Reflections On Mike: Mark Bradley

Mike Mills Wins A Contest

Laura Byrd, a teacher at Lilburn Elementary, wrote, “Perfect timing from you and the NCAA! Turns out your contest and the bracket is a great way to introduce fractions and probability to fifth-graders.” Turns out I have a probability question of my own. What were the odds that the 12th annual Final Four Fiasco would be won by (a.) a friend of mine and (b.) the most famous person to enter?

Mike Mills, the bassist/keyboardist/singer for R.E.M., has toured the globe, made some money and been on the cover of Rolling Stone. Now Mills has trumped the Fiasco field to claim an official Final Four sweatshirt. “This will be one of the highlights of his life,” said Bertis Downs, the group’s manager. “Right there with the Grammys.”

“It’s a big charge,” Mills said about his Fiasco triumph. This from a guy who once danced with Cher.

Mills loves sports and has the connections to get tickets to anything. He has been to the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Australian Open, the Ryder Cup in Spain, even the World Cup final in L.A. He sang the national anthem at the last regular-season game in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, sang it again before Game 1 of the 1998 NLCS. He knows a host of famous ballplayers, golfers and broadcasters, even one wretched sportswriter. Mills and I met at a Hawks-Pistons game in the late ’80s and have kept in intermittent touch since.

Naturally, the world’s luckiest man won the Fiasco after a year in which he saw no college games in person. Still, Mills said, “I keep up. I read. I watch games on TV.” Of 1,116 entrants, eight picked the correct Final Four. Mills took the title on the first tiebreaker, nailing seven of the eight regional finalists, missing only Gonzaga.

Duke and Connecticut were so obvious that even I got them. Michigan State was tougher, winning a regional in which Kentucky and Utah were more popular choices. “I like Mateen Cleaves,” Mills said. “That team finds ways to win. And when you only lose four games and you play in the conference they do, you’ve got some serious talent.”

Why Ohio State? Two words. “Scoonie Penn.”

Mills filled out his bracket somewhere in Europe. “Stockholm or Prague — I think Prague.” He faxed it to R.E.M.’s office in Athens. Sarah Petit faxed it to us. I told you: Mills takes this stuff seriously. He even has a method for March Madness. “I have found over the years that you should go with your first instinct. This year I had Miami (Ohio) beating Utah and scratched it out.”

For sure, winning the Fiasco beats a previous NCAA memory. Downs is an inveterate Georgia Tech fan. After the Jackets felled Southern Cal in 1992 on James Forrest’s heave, he was so moved that he talked Mills into flying with him to Kansas City for the Midwest Regional. Whereupon Tech lost to Memphis State, leaving Downs so deflated that he left town the next morning, informing Mills only via telephone message. Mills stayed another couple of days — hey, he already had the tickets — and watched Cincinnati beat Memphis to make the Final Four. He didn’t, however, buy a sweatshirt.

He gets one now. Like he really needs it.

Originally published on 23 March 1999 by Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Source: R.E.M. Central

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