Rich Marchese (left), a resident of nearby Southington, Conn., is the random-drawing winner of the ESPN 2016 Men's Tournament Challenge. He visited the company's Bristol, Conn., headquarters with his family.  (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)
Rich Marchese (left), a resident of nearby Southington, Conn., is the random-drawing winner of the ESPN 2016 Men’s Tournament Challenge. He visited the company’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters with his family.
(Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

What did you think when you got word that you’d won?
When I got the email, I was like, “Nah, this is some kind of spam.” I knew I didn’t have the highest-scoring bracket, so I’m thinking, “How could this possibly be possible?”

Then I actually went back online, and read about how the rules work, and then I was like, “Hey, you know what? This could be real!” The only other thing I’ve ever won of any significance was my fantasy football league, which is more bragging rights with friends than anything else. So this is far and away the biggest and most significant thing that I’ve ever won.

“Better to be lucky than good.”

It’s one of the more truthful sayings in sports, if not life in general. There’s also some irony in there, too.

Just ask Rich Marchese, 37, the grand prize winner of ESPN’s Men’s Tournament Challenge. He was chosen by random drawing from among more than 130,000 fans, representing the top 1 percent of the 13 million total brackets entered last month.

As this year’s winner, Marchese will receive a $10,000 gift card to Amazon.com and a trip for two to the Maui Jim Maui Invitational college basketball tournament in November.

Certainly, Marchese is lucky, but he’s also enjoying a bit of irony. It just so happens he is from Southington, Conn., less than 10 minutes from ESPN’s main campus in Bristol.

That’s right. Out of 13 million brackets and a random draw, this year’s Tournament Challenge prizewinner lives just down the street.

“I bet I’m the closest [in proximity to ESPN’s headquarters] winner ESPN has ever had, right?,” said Marchese, a tool-and-die maker who grew up in nearby Wolcott, Conn., before moving to Southington a little more than 12 years ago. “I’ve been past it a bunch of times, but never inside the gates.”

This week, Marchese and his family toured ESPN’s main campus. He answered some questions for Front Row.

What was the strategy that got you in the top 1 percent?

I actually did six. It was just one of those weird kind of things where I was sitting at home downstairs on a Saturday afternoon, and I was with my oldest son, and I’m like, “Yeah, come on. Let’s fill one of these things out.” So, I made him do one, and I did five.

[On] two of them, I had Kansas winning it, and two had Michigan State. And then one of them I just kind of took a flyer and said, “You know, let me throw in somebody different in there, just in case.” That happened to be Villanova [the eventual national champion]. I’ve done ESPN brackets in past years just for ha-ha’s, but you never think you’re going to win something.

How do you plan to spend your Amazon gift card?

I’m going to do everything I can to try to keep it away from my wife. [Laughs] Honestly, I haven’t really put much thought into it. It still hasn’t hit home all the way, yet. It’s still not quite real.

  • Rich Marchese

    A BIG thanks to everyone involved at ESPN! Its been an unbelievable experience for me and my family.