in the first round, three in the second, one in the Sweet 16. He didn’t lose a single team more than a round early. He nailed the Final Four, the title game and the champion, finishing with 179 out of 192 possible points. How?
“I must say, I feel very lucky,” he said.
He didn’t study players or dissect matchups. In fact, in an interview with Yahoo Sports, he struggled to explain any methodology at all. Asked why he picked Auburn to get to Minneapolis, he said, “That’s just one of the teams I guess I got lucky with.”
And as for why he picked Virginia?
“I remember hearing a lot about their defensive prowess. How strong they were on defense. And how they were able to limit teams’ scoring.”
Watts said he had “glanced at my score every once in a while” over the tournament’s first four days, catching bits and pieces of early round games. He was satisfied with his bracket, but with a few misses here and there, he didn’t even consider that he’d be in the running for the $1 million. So, with a job, wife, son and stepdaughter to monopolize his time, he simply forgot about it.
Who is Mark Watts, the Best Bracket Millionaire winner?
Watts grew up in New Bern, North Carolina, on the coast, about two hours east of the Triangle. He was a Tar Heels fan, and well aware of the region’s basketball tradition.
But first and foremost, he is a family man. And with a family mostly uninterested in basketball, he preferred not to “isolate” himself in front of a TV for the Madness. Plus, he’s more of a football fan (and avid golfer) anyway.
Professionally, Watts enlisted in the Air Force as a young adult, serving as a technician in Alexandria, Louisiana; in England; and in Fort Meade, Maryland. He later settled in Maryland. He’s held his current job with the Baltimore County public school district for roughly a dozen years. He gets up around 4 every morning and crashes around 8 or 8:30 in the evening, spending time with his wife, 14-year-old son and 22-year-old stepdaughter in between work and sleep.
He isn’t just going to quit that job now that he’s won $1 million, either. But amid the shock of learning he’d won it, he had a few ideas for how he’ll put it to good use.
What to do with the $1 million?
Watts, understandably, hasn’t done too much million-dollar planning yet. He said he’ll invest some of the money. “It’ll definitely take care of some of the bills,” he added.
His wife also has a 50th birthday coming up in the fall. The couple had been “contemplating a trip … something oceanfront, possibly in Aruba,” Watts said. “This will definitely make it possible.”
So he won’t suddenly be getting reckless. “It isn’t like winning the lottery,” he said.
But then he arrived at the proper conclusion, one befitting a Best Bracket Millionaire:
“It’s definitely life-changing.”
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