The NCAA tournament gets bigger and bigger every year, and the growth in popularity has as much to do with America's love of intercollegiate basketball as it does the structure of tournament itself.
While sports fans love the NCAA tournament for the thrill of the upsets and the unfettered celebration of amateurism, many so-called fans just care about the tournament because of one thing: the bracket.
Americans love our brackets. And who can blame us? The concept of deciding the best of something by ranking the choices and playing out a series of head-to-head competitions can turn any simple, boring list into a grand social experiment.
While the NCAA tournament bracket is a measure in prognostication—nobody fills out a bracket just for the hell of it when there's bragging rights, and money, to be won—Americans have adopted the bracket model to use for just about any debatable topic on the planet.
There is something in our DNA that draws us to competitions of survival and winning at all costs, even if the contest is about different ways to use a Twinkie or which British actor has the best American accent.
Over the years, talk radio and the Internet have taken the bracket concept and applied it to everything under the sun, so instead of piling on that heap with another hastily constructed bracket people can discuss before the NCAA tournament begins, we thought it would be fun to make a bracket full of brackets.
What bracket is the most interesting to debate? Is it more fun to argue about the best animated gifs or the best actor we didn't know was British? What is the Ultimate Bracket bracket?
Back by popular demand—well, at the very least by demand, in that I demanded we do this for a second year—here is the 2013 Bleacher Report Ultimate Bracket Bracket.
As with the 2012 bracket, this year's tournament has four distinct, yet interconnected regions. Clearly, we needed to have a Sports region, because the bracket madness would not exist without sports. We decided to keep Food again this year, adding in a few more drink options to round out that region.
On the other side of the bracket, we combined Entertainment and Pop Culture into one region, allowing us to include the all-encompassing "The Internet" as the fourth region this year.
Remember as you click through that the challenge was to rank each bracket topic by what would make the best bracket, so if you're wondering why some topics are seeded more favorably, that speaks to the quality of that topic as a bracket, not necessarily the quality of the topic itself.
Let's take a look at each region!
The Entertainment and Pop Culture Region is admittedly a bit of a mixed bag, combining actual TV and movies with flat-out celebrity gawking. Fans will notice that Mob Movies, the top seed in TV and Movies Region last year, did not make the list. We didn't, ahem, fuggedaboudit; it was more an issue of freshening up the tournament with different options that are more topical right now.
Consider this a time capsule, in bracket (bracket) form.
No. 1 Seed: Superhero Movies vs. No. 16 Seed: Network Shows With Lower Ratings Than The Talking Dead
There is nothing on the planet more popular right now than superhero movies, but which is the best? Is The Avengers better than the movies about each character that makes up the super group? Where would the Batman movies rank? Does Superman still hold up after all these years?
As for the 16th seed, it's a bit of a running joke in television that The Walking Dead is devouring (pun) all network competition on Sunday nights, and a show where people sit around and talk about the show, The Talking Dead, gets better ratings than actual network programs in key demographics.
I used an image from The Good Wife here to point out that despite winning its time slot on Sunday nights for all network shows, the CBS legal drama gets lower 18-49 ratings than a show where people talk about fake zombies.
No. 8 Seed: Excuses to Google Kate Upton vs. No. 9 Seed: Reasons to Mock Taylor Swift
The eighth seed in this region is this low because let's face it, most of you aren't looking for excuses to Google Kate Upton. You just do it. Alas, those of us in committed relationships can only get away with so much. Consider this bracket idea a public service.
For the ninth seed, well, that could be an entire bracket dedicated to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Not even our significant others should complain about that.
No. 5 Seed: Most Talented Reality TV Contestant vs. No. 12 Seed: Least Famous Celebrity on A Celebrity Reality TV Show
This is how backwards our society has become. We have dozens of television programs dedicated to finding the next great American star, but too many people who think of themselves as stars who can't find work and have to get by participating on shows about...platform diving.
Seriously, there are multiple shows about platform diving and we are still in search of more stars? Still, some of those people have talent, so the competition shows aren't a total loss. The celebrity looky-loo shows can jump off a high dive into a pit of fire.
