2/1/2020 7:33:00 AM Paulson, Meyer to duel for River News Pigskin Pick'em Championship
By Stephanie Kuski River News Features Writer
After months spent fretting over Vegas odds and finger-biting games, the time has come for the River News Pigskin Pick'em Championship showdown.
Rhinelander High School Activities Director Brian Paulson and Ben Meyer of WXPR Radio are the last men standing in the race to pick the the winner of Sunday's big game and earn $450 to donate to the charity of their choosing.
Paulson accumulated 38.25 points over the season in a formula that weights overall record, the best record each week and puts a heavy emphasis on the playoffs. He finished with an overall record of 174-91-1. Meyer had 29.92 points and a 168-97-1 record.
"How can I not declare myself the champ?" Paulson confidently said of his season standings.
Paulson managed to come out ahead of Matt Steingraber, despite his season lead.
Steingraber (177-88-1) led the standings virtually the entire season and was in first heading into the playoff game, but he took a gamble betting on Tennessee and Green Bay and ended up falling to third (29.33 points) and out of the championship with two losses in the final week.
"It was a tough week," Steingraber said. "I was in the lead basically for the entire season. So it was a little disappointing at the end, but it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed being a part of it."
The playoff pick had several participants betting on the Packers, but it took Steingraber out of the running to vie for the championship pick.
"Mr. Steingraber choked - he picked with his heart and not his brain," Paulson said playfully.
"The Packer pick was pretty much a homer pick, but I thought they would have played better than they did," Steingraber admitted. "I truly thought that Tennessee was one of the best and hottest teams in the league, and they just didn't show up at the right time."
The race for this year's championship was a close call between the top three contestants, but Steingraber's late gamble pushed him out of the running, crushing his season-long lead.
"Matt, I think, kind of outsmarted himself assuming that those chasing him would pick the upsets," said Jeremy Mayo, River News sports editor and three-time Pigskin Pick'em champ.
Paulson and Meyer, on the other hand, opted against their favorite team and instead picked the 49ers and Chiefs to win the playoffs.
With two wins in the book for the final week, it was the golden ticket to pick for the Super Bowl.
Meyer jumped from fifth to second place in the final week by getting both games correct.
Meyer puts his faith in the odds to reach the championship.
"My strategy for the entire season for picking has been the exact same," Meyer said. "I figure that the people who make the betting odds in Vegas are a heck of a lot smarter than I am, so my strategy was pretty simple and that was to pick the team that the Vegas oddsmakers said was going to win throughout the season, instead of going with my own emotions or whims."
In this way, Meyer said he put aside team loyalties in picking his top teams for this season.
"I was behind a fair number of other pickers for part of the season," Meyer said, "but sticking with my strategy has proven successful in the end."
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas have Kansas City as a 1 1/2-point favorite for Sunday's big game. True to form, Meyer is picking the Chiefs, betting they beat the 49ers 28-27.
"This is the strategy that's gotten me to where I am right now and I don't plan to abandon that now that we're in the final week," Meyer said.
Because Paulson was the No. 1 seed, he had the option of letting Meyer pick first before making his selection. Though Paulson said he beleives San Francisco may win Sunday, he elected to play some defense and take Kansas City 27-26, essentially turning the matchup into how many points the teams will score.
If the teams combine for 55 points or more, Meyer will be the champion. If the final score adds up to less than 54, Paulson will win.
"My strategy is going to be what gives me the best chance to win," Paulson said. "You play to win the game - that's a great quote Jeremy Mayo always uses."
Paulson said he's confident he'll come out on top on Sunday, said Meyer's only strategy was luck.
"His (Ben's) NFL picks were terrible all season long. He's kind of a one-week-wonder in my mind," Paulson said. "So he's going to meet me in the Super Bowl and hopefully he's not just a one-game-wonder."
But this rivalry between Paulson and Meyer comes from a place of mutual respect.
"We definitely have a friendship, so to speak," Paulson said. "We're not like bestie friends but I think we have respect for each other."
"Brian and I have known each other for a long time, and we've given each other a hard time for many years," Meyer added. "So any time where you can gain some bragging rights it's a golden opportunity in this little rivalry between us."
And yet, the jabs continue.
"Winning the Pick'em contest would be pretty sweet," Meyer said, "but it would be even sweeter to beat Brian Paulson in the final week."
"Ben will give me a hard time and throw some jabs in there," Paulson said in reply. "But you know he's just jealous because he's been rough this year with all his picks."
But Meyer said he's playing to win.
"Knowing Brian and his intellectual level, he probably just flips a coin when he wakes up in the morning," Meyer joked. "He's just been really lucky up to this point."
Regardless of whether Paulson or Meyer come out on top during Sunday's game, both contestants achieved their personal goal set at the beginning of the season to beat Mayo.
But with Mayo in a tie for last place, just about everyone accomplished that feat.
"It's already been sweet to see Jeremy's season end while mine continues into the last week," Meyer jabbed. "So if I take nothing else from this season, beating Jeremy is a big accomplishment."
"Poor Jeremy puts on the whole show and does all the work and he's either second-to-last or last," Paulson added. "I throw them a few jabs because I appreciate their efforts, but we all want to be on top."
"They can talk all they want," Mayo replied. "I have three championships and they have none!"
All rivalries aside, coming in behind the top three contestants in fourth place was Rod Ankrom of Calvary Baptist Church, followed by "The Shadow," revealed to be none other than Brian Young of Park City Credit Union (contrary to Paulson's guess that this year's "Shadow" was Dave Heck).
Trailing behind Young were Brandon Karaba of Peoples State Bank and Todd Johnson of First Weber Realty.
Mayo and Lauren Sackett of the Rhinelander Chamber tied for last place, but Mayo pulled off the tie with the better overall season record.
"I was forced to roll the dice the final week," said Mayo, who was fifth entering the final week but, like Steingraber, fell hard thanks to his attempted Tennessee-Green Bay parlay. "I wasn't going to catch up (or so I thought) picking the favorites. Had to take a gamble to make the top two and it didn't pay off but, really, there isn't any difference between finishing third and eighth."
While Mayo's campaign to reclaim his title as Pigskin Champ fell short again this year, he said the competition is a "win-win all around" because in the end, the $50 spent in the beginning of the season to participate will go to a charity of the winner's choosing.
Paulson said if he wins, he will donate the $450 total to the American Cancer Society.
"This past fall, I lost my aunt on my dad's side of the family," Paulson explained. "When I was asked to be a part of the board, that was the first thing that came to my mind. It's something that's close to my heart."
Meyer, on the other hand, opted to support the Tri-County Council for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault if he wins.
"The Tri-County Council does excellent work in providing resources, a home and legal support for those individuals that find themselves in really difficult situations," Meyer said. "If picking a couple football games correctly accomplishes that goal, then it's all for the good."
The contestants agreed that in the end, supporting a local non-profit organization was the best outcome of the Pick'em Board.
Mayo thanks all of the contestants for participating in the 2019-2020 River News Pigskin Pick'em Board and said he looks forward to another exciting season.
Stephanie Kuski may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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