There was a lot of mystery surrounding the person known only by the alias of Rounding Again in the prestigious Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest -- someone who ran away with the first-place prize of $906,675 after topping a record field of 1,727.
He kept his identity a secret until this week, after he clinched the title with a record of 59-23-3 against the spread -- a 71.95 percent win rate for the season. People wondered if he was a professional handicapper, or if he had a super-computer program.
He turned out to be an everyman -- just an average, ordinary guy. He's a mild-mannered 44-year-old government worker from the Denver area, preferring to keep some of his anonymity by only identifying himself as James S. (no, it doesn't stand for Superman).
In a way, it could have been you or anyone just like you reading this article. That's where James was just over a year ago, reading one of our ESPN Chalk articles on the SuperContest when he learned that he could get a proxy in Las Vegas to put in his weekly picks for him.
He came here to Las Vegas last August to register and pay his $1,500 entry fee. The only thing he forgot was that he needed to pick an alias for the posting of the standings and weekly selections.
"I chose Rounding Again because it's the first gambling phrase that entered my mind," James said. "It has no special meaning to me -- it's just a phrase from the poker movie Rounders when Worm [played by Edward Norton] says to the Matt Damon character, 'At least you're Rounding Again.'"
This particular reference is fitting, to anyone familiar with this movie and two characters in particular, as James said he's been handicapping football games since he was in high school before becoming a recreational bettor as an adult. He said he stopped betting college football during the years because it's "hard to predict what 18-year-olds are going to do." He's also shied away from NFL point spreads to focus more on futures and money lines in recent years -- but he knew he was "back in the game" and felt he needed to stick to a game plan.
"First of all, I decided that I wasn't going to do any other betting," he said. "No bets on games, no futures. I wanted to be 100 percent focused on picking against the SuperContest lines.
"I'm not a stats and trends guy," James continued. "I mostly look at player personnel, matchups and injuries -- and how those injuries relate to a team's opponent the next week. Overall, I try to consume every bit of information out there."
He said that he also tried to not take big chalk -- most of the favorites he played were 3 or 4 points, max, and no Thursday games. If you do that, he said, you have to have your picks in to your proxy early Thursday, as opposed to the 11 AM, PT Saturday submission deadline for those playing only Sunday/Monday games. With the new CBA, he continued, there's less practice for professional teams and if you don't practice Thursday and Friday you're probably not going to play Sunday.
"If you put in your plays early, you miss those practice reports, so I didn't play a single Thursday game," James said.
The game plan worked from the start, as Rounding Again was 12-3 (80 percent) after the first three weeks and took over sole possession of the lead for the first time after Week 6. His record at that point was 24-5-1 (82.8 percent), half a point ahead of early-season leader The Right Reasons, who I interviewed for ESPN Chalk after that team was 18-2 after four weeks.
This was when I tried to contact Rounding Again for the first time, through his proxy Vegas Matty (footballcontest.com and on Twitter @footballcontest), but at that point he respectfully declined. Now, James said he was aware of the "Tuley Curse," as coined by Brady Kannon as part of the 2011 Sans Souci team, but that wasn't why he shot down my interview request.
"It was nothing personal, I didn't want to talk to anyone," he said. "I don't worry about jinxes or curses, but I just didn't want to lose focus. I was busy enough coming home from work and getting all the football news I could find, and Week 6 was when I started to think I had a chance to win this. When you first get in the contest, of course you dream you can win it and decide to take a shot, but it gets real once you're in contention."
Rounding Again continued on his record pace, reaching an astounding 39-9-2 (81.3 percent) after 10 weeks, but then he went 0-4-1 in Week 11 and got caught up in a tie for the lead with TD Love Machine. Both co-leaders went 2-3 in Week 12, but Rounding Again went 4-1 in Week 13 to take a lead he wouldn't relinquish again for the rest of the contest.
Victory was almost certain going into the last week of the contest; he built a 4.5-point lead heading into Week 17, needing only a single common play with each of his three closest competitors to clinch before any games were played.
"I changed my strategy for the first time in the final week, trying to use what I thought would be the most common plays and trying to find one team to match with all three," he said. "I was able to do that with two, but I was unable to do that with one."
Fade Material -- the alias of Houston attorneys Barry McFadden, 39, and Jason Peters, 44 -- was able to avoid any common plays, making theirs the only SuperContest entry (other than Rounding Again) that was still mathematically alive for the title. They had one opposing play with Fade Material, on the Buffalo Bills +3 while Rounding Again had the New York Jets -3. But James said he wasn't worried as he just needed one win or push or any loss or push by Fade Material.
"When they got the pick-six [by Houston DB Kareem Jackson with 3:09 to play], we knew it was time to celebrate," said James, who was watching the action in his man cave with NFL Sunday Ticket on multiple TVs. He said he usually just watches the games with one of his sons, but this Sunday he was joined by family and friends.
The SuperContest entrant going by the alias Olguita (who is from Guatemala and, as of Tuesday night, Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay hadn't reached yet) will collect a second-prize of $362,670 after finishing with 57 points and a record of 56-27-2 (67.47 percent); they'll also split the $15,000 bonus that Westgate gives to anyone picking 67 percent or better. Fade Material would have finished second and shared in the bonus if the Green Bay Packers (-3) had covered in the Sunday night finale against the Minnesota Vikings. With the Vikings winning outright, they earned $181,335 for finishing third. The Top 50 finishers (with ties) earn prize money.
The Westgate also offers a $15,000 bonus mini-contest during the final three weeks of the season. The winner there was Mr Hargou, the alias of longtime, well-known professional handicapper "Big" Al McMordie (bigal.com) and his friend and partner Jeff Lo. They went 14-1 during the past four weeks, with their only loss coming when they picked the Dallas Cowboys (-3.5) against the Washington Redskins.
McMordie won the 2004 Stardust Invitational ($10,000) and he's been a high-profile tout for years, including a run on "The Winning Edge" with Wayne Root last decade, and he was featured in Chad Millman's 2010 ESPN The Magazine piece on the famed "Buckeye Database." McMordie is the second straight tout to win the mini-contest, as Kelly Stewart of kellyinvegas.com won it last year.
Last year's SuperContest championship team CH Ballers turned tout after hitting a record 76 percent of their picks, but while they and McMordie will continue to sell their picks, James said he has no interest in doing that going forward.
"I've had some good years and I've had people ask me to bet my same picks for them, but I'm just not comfortable with other people counting on my picks," James said. "I prefer to work alone and not have other people depend on me like that, because losing streaks are inevitable and I wouldn't feel good about that."
Then we come to the obligatory question after a record $914,175 (first place plus $7,500 bonus for exceeding 67 percent) payout: what is he going to do with all that money?
"I've got a mortgage so that'll be nice to pay that off," he said, "and I've got two boys in college, so I can now write a check and help them not having to start their careers with that hanging over them. I also do a lot of philanthropy work, so this will help with that. So mostly practical stuff -- nothing outlandish."
Spoken like your ordinary, average everyman -- albeit one that pulled off an extraordinary feat.