No. 4 Seed: Award Show Hosts vs. No. 13 Seed: Red Carpet Hosts
I have no idea why the bracket lists the 5-12 before the 4-13, but please just be OK with that and move on.
We mentioned Tina Fey and Amy Poehler already, but they deserve another mention, as they were fantastic award show hosts who swear they won't do it again. Seth MacFarlane, who did a less-than-fantastic job (but better than most pundits gave him credit for) hosting the Oscars, also said he was a one-time host.
So who would make the next best one-time host? Who would make the best lifetime host? It's Timberlake, isn't it? Let the bracket decide!
Those celebrity and news people who host the runway shows may be annoying, but there certainly are enough of them to fill out a bracket field as well. And with the vitriol thrown toward Kristin Chenoweth, there would certainly be some hot debate as to who is the best and worst.
No. 6 Seed: Potential Breaking Bad Endings vs. No. 11 Seed: Archer Literary References
There have been a lot of cult classic shows in the history of television, but perhaps none have told one linear story as well as AMC's Breaking Bad has told the story of Walter White's conversion from cancer-riddled chemistry teacher to a Southwest United States drug kingpin named Heisenberg.
With the final few episodes running this summer, rumors, suggestions and flat-out guesses about the ending have begun to spread. I could come up with 68 plausible reasons why award-winning actor Bryan Cranston's alter ego would need a gigantic gun right just off the top of my head, and none of them would be even close to what creator Vince Gilligan and his writing team have undoubtedly prepared for us.
FX has as many great shows as AMC these days (we should make a bracket just about that), but if we're talking bracketology, the one show that seems perfect for this format is Archer. The spy-driven cartoon is beyond smart or witty, creating a whole new level of insight called, "holy crap, another thing I have to look up while watching a cartoon about secret agents."
On any given episode, there are at least three or four random yet perfect-in-the-moment literary references that a bracket of the best could make itself. After we look them all up, of course.
No. 3 Seed: Ron Swanson Life Lessons vs. No. 14 Seed: Failed NBC Prime-time Shows
Parks and Recreation is a great comedy, and while we should applaud NBC for taking a chance on the show and continuing to air it, we must also remember that it's also NBC's fault more people aren't watching it and why it's constantly a threat to be canceled.
NBC's prime-time programming is still a wreck, as evidenced by Do No Harm's short run (seriously, who thought that show wasn't going to be terrible?) and the fact that Smash has been a complete and utter flop, moved to Saturdays until it dies. People have been conditioned to assume NBC shows are bad, and sometimes the good ones get overlooked in the process.
Frankly, if there is one man at NBC who can save the network, it's Ron Swanson.
Not only has he proven to be a fantastic talk-show host, he has the basic American sensibilities that people would love to see on television. Tell me, who would not watch a show about meat products, woodworking or hating the government?
No. 7 Seed: Actors We Didn't Know Were British vs. No. 10 Seed: Worst TV Spokesperson
Did you know the American soldier turned terrorist turned Congressman Nicholas Brody on the award-winning Showtime drama Homeland isn't even American?!?! While the character is American, the actor, Damian Lewis, is not. He's just one of many British actors to grace American television playing an American character.
The guy who plays masked gunman Richard Harrow on Boardwalk Empire? English.
The interesting thing about Jack Huston is that he plays a damaged (in many ways) American soldier in Boardwalk and does Guinness beer commercials with an American accent even though his character on the show makes him nearly unrecognizable to the beer crowd. Maybe his British accent is the fake one at this point.
Speaking of spokesmen for products, it amazes me that advertising agencies are able to convince companies to use utter douchebags to sell their products. The Five Hour Energy guy is just one in a long line of summarily unlikeable characters that grace current TV commercials.
I mean, the guy who tells a woman he'd fold her underwear anytime? How is that selling deodorant?
A pig selling insurance? People are getting paid for thinking of these things.
