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Lions’ victory helps 4 local men win $1 million handicapping contest

 Lions’ victory helps 4 local men win $1 million handicapping contest

Pictured from left are: Zachary Zoltowski, Anthony Coratti, Derek Stevens, Nicole Stevens, Brian Koestering and John Miller.

If the final few minutes of Sunday night’s Detroit Lions’ 20-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers were nerve-wracking for you, imagine the level of anxiety they generated for four local men who had a potential $1 million payday on the line.

Way back in August, good friends Anthony Coratti of Northville, John Miller of Canton and Livonia residents Zachary Zoltowski and Brian Koestering entered an NFL handicapping contest organized by Las Vegas-based Circa Sports.

“We enjoy watching football, so when we heard about the contest from an acquaintance at 97.1 The Ticket, we decided to enter,” said Coratti, a former football standout at Detroit Catholic Central and head basketball coach at Livonia Ladywood High School. “There were close to 5,000 entries, so we were just doing it for the fun of it, not expecting to cash in.”

The contest required the participants to submit five weekly against-the-line picks on NFL games.

“We all picked one game we liked and for the fifth game we’d talk about it during the week until we agreed on one we all liked,” Coratti said.

‘Why not us?’

As the season wore on, the friends’ entry ascended the contest’s standings. After Week 13’s games, the foursome was in 49th place — excellent, but nowhere near the money. However, a late-season surge of successful picks propelled the CHIEF-3 (the group’s entry name) to sixth place with three weeks remaining.

At that point, Koestering said: “Why not us?”

The friends — two of whom are married to Koestering’s sisters — gathered at a lake house in Gladwin, Michigan, to celebrate the new year and watch that week’s slate of NFL games together. They went 4-0-1 (they earned one point for a tie after that week’s Monday night Buffalo-at-Cincinnati game was canceled in the wake of the life-threatening injury to Buffalo’s Damar Hamlin).

The suburban-Detroit contingent entered the final week of the season tied for second place, prompting a last-minute trip to the Circa Sportsbook in Las Vegas to watch the games.

“Watching football is fun, obviously, but the final couple weeks it got a little stressful, to say the least,” quipped Coratti, laughing.

Bolstered by a Los Angeles Rams cover against Seattle an hour or so earlier, the friends entered Sunday night’s Lions-Packers game tied for first place — and the team they were deadlocked with had picked the Packer -4.5 points.

“Second place paid $500,000, so we were assured of splitting at least that much,” Coratti said. “We thought about betting a strategic amount of money on the Packers in case we didn’t finish first, but we ultimately decided to put our faith in the Lions — and they rewarded us.”

It’s a wonderful life

After Detroit receiver DJ Chark secured a game-clinching fourth-down pass, the winning quartet and their friends erupted in a joyous celebration that was posted on Twitter. The four friends finished with an against-the-spread record 59-26-5 (69.4%).

The first-place victory couldn’t have come at a better time for Coratti, who was laid off from his software sales job two weeks before Christmas.

“The winnings will let me be a little more selective in choosing my next job,” he said.

Coratti said he and his friends enjoyed great success picking the Lions, especially early and late in the season.

“I think they went 13-5 against the spread this year, so anyone who rode them won some money,” he said.

If Coratti crossed paths with Lions head coach Dan Campbell tomorrow, he’d have a heart-felt message for him.

“I’d tell him, ‘Thank you’ — not just because the Lions helped us win, but also because this team’s rebuild has substance. There’s no fluff involved.”

Koestering is a 38-year-old advertising salesman, Zoltowski is a 27-year-old employee of General Motors’ global purchasing department and Miller is a software salesman.

They are also lifelong fans of the Detroit Lions.

“Winning this legitimizes all of the hours of my life I’ve sat around watching football,” Coratti said, laughing.

If you have a story idea for, please contact Ed Wright at 734-664-4657 or

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Ed Wright

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