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Thomas’s predicting wins Final Four tickets

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Tammy Thomas is one of those people who enter NCAA Tournament bracket contests that probably drive veteran bracket players crazy.

Thomas, a resident of Carthage, filled out the 2012 Northwestern Mutual March Madness Bracket Challenge, featured at SI.com, and proceeded to beat more than 20,000 other entrants to win two game tickets to the 2013 NCAA Men’s Final Four in Atlanta.

The bracket was the first Thomas had ever completed and she admits the only sport she really follows is college basketball. But her victory underlines why bracket contests are so popular with diehard fans and casual followers alike: anyone can win.

Thomas, 42, accumulated 167 points, more than any entrant in the contest, and picked just two games incorrectly in the entire tournament (excluding the four first-round games that weren’t part of the contest). She correctly picked all Final Four teams – Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio State and Kansas – and she picked Kentucky to beat Kansas in the championship.

Her first thought when informed that she had won?

“Oh my husband’s going to love me,” she said.

Thomas, and her husband, Todd — both longtime Syracuse basketball fans — each filled out brackets at the same time, but with one very key difference.

“It’s kind of interesting,” said Thomas, who works as a bus dispatcher for Freeman Bus Corp. in Watertown. “My husband and I sat down together and filled them out, my husband’s I think was through his work. And I filled out mine, and we picked one team different. I picked Kansas (in the NCAA semifinal), and he picked Ohio (State). He said, “You’re going to lose on that one.”

But Kansas actually won that game against Ohio State. Through the tournament, Thomas checked how she was faring in the contest while rooting on Syracuse. But then Syracuse lost to Ohio State in the Elite 8 — just as she had predicted — and her mind was back to the contest.

“Up until Friday (before Saturday’s Final 4 games), I was like, ‘I’m never going to win this.’”

Thomas then received a call from her Northwestern Mutual representative Jeffrey Kimball, who asked if she was aware that she was No. 6 in the country.

“Yes, Jeff,” she said. “But you don’t win unless you’re No. 1.”

Thomas was thrown off further on her perception of winning because her husband, one of those veteran bracket contest players, had confused her picks and kept telling her that she had selected Ohio State to beat Kansas in the semifinals. When Ohio State lost, she thought she was done. It turns out she had just moved into first place.

After the championship game, won by Kentucky just as she had chosen, her husband encouraged her to check the contest results. The next morning at work, she did check, and saw she was first. Startled, she called over her boss, who already knew that she had won.

Fifteen minutes later, Kimball was there to deliver the news officially: she and her husband were headed to next year’s Final Four. Among her winnings was four nights at an Atlanta hotel and domestic airfare. Kimball also won the same prize package.

“I’m kind of excited,” she said. “Now I’m really hoping Syracuse goes to the Final Four.”

Thomas and her husband have attended several Syracuse games and have rooted on the Orange for 20 years. But Thomas never thought to enter a bracket contest until she received the emailed invitation to enter from Kimball.

In fact, when it became clear that she had a shot at winning the whole thing, Kimball asked: “Can I ask you how you got into this?”

Said Thomas, “You emailed it to me.”

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