No. 2 Seed: Period Pieces vs. No. 15 Harlem Shake Videos and Gangnam Style Videos (Play-in)
Throw Boardwalk Empire onto the list of period pieces that have taken over television. From Downton Abbey to FX's new hit The Americans, to The Bible and Vikings on History, people are able to enjoy the past in many different ways on today's television networks. (Who knew the past would look so good in HD?) How could I forget Mad Men, which is the period piece of all period pieces.
No, The Internet Region is not 17 different brackets about pornography. This is a family (slide)show.
Still, there are some of our favorite nonsensical wastes of time on this list, so enjoy the continuation of wasting your time on the Internet by reading it!
No. 1 Seed: Fake Dead Girlfriends vs. No. 16 Seed: Fake Stories Picked Up By Mainstream Media as Fact
In the history of the Internet, there may not be a better story than Manti Te'o's love affair with Lennay Kekua, mostly because it wasn't some old dirty man trying to convince a young child to meet them in a bar or some drug lord trying to dupe a Nobel prize candidate into becoming a drug mule.
No, Kekua was just a woman, ahem, who physically does not exist, but whose existential being is unquestionably real. If that's not worthy of a top seed, I don't know what is.
No. 8 Seed: Twitter Hashtags vs. No. 9 Seed: Nate Silver Schadenfreude
I don't know what to make of Twitter hashtags. They are a useful tool for chronicling a specific topic or tracking breaking news. At the same time, media companies use Twitter hashtags to control their audience in an attempt to localize worldwide events.
NBC used the hashtag #NBCPope during the conclave. Something seems wrong about that. (We do the same thing here for sporting events like the combine, so I'm not pointing any fingers without some pointing back at us.)
Still, hashtags are useful. So too is the information from Nate Silver, despite what his detractors said leading up to the presidential election. And no, I do not believe Nate Silver is a witch, but the sheer question makes the attention he gets online worthy of a No. 9 seed.
No. 5 Seed: Google Hangouts vs. No. 12 Seed: Reddit AMAs/WWE Mash-Up Videos (Play-In)
The other day, I had to talk to an editor and he asked if I wanted to video chat. I'm a big Skype user back from my old podcast days, so I should include that in this seed, but the reason I put Google Hangout this high on the list is that not only could we talk while on the computer, we could have included others, had people tune in to watch us and recorded it to immediately post on YouTube if so inclined.
While Google+ has seemed a bit unnecessary in the social realm, the Hangout is a great resource.
It's the freaking Jetsons, for crying out loud.
As for the No. 12 seed, the play-in game is between Reddit Ask Me Anything sessions and WWE Mash-Up Videos, like the ones with The Undertaker that came after the Super Bowl blackout or Jim Ross calling a monster dunk.
The thing about the AMAs, while it's really cool that people like the President of the United States or the commissioner of the NFL will do Q&As with regular folks on the Internet, it would be much better if the sessions were them answering anything, not just being asked. One can dream.
No. 4 Seed: Animated (Sports) Gifs vs. No. 13 Seed: Facebook Complaints on Facebook
The animated gif is a perfect little package. It's part photograph and part video, light enough to load quickly and rich enough to tell a perfect story in a matter of seconds.
Of course, the idea of stealing video online to use without rights is completely illegal. Still, of all the things on the Internet...
Speaking of things on the Internet, the most annoying thing on the Internet is seeing people complain about changes to Facebook on Facebook. "Dude, this bar is so lame. Remember when it used to be awesome? Hey, can you get me another beer? I think a table just opened up."
No. 6 Seed: Best Illegal Online TV Streams vs. No. 11 Seed: Pitbull
I'm not going to list all the best illegal online TV streams on the Internet in this post because that would involve me admitting I know what those sites are, which I am not doing. Besides, even if I knew them, which I am not confessing, I would never post them in the open space of a highly trafficked website for the man to come in and shut those sites down.
If those sites even exist, because maybe they don't.
What does exist, though, is an unbelievable collection of Pitbull gifs showing how much of a real good time that guy likes to have. What a life that man must live.
