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These guys always rise to the occasion for the NCAA tournament

A spectator takes a photo of the NCAA tournament bracket on the side of the JW Marriott.
A spectator takes a photo of the NCAA tournament bracket on the side of the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Your favorite team can’t advance in the NCAA tournament without Brandon Tischbein.

He’s one of the hardy souls who go airborne to affix the 4-by-25-foot team stickers onto the giant NCAA tournament bracket adhered to the side of the JW Marriott that’s a central hub of tournament activity.

Tischbein and a co-worker rose on a swing stage to near the top of the 34-story hotel on a brisk Saturday morning, positioning two of the First Four winners onto the 47,000-square foot graphic.

“It’s a big one, yeah,” said Tischbein, an Indianapolis native whose day job usually involves wrapping graphics onto cars. “A world record-breaker.”

Brandon Tischbein prepares to update the NCAA tournament bracket.
Brandon Tischbein, center, prepares to update the NCAA tournament bracket that is displayed on the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.
(Ben Bolch / Los Angeles Times)

The hotel had a smaller graphic attached to it in 2015, when the Final Four was held here. This year’s version is super-sized in celebration of the NCAA tournament’s return after a one-year hiatus because of the pandemic, a banner across the top — “Indiana: Where champions are crowned” — serving as a nod to Hoosier hysteria.

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Frank M. Hancock, whose Indianapolis-based sports graphics company updates the bracket each morning, said it took nearly 5½ days to attach the 180-by-260-foot banner to the hotel.

It’s become quite the attraction, teams posing for pictures on top of a parking garage across the street from the hotel with the bracket in the background. Hancock said he constantly fields emails from fans asking when their school is going to go up after each win.

“There is so much interest this year just because we didn’t have it last year and I think that’s nationally,” Hancock said. “I mean, this bracket is garnering more media attention than it ever did in ’15 and I think that just has to do with everybody’s excited about something happening.”

VIDEO | 00:19
Raw Video: Crew updates NCAA tournament bracket

A look at how high Brandon Tischbein and crew are suspended as they update the NCAA tournament bracket displayed on the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis.

Passersby like to gawk at the two workers atop the 45-foot-wide swing stage, which includes a motor on each side and is attached by cables to the top of the hotel. It’s a job whose requirements include being unafraid of heights.

“Not anymore, that’s for sure,” Tischbein said after his morning shift.

Should one avoid looking down while perched hundreds of feet in the air?

“I look down all the time,” Tischbein said. “It’s pretty cool.”

After a dramatic overtime win Thursday night, UCLA jumps right back into NCAA tournament action with a first-round game Saturday against Brigham Young.

Hancock hasn’t gone skyward this year because he just had surgery but is familiar with the experience.

“It’s like being in a glass elevator, but you’re on the other side of the glass,” Hancock said. “I think the thing that gets me as much as anything is when you see pictures from the ground and you’re up there and you’re insignificant. You’re just a little speck on the side of the building.”

Admittedly not much of a sports fan, Tischbein does have a rooting interest: He’s got family from Wisconsin. He was bummed he wouldn’t get to adhere that sticker after the Badgers beat North Carolina on Friday; two other workers were scheduled to handle that side of the bracket late Saturday morning.

Teams have begun to depart the city, their seasons finished, but Tischbein will be a part of posting winners through the Final Four, going unbeaten with each sticker he fastens to the hotel.

“We’ll be here tomorrow morning,” he said, “doing the same thing.”


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