|Broncos DQ'd; Michigan wins bracket|
By Patrick Hruby
Page 2 columnist
There's something rotten in the state of Colorado.
And no, we're not referring to Steve Beuerlein's quarterback rating.
Along the way, we've seen upsets and blowouts (Michigan over LSU), snoozers and shockers (Notre Dame's shamrock-green jerseys advancing to the Sweet 16). We've marveled at the awesome power of democracy in action, the one-man, one-vote principle that forms the bedrock of our fair Republic. And we narrowed the field to two finalists, University of Michigan football and the Denver Broncos.
Today, we hoped to crown a uniform champion for all Americans. A fashion uniter, not a sartorial divider. A just and noble getup selected by You, The People.
Instead, we're looking at the biggest electoral scandal since Florida 2000.
According to ESPN.com engineers, someone naughty has been stuffing the electronic ballot box for the Broncos, who benefited from at least 71,465 illegitimate votes.
Trailing badly in the final round last Thursday, Denver received 20,000 consecutive overnight votes and 42,500 of the final 50,000 e-ballots cast -- a dubious last-second surge to shame the thousands of dead Chicagoans who "voted" for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.
To put it another way: Not even John Elway could author this sort of Broncos comeback. Well, not unless he was the Russian superhacker from "Goldeneye."
"That's quite a run," said Paul Kirk, a spokesman for the Broncos. "I don't know what's going on. I've always thought our fans were pretty smart."
Make that too smart.
When the polls finally closed, the Broncos had rallied to post 137,257 votes, easily outdistancing Michigan's 88,743. However, ESPN.com has discovered that 71,465 of those votes came from one IP address.
"Who would do such a thing?" asked Chris Nandor, a computer programmer and author. "My guess (is) someone from Denver."
When it comes to online sports voting fraud, Nandor knows his stuff. An avid Boston Red Sox fan, he famously rigged the electronic balloting for the 1999 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in favor of BoSox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.
"(That) took me 10 minutes," Nandor said. "It usually doesn't take a lot of effort ... every time you get more than a handful of votes, this kind of stuff is probably happening."
So, what is Page 2 going to do about it? Well, our editors convened to an off-site retreat in the Cayman Islands and spent a long weekend pondering a fair and equitable solution. Because our brackets are built on the noble concept of "one man, one vote," and because the Broncos won by less than 71,465, we have declared the Michigan Wolverines the winner of our bracket and disqualified Denver.
In a benevolent move, however, Page 2's editors are not requesting that the Broncos return all their "tournament money" or remove the Page 2 Final Four banner from their practice facilities. Denver also will not be placed on probation because the illegal activity occurred outside the organization. However, as punishment, the Broncos will be given a No. 1 seed in Page 2's upcoming Ugliest Uniform Bracket.
The Orange Stripe of Shame
"Be careful with the thick burnt-orange accent on the trouble-spot buttocks and thighs," added Victoria, one of Page 2's fashion experts. "You don't want to call attention to an unsightly entity. Spandex is a privilege, not a right."
Unsurprising, then, that the Broncos stood out in our Best Uniform Final Four like Dave Bliss at an Ethics in Coaching seminar. The Detroit Red Wings' two-tone, fire-engine outfits are both classic and eye-catching. The San Diego Chargers' throwback powder blues look worlds better than their current getups.
Michigan's blue-and-maize -- our people call it "yellow" -- unis even combine fashion and function, something that can't be said of the Broncos. Not until Jake Plummer moonlights as a crossing guard.
"Remember, our helmets were built for the passing game," Michigan spokesman Bruce Madej said. "(The stripes) were put on to make sure that the receivers would be seen by the quarterback."
Better still, Madej added, the Wolverines look great on TV -- something that shouldn't be discounted, at least not in the era of "Temptation Island."
"It's a colorful uniform," he said. "The networks love it when we're on."
Defending the Broncos' outfits, Kirk noted that the team did win two Super Bowls during its first two seasons in its Arena League-inspired unis, inspiring fans to embrace the look. And perhaps embrace cheating on Page 2.
"Orange is a big part of our history," Kirk said. "If we had a uniform with no orange in it, it would not have gone over well with our fans."
Told that the Broncos might have benefited from vote tampering, Michigan's Madej expressed surprise.
"You're kidding," he said with a laugh. "I haven't heard about that. I guess that's the difference between the pro and the college game."
If necessary, would the Wolverines have been willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court for a recount, a la the 2000 presidential election?
"That's for bigger people than me to decide," Madej said.
In 1996, ESPN's inaugural "Battle of the Mascots" was plunged into chaos after two Stanford students wrote a computer program that cast an unending stream of ballots, blocking other voters from registering their choice for their favorite college mascot.
Oh, and all of the above is true. Except for the UN part.
In the meantime, the polls will continue. One man, one vote, one mouse click at a time. Here at Page 2, we consider it our responsibility -- nay, our patriotic duty -- to let you decide the most important questions of our time. Such as who's more overrated, Ben Affleck or Ashton Kutcher?
Simply put, anything less would be un-American.
Then again, so would a election without someone trying to cheat.
"It's not surprising that someone would do that," said Avi Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University and a Michigan graduate. "It is surprising that someone would care that much about Bronco football. I wouldn't resort to this, but if it meant more pride for the Wolverines, who knows? When you come out of Michigan, you're stamped for life as a football fanatic.
"Of course, we do have the best uniforms, so we don't need to fix the vote."
Patrick Hruby is a sportswriter for the Washington Times. Page 2 called upon him to investigate this scandal as an "independent observer." You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.