No. 3 Seed: Celebrity Instagrams vs. No. 14 Seed: Things That Do Not Impress McKayla Maroney
Instagram is incredible for a lot of reasons, but none more than the fact that celebrities have allowed normal folk like you and I (I'm assuming none of you are celebrities, sorry) into their world through the click of a cell phone camera. When have we ever, in the history of time, had this much access to people's lives?
Not impressed with that seeding? Join the club.
No. 7 Seed: Best iPhone/Android App vs. No. 10 Seed: Twitter Flame Wars
Did you know that 16 factorial is 20,922,789,888,000? That's still probably not a big enough tournament to include every app out there for iPhone or Android. I'm in the wrong business.
Still, I get to yell at people on Twitter in my business, which in and of itself has become somewhat of a cottage industry. Plus, stuff like this happens when people war on Twitter.
Wait, don't click that link...
No. 2 Seed: Slideshows vs. No. 15: Best Use of SEO
This is a little nod to those who both love and hate slideshows and understand, and fail to understand, Search Engine Optimization as a marketing tool, not a singular business plan. I'm sure I'll end up in a flame war on Twitter over these rankings.
Grab a sandwich; we're halfway through the Ultimate Bracket Bracket 2.0.
Oh, and speaking of sandwiches, here's the Food and Drink bracket right on time!
No. 1 Seed: American Microbrews vs. No. 16 Seed: Best American Winery
Last year's top seed was Beers, but this year, we eliminate the watered-down megabrews to focus just on the American Microbrews. Call them craft beers if you like, but the microbrew industry is constantly growing and becoming more innovative.
Fun bonus fact: Back in my college days, I used to joke that I liked my beer how I liked my women: cheap, American and pale like me. I've grown up a lot since then, both in tastes in beer and in women (hello, wife!), but the joke still works if you want it.
Actually, this one is better, from an episode of Parks and Recreation a few weeks back: Leslie and Ben returned from their honeymoon with gifts, including, "Donna, we got you coffee because you said you like your coffee like you like your men: Dark, rich and full-bodied.”
It's like we have the same damn brain, writer of great television lines.
Oh, and sorry to wine fans out there for giving you a No. 16 seed. Really, it's more because filling out a bracket of the best wineries in America is too pretentious to even pretend to do.
No. 8 Seed: Tailgate Food vs. No. 9 Seed: Least Awful Offal
Tailgate food is the obvious tie-in to sports. It's not just for burgers and dogs either, and if a tailgate food bracket doesn't exist already, it totally should.
As for offal, I'm of the mindset that I'll eat anything (maybe not an eyeball), because how do I differentiate between a pig's belly, a calf's liver and a duck's heart? Is one really more "awful" to eat than the others?
I had a duck heart a few weeks back (on Valentine's Day...get it) at Zahav in Philadelphia. I also had sweetbreads. I'll be honest, the heart was chewier than I expected until I realized it's a freaking heart that pumps blood every second of the day until the animal dies. Of course it's chewy. The sweetbreads were milky smooth, though.
But the beef cheeks? Seriously, it's a top-five dish of all time, anywhere. Get it now.
No. 5 Seed: Condiments vs. No. 12 Seed: Best Desserts/Best Use for Twinkies (Play-In)
Spencer Hall of EDSBS did the original Condiment Bracket a few years ago, and while I still do not believe Nutella is a condiment, I've come around on Sriracha getting to the Final Four. Beating out ketchup? That's still ridiculous. Ranch not getting out of the second round was gross underseeding.
Around that same time, there was a Cake vs. Pie bracket that got people heated, but I never understood why people would limit desserts to just cakes and pies. There are ice creams, sorbets, yogurts. There are pastries, which aren't really cake or pie, and cookies, which are a dominant category to themselves.
Still, more than any other food, desserts come down to personal taste, so making it into a bracket is hard. You either like chocolate or you don't. You either love peanut butter in your desserts or your throat just closed by me even suggesting it.
The inability to really debate desserts led to the No. 12 seed and a play-in matchup against Best Uses for Twinkies. Eating them surely isn't winning that bracket.
