Revenge of the Nerds


“Hi, Gilbert. I’m a nerd too. I just found that out tonight. We have news for the beautiful people. There’s a lot more of us than there are of you. I know there’s alumni here tonight. When you went to Adams you might’ve been called a spazz, or a dork, or a geek. Any of you that have ever felt stepped on, left out, picked on, put down, whether you think you’re a nerd or not, why don’t you just come down here and join us. Okay? Come on.” — Lewis

Once a year, the NCAA Tournament puts an end to nerd persecution.

That’s right, the best, most-on-it-you’ve-ever-seen-your-office-manager-at-your-office; the annual have-your-mom-show-your-dad-how-to-use-his-email-or-turn-on-the-fax-machine; the under-the-table-revenue-generating-even-for-IRS-workers …two weeks of sport is upon us.

The only event which throws out the rankings, tosses aside regular season records and makes everyone believe that Gene Hackman and his chair drill can produce winners out of weaklings — really distills down to a single blunt concept: It’s the nerds who run things.

Of course, nerds, in recent years especially, know they run things. Like, a lot.

Harvard’s starting five, who will make an appearance in this year’s tournament as 1,000-to-one very dark crimson horses to win it all, probably won’t bet on themselves. Well-knowing the safe money would be on their team at about 100,000-to-one, maybe.

Also they probably won’t bet knowing they’re fast tracked to a job at Goldman Sachs which pays its interns more than your household’s GNP. So betting is beyond the point, unless it’s with the government’s money (but that’s another no-lose scenario …and another story). Harvard students know two they call their own are the most prominent innovators, and by virtue of their own virtue, billionaires and philanthropists (nerds) — of the last two generations.

Whether it’s a clunky, middle-management-heavy Seattle-based software you’re running, or a innocuous-looking data mining operation disguised as a social network infested with insecure moms and girls’ “beach feet” you found this on, Harvard is the reason this article is in front of you.

And that’s just from guys who dropped out.

Did you search “NCAA Tournament nerds”? If so, you probably saw this column at the top of the first page. Then you clicked on it. But before you did, you looked to the right side of the screen and you saw an ad for Thule racks for your Subaru Forester you were talking about (yes, just talking about) with your neighbor a couple weeks ago. And that book you want that shows you how to grow an urban garden on a fire escape, there’s an ad that doesn’t look like an ad for that too.

And it’s like, “Computer, how did you know exactly what I wanted as I was searching nerds and the tourney?” Well, computer knows, and so do the Stanford alums who come from an institution whose endowment is so, um, well-endowed ($19 billion), the bank just re-named it the John Holmes fund. At 200-to-1, the Cardinal and their silly tree may not be lining up at the Mirage sports book to bet on the prospect they’ll be draping themselves in pieces of net, but you can believe they control how you surf it. And that makes them favorites in life.

The Cal Poly rec center pool, which happens to be in my hometown, is sort of like the one in Gremlins …but for instant nerd reproduction. By the baker’s dozen and with the frequency of a Geico spot during a Major, they badge into my place of work misquoting jokes from Big Bang Theory, talking big about “joining CrossFit” and musing whether to “switch to Paleo.”

When Mustang nerd alumns consider aloud whether to step into Mavericks, it takes about 10 minutes to figure whether they’re speaking to the trajectory of the monster wave about an hour up the coast or if they’re simply awash in the latest operating system for Apple. Since nerds are multi-faceted, they’re able to fit both in the same conversation.

Mathematically, Cal Poly at 13-19 doesn’t even belong in the 68-team equation and that makes its nerd alums super excited. Nothing this side of Lance hooked up to a lie detector moves the needle for nerds more than an aberration, a chink in the system’s armor, an exception that may someday — with enough research — prove there’s a new rule.

Because that’s ultimately what nerds do. They take existing logic, approach it running full speed and vault over it. They flip and turn and stick the landing on the other side …of new logic.

And that’s why they run the world.

That’s also why basketball appeals to them, especially on the collegiate level. Because college basketball isn’t a lazy circus sideshow of latent marketing and unkempt ball handling and shoes that have finally caught up with Back to the Future II that is the NBA.

College hoops boils down to one simple, relatable axiom: the best athletes may ultimately have their moment in the sun, but you better play nice, because who else is going to manage your money?

College hoops is the unrelenting science of who can take the best angle off the screen to pick up the inbounds to release with impossible accuracy an arched shot at the apex of the jumper to watch a perfect sphere travel through another perfect sphere twice in diameter. It’s squares and rectangles and circles on the floor mingling with loose affiliation and purposeful perfect congruousness to create a swirling juxtaposition of algebra and geometry and physics on the floor with a little statistics and calculus thrown in on the sidelines for good measure.

When executed well, no team stacked with 6’11” freshmen shooting guards whose version of education is learning to use a pay phone to contact agents and trying to bulk up so he’s not schlepping bags off the bus to Bakersfield in the D League next year stands a chance against the algorithm of a genetically inferior yet gray matter-enhanced student athlete.

And by stand a chance, if the odds-on tournament favorite Florida Gators were to play 1,000 games against the Cal Poly Mustangs, Cal Poly would actually win 17 times.

That, said the engineer at my work who figured this out yesterday afternoon within five minutes of my asking as his Boba Fett bobble head nodded in approval, “is more than just a moral victory. It’s real victory.”

Regardless of whether it’s a fraction of one percent of the time, when you’re a nerd — a win’s a win.

Oh, Duke. Yeah, forgot about Duke. Nerds who attend school with so many other nerds that they all harbor the illusion that none of them are nerds (see: do you really think a national TV audience wants to see that with its shirt off painted Smurf blue?). Which kind of defeats the purpose of, you know, being a nerd. They’re 15-to-1 to take it all and the tourney favorites if you ask any of them.

But since they’re Duke, we didn’t.