Meet @UMBCAthletics: Retrievers' tweeter has become a March Madness hero, too
Zach Seidel is drawing his own attention for his funny tweets
The funniest thing is, the man behind the genius @UMBCAthletics Twitter account doesn't even like being the center of attention.
"I'm kind of a quiet guy who likes staying out of the spotlight," Zach Seidel, the 27-year-old native of Pikesville, Md. who is the man behind the Twitter account of the first 16-seed to upset a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament, said Sunday afternoon from Charlotte, where UMBC was getting ready for its second-round game against Kansas State. "It's been a little bit weird. That's why I work behind the camera."
Seidel's parents both went to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. And Seidel grew up 8 miles away from campus. That's why, when he was growing up, he never, ever wanted to go there.
"I've been spoonfed this my whole life," he said.
Then the women's team made the tournament in 2007, when Seidel was a high school junior. Seidel's father, Jeff Seidel, a freelance sportswriter, brought him to the selection show. Seidel met the school president, Freeman Hrabowski, who spoke to Seidel as if he were the most important student in the world. Seiedel was a huge sports fan from a huge sports family – his greatest fan moment was when the Baltimore Ravens won their second Super Bowl in 2013 – and he wanted to go into athletics. During Seidel's senior year in high school, he interned at UMBC. He filmed athletic events – men's and women's soccer, volleyball and, yes, men's basketball – for livestreaming.
"I asked my dad, 'Are they any good?' " Seidel recalled. "He told me, 'Zach, they haven't done anything in 30 years since they moved to Division I."
In the first Retrievers game that Seidel filmed, the team won on a buzzer-beater to move into first place. That season, Seidel went to Binghampton for the America East Conference tournament. The Retrievers won, securing the school's first ever NCAA tournament bid.
Seidel was hooked. A few months later, he was moving his stuff into the dorms on UMBC's campus, where he'd live for four years.
Fame came quickly, for UMBC's basketball team and for Seidel. On Friday night, as the game against Virginia tipped off, Seidel noticed that CBS' Seth Davis tweeted that the game was already over: "Virginia. Sharpie." Seidel tweeted back at Davis as UMBC built a lead that nobody expected to last: "5-3." "7-6 Seth." "We are winning, 9-6, Seth." At halftime, with UMBC and Virginia tied at 21, Seidel put Davis on blast further.
In the second half, as history unfolded, Twitter fire was spewing from Seidel's fingertips courtside.
"The game started and I didn't really have a social media plan," Seidel admitted. "All I knew I would tweet was that Jairus (Lyles, the team's starting point guard) broke the school's single-season scoring record if he got 15. I normally see Seth Davis Sharpie things, and I find it funny. When he did it to us, though, it was like, 'Really, dude? Give us a chance!'"
So Seidel responded, and kept responding, in the only way he knew how.
"I always tweet that account the way I talk," Seidel said. "I'm getting texts the whole game: 'I know that's you, Zach. My 14-year-old cousin said to my uncle, 'Why is Zach getting famous when all he's doing is being himself?' Everyone who knows me knows that this is just me."
People have asked Seidel in the past whether he's ever considered standup comedy. That question has become more popular over the past 48 hours. His answer? No way. His best humor has always been in response to others, a quick wit that can take overconfident people down a notch. Plus, he'd rather not have the spotlight trained on him. Twitter is his perfect medium.
As UMBC moved close to making history during the second half, an America East Conference official was sitting next to Seidel at the scorer's table. She was nervous: "This is happening!," she kept saying.
"I said, 'Calm down – I'm nervous, but I don't feel nervous,' " Seidel recalled. "I was using my sense of humor to distract myself from the nerves of game."
He prepped one tweet for when the game went final. It felt perfect, an internet meme from the rapper Birdman that the internet crowd would love.
In the ensuing 48 hours, that was retweeted more than 63,000 times and liked more than 207,000 times. The @UMBCAthletics account, which was at about 5,000 followers at tip, was at 94,500 as Seidel was prepping for Sunday night's game in Charlotte. Best of all was when Seidel was going to grab a quick lunch in Charlotte. He was wearing a UMBC shirt. Someone else in line grabbed him: "I saw you guys yesterday!" the person told Seidel, excited. "I had never had that before," Seidel said.
"I love what I do," Seidel said. "I love UMBC. I want people to see UMBC and think, 'That's the basketball school – but it's also the school with the great cybersecurity team, with the great STEM education, with the highest number of minority students to graduate and get to PhD programs."
Friday night was a great moment. Seidel couldn't wait for Sunday night's game. But it was a little different than when his Ravens won the Super Bowl. When he was watching that Ravens game at his parents' house and the clock struck zeroes, Seidel screamed.
"Two nights ago was fun, but it was also work, as weird that sounds," Seidel said. "I couldn't enjoy it as a fan tremendously."
He was already preparing his first tweet for tipoff of the Kansas State game. Yes, it's about a random college basketball team from Baltimore County that's about to play in a basketball game. But we'll keep the rest of it a surprise.
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