You can thank Sixers owner Joshua Harris for helping to save the Twinkies, by the way. Now maybe he can figure out a way to get his team to stop playing like a bunch of creampuffs.
No. 4 Seed: Things in a Can vs. No. 13 Seed: Best Use of Oversized Soda Cups in NYC
Chicken comes in a can. Not chicken soup, which also comes in a can, but actual chicken. In a can. Top that! This really could be a higher seed.
The No. 13 seed in this bracket is pretty topical, given the back and forth on the oversized soda ban in New York City. What do to with all those cups? Let a bracket decide!
No. 6 Seed: Pizza Toppings vs. No. 11 Seed: Best Use of a Grill
Veggies. Meats. More Veggies. More Meats. These two brackets aren't that different when you think about it.
No. 3 Seed: Best Diner, Drive-in or Dive vs. No. 14 Seed: Best Use of "Donkey Sauce"
Clearly, this is a play on the ubiquitous nature of Food Network star Guy Fieri, but his show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives is a great resource for small hole-in-the-wall restaurants around America. The show is actually interesting to watch, despite all the references to Flavortown and unnecessary fist pumps while preparing food. I'm a fan of supporting local restaurants, and that show has done wonders for them, host notwithstanding.
As for Fieri himself, well, he's a bit of an acquired taste. I assume that taste is a bit like his signature Donkey Sauce, which the Internet tells me has that name because, "you’d have to be an ass not to like it."
So...yeah. Flavortown, FTW.
No. 7 Seed: Toughest Chopped Basket vs. No. 10 Seed: Top Top Chef
If I had to sit for 24 hours and watch only one show, it may be Food Network's Chopped. Four chefs battle to make the best meal using a basket full of wacky ingredients (and a pantry and fridge), with one chef "chopped" after the appetizer, entree and dessert round. The show almost never fails to provide great cooking insight with amazing creativity and whimsy.
I'd put that up against Top Chef, which is another food show I love (though I cannot stand the Restaurant Wars episodes, and this year's finale was a train wreck).
Having said that, it's still a great show, and the chefs who have competed over more than 10 seasons on air have some super serious resumes.
Who would be the Top Top Chef? That's a bracket we should make right now. (Answer: probably this guy.)
No. 2 Seed: Best Use of Bacon vs. No. 15: Best Small Batch Bourbon
The best small-batch bourbon snuck in as a No. 15 seed because it's such a niche item. Maybe if it was expanded to other liquors or changed to Best Liquor You Can Make At Home it could get a higher seed.
As for the bacon bracket, it's a holdover from last year and really should be a top seed. Bacon can go in so many things. So...many...delicious...things...
Our last—and best—region: Sports!
No. 1 Seed: NCAA Tournament vs. No. 16 Seed: Yankees Injuries/Coaches Fired By Dwight Howard (Play-In)
There is really no debate that the NCAA tournament bracket is the best bracket of all the brackets. If it's not the best to you, you must hate the next four weeks.
The last seed in this region is a play-in between the Yankees Injuries—A-Rod can have his own region at this point—and Coaches Fired By Dwight Howard. Are there 68 yet? Give it a year or two.
No. 8 Seed: Players We Love to Hate vs. No. 9 Seed: Players We Say We Hate But Secretly Love
People love to hate Tim Tebow, who was the first player that came to mind when thinking of this bracket. If Tebow were to flame out of the NFL for good, I'm not sure there's another athlete quite at his level. Still, there are hundreds of players in the world of sports we love to hate.
LeBron James used to be high up on the list before he won a title and showed everyone how much better at basketball he is than every other person on the planet. Now, begrudgingly for some, LeBron may fall into the second category in this matchup.
Tiger Woods is definitely a player we say we hate but secretly love. Without Tiger, golf would not be the same, so even golf fans who don't like Tiger know how much the sport needs him.
The fun of this first-round pairing is that so many guys could end up on both lists at the same time. Sidney Crosby, I'm looking in your general direction from the Philadelphia area.
