SCHENECTADY — Maybe the Miami Dolphins were tanking this season, but Dolphins fan Michael Newhart surely was not.
It’s a measure of how well the 53-year-old Schenectadian did picking NFL winners this season that he not only won a local contest through the Daily Gazette, but the national version of the contest, too … despite having a soft spot for the Fish, no matter how they smelled.
Newhart was thrilled enough just taking first place in the Rivers Sportsbook U Pick ‘Em, scoring more points than 1,295 other local participants, good for a $1,000 prize. Then his phone alerted him late Monday morning that he had also finished ahead of over 90,000 national players, which will bring another $5,000 into the Newhart household.
They can use it, too, after having just made a move from their house on Avenue A to Parkwood Boulevard this weekend.
“This’ll be huge for the family,” said Newhart, who was in the new home sorting through boxes of belongings and furniture on Monday afternoon, a few hours after learning that he had won the national contest.
The free-to-enter U Pick ‘Em contest ran for 21 weeks, covering the 17 weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, capped by the Kansas City Chiefs’ 31-20 Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Each week, contestants made selections straight up, without a point spread, and earned a point for each correct winner, which increased to two points for the wild card round, four for the conference semifinals, eight for the conference championships and 16 for the Super Bowl.
The four lowest weekly win totals for each player were tossed out after the regular season. Newhart did not win any of the weekly prizes — good for a $100 grocery card — but was in double digits for 13 of the 17 weeks before the playoffs.
He said he doesn’t consider himself a sophisticated NFL handicapper, choosing to go with his gut for the most part.
“It’s not really a strategy thing for me,” he said. “I was just hoping to be better than the top pickers in the standings [in any given week] and never really thought about winning the whole thing.”
He did confess to going with Miami just about every week, despite the fact that the team had dumped many of its best players, apparently in pursuit of the high draft picks that come with a terrible won-lost record.
He did pick against the Dolphins in their final game, so, of course, Miami upset defending Super Bowl champion New England to hurt the Patriots’ playoff chances. The Dolphins finished the season 5-11.
“Almost all of my life I’ve been a Dolphins fan,” he said. “I’ve punched a few walls and pounded a few tables, all that stuff.”
His and his wife Katrina head a family of eight, with son Michael Jr., 15, and daughter Izabella, 13, in the Schenectady School District.
Michael Newhart is a New Jersey native who grew up in Broadalbin-Perth and has been living in Schenectady for over 25 years, working as an assistant warehouse manager at Precision Upstate on Freemans Bridge Road in Scotia.
Besides the self-imposed handicap of picking the Dolphins on a regular basis, Newhart also went with the 49ers on Sunday, and was grumbling about their offensive play calling in the game.
He wasn’t grumbling when Randy Lewis from the Gazette advertising department called him on Monday. Newhart was on his way back from picking up Michael Jr. at a friend’s house in Duanesburg, where they had had a Super Bowl sleepover.
Newhart picked 192 winners from 266 games and finished with 207 points to 203 for the runner-up in the national pool of 90,345 players.
He had a choice between a trip to Hawaii or $5,000 in cash, and opted for the latter, because of the recent move, and to finance a trip to Maryland for Michael Jr.’s Scotia Renegades travel baseball team this summer.
“The first thing I did was call my wife, and she told me to send all the information to her to make sure it wasn’t spam,” Newhart said. “It’s still hard to believe.”