February 28, 2008 19:00
February 27, 2008
BY STEVE T. GORCHES Post-Tribune staff writer
It started as fun for Stone; it's turned into pandemonium
It's developed into a chasm between old-school bowlers and the new breed of fans just getting into watching the Professional Bowlers Association on Sundays.
It's all about Rob Stone and his hambone.
No, that's not the name of a new alternative rock band.
Stone is in his first season as the ESPN play-by-play man on PBA telecasts and "hambone" is the term he coined for four strikes in a row.
At first, it was just a fad that Stone was facilitating -- an annoyance to some, a curiosity to others. It's evolved into a craze and a ratings booster despite Stone being criticized by older fans, media members and even some of the PBA bowlers.
Stone had yet to answer his critics or explain the motive behind his hambone experiment ... until now.
The Tampa, Fla., native who sits next to Randy Pedersen in the broadcast booth knows that 'hambone' has represented two strikes in a row.
"A nice, sweet-as-can-be little old lady handed Randy a USBC patch with two strikes on it and said, 'Tell Rob this is a real hambone.' Randy told her 'I don't think he's going to change,' " Stone said. "I just started this as fun and it's become a monster. By no means was it intended as a one-liner, but it's developed legs and our TV guys love it."
That's right. The PBA staff members who hear all the complaints from bowling fans can't get enough of the hambone.
"We're all big hambone fans," staff member Sam Mulligan said. "I've been on board the whole time."
Even former PBA bowler Kirk Von Krueger, now the PBA tournament director, plays to the crowd as an admitted hambone fan.
"We love the hambone fans," he said to the crowd at Woodland Bowl in Indianapolis before the ESPN finals of the World Championship.
Believe it or not, Stone was close to ending the hambone banter a few weeks ago.
"Some of the bowlers said to calm down on the hambone thing, so I took it to heart," he said. "I'm not out here to belittle the athletes. But about 30 minutes later I had a lady come up to me and say how much they enjoy saying hambone in their league. That made me smile. On that show we started seeing signs crop up and I told Randy, 'We can't kill this.' "
The bowlers are creeping on board the hambone bandwagon. On the Feb. 17 telecast, PBA hall of famer Pete Weber pointed to the TV booth after his fourth consecutive strike and exclaimed, "Rob Stone, here's your hambone!" as he performed his patented chop.
"That was funny stuff," Stone recalled. "I did not take that in a negative connotation at all and nobody on our broadcast took it like that either. It gets the crowd into it and Pete thrives on that."
At Indianapolis, PBA member Bill Crane of Mishawaka held up a sign that said, "Are you smarter than a hambone?" with fifth grader crossed out, referring to the TV show "Are you smarter than a fifth-grader."
Stone said he didn't even know what that meant, but he liked it.
"Fans get pumped up for the stupid word 'hambone.' It puts a smile on my face that people are enjoying the sport," Stone said. "I understand that there are people out there who totally hate it. I'm not trying to shove it down anybody's throat."
Previously Stone has announced soccer, college football and the Great Outdoor Games for ESPN. He also was a college soccer player for Colgate University. So bowling was quite unfamiliar to him.
"The ESPN guys said they had a new project for me ... it was a busy time for me with my wife pregnant with twins," said Stone, who missed a couple of telecasts, including the Lake County Indiana Classic, when twin boys Carson and Chandler were born.
"I'll tell ya I wasn't expecting bowling to be the word out of their mouths. It was a sport I knew nothing about. I borderline had a panic attack. I'll be honest, without saying no I gave them a lot of reasons not to give me the job. I was scared, but I've enjoyed it."
Contrary to popular belief, ESPN didn't ask Stone to be over-the-top. Neither did the PBA. But both want ratings to go up and the "hambone" seems to be accomplishing that feat.
"They mentioned nothing about ratings. They said nothing about adding energy ... nothing," he said. "For years I've been labeled as a high-energy guy. I think that's why they hired me.
"It's not like I don't care about this. I'm really trying. I have my cheat sheet on the plane every week. I'm taking this as seriously as any sport. I don't know if I'll be back, but I won't be asking off it. I'm sure that pains people."
But it's making more people enjoy the telecasts and that bodes well for the PBA.
Contact Steve Gorches at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog "Gorch on the Porch" at blogs.post-trib.com for more on Rob Stone.
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