Did you hear the good news? The PBA will be adding another tour stop at the end of this season! That’s right, with the fine money they got from Sean Rash’s six shot clock violations during the first match of the PBA World Championship telecast, they will be funding another event! OK. Not really, but I’m sure those $1,600 in fines (by my unofficial count) are going to sting Sean like a very bad rash, especially when they’re rubbed into the massive wound caused by the jaw-dropping stone-9 and blower 7-10 leaves that cost him some extended semifinal play and possibly a berth in the title match.
And with that, welcome to this week’s PBA World Championship TV Recap…the first official competitive event of the PBA’s golden anniversary 50th season. Like all of you fellow bowling fanatics out there, I was pretty darn jazzed for the show on Sunday (although a bit bummed that Aussie phenom Jason Belmonte – who absolutely destroyed the best players in the world for four days and was “rewarded” with a bye into the round of Super 16 against the reigning PBA POY…thanks a million for the killer draw, mate! – missed the show).
For me, though, once the show started you could have cut the awkwardness with a knife throughout the intro and almost the entire first match. With the exception of Norm Duke, who was somehow as cool as a cucumber even while sporting a giant white Storm logo on the front of his shirt, the whole atmosphere was as tense as the first show of the “new PBA era” back in 2001 when Koko Taylor butchered the national anthem in front of the host center’s local hometown police and fire brigade just two weeks after 9/11. (If you remember, Steve Wilson added to the ambience by tossing a gutter ball on the first shot of that telecast).
Clearly, the tension on this show rubbed off on Rash in the form of six balks (which cost him the aforementioned 16 bills) but to see his shots hit the pins you would never know it, as he blasted 10 of 11 pocket hits and gave Duke (the man who I recently wrote would be my representative if there were a bowling event that I needed to win in order to save my life) everything he could possibly handle and maybe a little bit more. I would even go so far as to say that Rash probably deserved to win the first match based on shot quality alone but Norm made the shots (and a brilliant, subtle, move left about midway through the game) when he needed them and pulled out the win. It just goes to show what a great TV bowler Rash is that it took the iciest TV bowler on the planet and a few horrible breaks to hand him his first TV loss in his now five TV career appearances. Can we get a golf clap for Sean’s nice run?
During the break between matches we were treated to a nice, nostalgic, segment with Bo Burton (I totally dug the HRG from Heroes look in the black and white flashback, by the way) recapping the 45th through 50th greatest bowlers of all time (although I did wonder why they chose to profile Gary Dickinson over Mika Koivuniemi? A missed opportunity to further dimensionalize a contemporary player, I thought.).
Then Match 2 got underway. And what a doozy it was...not. After watching Rash and Duke make the lanes look fairly easy playing the gutter during Match 1 (although the one shot each of them threw slightly inside of target went left faster than Jesse Jackson at a Teamster’s meeting), I was a little more than surprised to see Steve Jaros and Chris Barnes one and three arrows deeper, respectively. And after watching Barnes’ ball react like a basketball filled with maple syrup in frames three and four, I was scratching my head even more. Fortunately for Barnes, Jaros never tried much of anything (I probably wouldn’t have either for, watching Barnes’ reaction, I wouldn’t have figured him for much more than 180 at best) but somehow gave himself room for 201 going into the tenth frame and a chance to win the match. But Barnes never gave him that chance, blasting three Gwen Stefanis (this is my version of the Hambone, OK, so feel free to lambaste me as needed) in the tenth, which was quite impressive given his iffy ball reaction, to close out the match.
My wife, who is to a bowling fan what an atheist is to God, was watching the show with me while running on the treadmill that happens to be in the same room (which is about the only way she will ever watch bowling with me) and commented that it looked like Duke would be the favorite going into the title match. (I had no idea my wife Lynn secretly longed to be bowling’s Lynnie the Greek). I agreed (the word I used was “slaughter,” if I recall correctly), but was momentarily undecided when I saw something very interesting taking place during the sponsor promos that flashed over the wide shot of Duke and Barnes practicing on the TV pair in the short setup segment prior to the title match. I saw Duke slow-hooking fifth arrow (where Barnes was in his semifinal) and Barnes playing the gutter, which was a total reversal of where they were playing in their respective semifinals!
After the commercial break, I was very interested to see where Duke would play to start the match and, not surprisingly, he was still out by the gutter. Barnes, on the other hand, instead of moving back inside where he was in the semifinal, decided to stay out by the gutter with Duke. Rob Stone did a great job of asking the right questions of Randy to help explain why Barnes had made the move, and Randy did a good job of describing his interpretation of the thought process. The only thing I would have added to Randy’s analysis was the idea that Barnes was taking a calculated risk by moving to the gutter because he probably felt that Duke was good for 230-250 based on his reaction and that the best Barnes could hope for playing inside was something in the 210-220 range.
A lot of people will probably bash Chris for failing to perform in another big TV match, but I give him a lot of credit for taking the risk that probably gave him his best chance to win the match. Duke’s rock-solid 259 proves that this was the right strategy and that his assessment of the situation was dead-on. But how scary-good is Duke that he spent the practice time before the match getting lined up playing fifth arrow just in case his gutter reaction went kaput and Barnes’ fifth-arrow shot started opening up? The man is an assassin, which just proves once again why he’s my guy, in the event of my life ever being on the line over the winning of a bowling tournament.
But the thing I love most about Norm Duke are his genuine reactions and emotions that he lets out once (and only once) he captures the victory. He is truly one of the all-time greats (I’m talking top 5 EVER here) in the sport of bowling and, as both Rob and Randy rightly said on a few different occasions throughout the broadcast, is as worthy of the PBA Hall of Fame as Lindsay Lohan is of a straitjacket.
History, as Tiger Woods continues to show us in golf, is always fun to watch and Duke gave it to us again Sunday (plus how cool was it that, after he won, he was thanking the folks in the crowd for showing up…let’s see Tiger do that…oh wait, he likes to tell the fans how much he wants to “break their neck” after they click a camera in his backswing). For me, Duke was easily the star of the show and the top reason why I enjoyed watching this week’s broadcast. From a purely selfish TV-viewer-maximization-of-entertainment standpoint, here’s hoping that Duke has many more great performances to come this season.
Before I sign off, I also wanted to mention the following items of note:
- I had a very difficult time reading the scores on the “bug” scoreboard (despite owning a fairly decent-sized HDTV with HDMI inputs and all the trimmings) in the lower left corner of the screen. Anyone else have this problem?
- I LOL’ed at Randy’s icy response to Rob’s question in Match 1 asking what you call four strikes in a row.
- Did they miniaturize the WC trophy? Norm must’ve requested this after having trouble picking up last year’s mammoth version following his physically and emotionally exhausting victory. Wonder what folks will say when they walk into his trophy room and see the two sitting next to each other on the shelf?
- Not sure about the new jerseys. Lynnie the Greek said they look like a cross between NASCAR and Tour de France jerseys. If I had to say anything, I would say that I like the style of the shirts, but chill out a bit on the logos and the overall busy-ness. But I really like the fact that there’s no more safety-pinned patches.
- Liked the NFL Films-esque music during the 50 Greatest Players segment. Added credibility and “sport-ness” to the feature.
- The Norm Duke PBA Promo spot. CLASSIC!!!! Great job PBA for this…absolutely cannot wait to see the other four!
- Also, great coverage on Xtra Frame this week! But keep it up...we’re waaaaaaatching!
Until next week!