No. 5 Seed: Best Goal vs. No. 12 Seed: Best Dunk
I picture the Best Goal bracket being a region full of Messi goals, a region of Ronaldo goals, a region of all other soccer goals, including Falcao, Gareth Bale and Neymar among the top seeds and then a region of hockey and other sports that have goals. This is almost the second year in a row we could just do the Messi goals for this year and have a full bracket.
As for the best dunk, the dunk contest kind of ruined this bracket idea. While in-game dunks are great, we can't even get excited about the best ones without someone like Adrian Wojnarowski wringing his hands about celebrating the wrong part of the play.
So, in a way, dunks aren't as cool anymore. Thanks, jerks.
No. 4 Seed: Pound-For-Pound Best Athlete vs. No. 13 Seed: Best Athlete Over 35
Ten years ago, this was Allen Iverson. Now, I'd go with Novak Djokovic, who I think is part robot, so I'm not sure how the body weight would convert to skin and bones.
I'm sure a boxer or two could make a case for the list, as the "pound-for-pound" moniker is most used in the sweet science. Still, if it's not Djokovic, maybe it's Ronaldo or Bale?
Oh, I'm an idiot. Messi is tiny. Sorry, I really just thought of that.
The No. 13 seed in this region is athletes over 35. Why? Because I recently turned 35, and I still want to hold onto the fact that some people playing sports at a high level are older than me.
This would be a great list, including Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Roy Halladay and Andrea Pirlo, who I know is turning 34 in May, but his beard makes him look like he's 60, so I included him and made him the "face" of old man sports anyway.
Dammit, I missed a golden opportunity to do a Best Athlete With a Beard bracket. Next year...
No. 6 Seed: Hardest Thing to Hit vs. No. 11 Seed: Worst Reason for Getting Fined/Suspended
Is a fastball harder to hit than a slap shot of a moving puck while skating? Are either harder than the perfect bicycle kick? How about a game-winning field goal from more than 50 yards away?
Is a golf ball the hardest thing to hit perfectly? These are the questions that keep me up at night.
The 11th seed in this region has any number of options, from getting caught failing a drug test to, like Frank Gore, keeping your socks too low. Yes, the NFL fines players for that.
No. 3 Seed: Best Fans vs. No. 14 Seed: Worst Fans
Every player, coach and owner thinks they have the best fans, but which team actually does? I imagine four regions that include college teams, winning teams, losing teams and national teams. Those are four very unique fanbases, and their loyalties are tied in extremely different ways.
Who has the best fans? Only a bracket can decide for good.
It could also work for the worst fans, but who really wants to do a bracket about that, putting the seeding far lower.
No. 7 Seed: Best Sports Trophy vs. No. 10 Seed: Best Broadcaster
A quick aside: I used to hate participation trophies in youth sports, until I became a coach. Over the last three years, I've coached teams of three-, four-, five- and six-year-old kids playing soccer in all types of weather, listening, working together and having fun.
You know what? If a little plastic trophy at the end of the year makes them want to come back the following season, what harm does that do? Are the kids soft? We have practice this week, and it's going to be 42 degrees and windy. If that's soft, let them be soft.
As for the 10th seed, The Best Broadcaster bracket could be more than just naming names, including things like catch phrases or guys who do multiple sports.
We could have a first-round matchup of Jim Nantz on golf against Jim Nantz on basketball, or Gus Johnson's hoops calls against Gus Johnson's soccer calls (surely a 1 vs. 16 matchup.)
No. 2 Seed: Best Sports Venue vs. No. 15: Most Offensive Nicknames
Let's end on a more positive note.
Like the best fans, Best Sports Venues is certainly up to personal preference. If you're a football fan, you won't love Madison Square Garden as much as a basketball fan does. Hockey fans might prefer old Maple Leaf Gardens, and soccer fans might choose Old Trafford.
Still, the debate alone would be a history lesson of the world's great sports arenas. That alone is worth making the bracket.
That's the Ultimate Bracket Bracket 2.0. What did we miss? What would win each region? What are some sleepers? Leave your thoughts in the comments.