Since you liked my Top 10 PBA Stories of 2009 so much, how about we kick it up a notch and do the same thing for the entire decade?
Yes, the first decade of the new millennium is about to be history and, for me, it's a bit of a full circle moment. That's because when the decade started, I'd just bought an engagement ring for my fiance and had just taken a job working for...drum roll please...the "new" PBA! Now, at the end of the decade, I've recently taken a job working for the PBA and just bought a bigger diamond (that I can barely afford...did I mention I'm working for less money now than I made when I started with the PBA?) for my wife for our ten-year anniversary.
Of course, with all the stuff that's happened over the past ten years, I'm much more likely to make a big mistake on this list either by omitting some important event or ranking the ones I do include in the "wrong" order. Oh well, if there's one thing that ten years of marriage has taught me, it's that being wrong usually happens more often than not (or always, in cases when the person on the opposite side of the argument is your spouse). Before I get into too much trouble now, here's my list:
PBA and ESPN establish regular Sunday afternoon time slot
Yeah, so it's up against the NFL, but who else can consistently grab a .6 to a 1.5 rating consistently against the No Fun League juggernaut? The answer? NO ONE!
That's why the PBA on ESPN has become a solid Sunday staple for the total sports network, and why the network's been so willing to sign off on so many great made-for-TV spinoffs like the Roll to Riches, the Six Flags Summer Series and the King of Bowling.
The other great thing about the PBA on ESPN every Sunday is that, like the NFL, it is better positioned to take advantage of a large number of viewers watching at an appointed time. Ask any TV exec and they'll tell you that the key to building a show's following is a consistent time slot. For 10 years, the PBA has had just that, thanks to it's partnership with ESPN.
PBA.com utilizes web as broadcasting vehicle with Strike Pass, (now Xtra Frame)
True story: I spoke with Chris Peters about "webcasting" on a Friday night back in 2000, and when he came into the office the next Monday he had it all figured out. A few months later, the PBA was one of the first sports leagues to be broadcasting it's events live over the internet.
Like just about every other league, the PBA and its die-hard fans experienced many bumps along the road, and subscriber levels went up and down like the needle on a California seismograph.
But with the World Series of Bowling, the PBA rolled out a product that worked flawlessly, looked fantastic, and gave fans more bowling coverage than they could ever possibly hope to watch (not without costing them their job, marriage or social life, that is). And guess what? Fans are flocking back like ladies behind Brian Voss' pair.
Kelly Kulick becomes first woman to earn PBA Tour exemption
The folding of the ladies professional tour in 2003 was undoubtedly one of the worst stories in all of sports during the past decade.
But it did lead to the PBA opening its membership to women, who took little time in proving their ability to compete with the men on an equal playing field.
In 2006, a 29 year-old three-time Collegiate Bowler of the Year named Kelly Kulick qualified for an exemption to compete on the PBA Tour during the 2006-2007 season. Juggling an unbridled schedule of interviews and media requests wherever she went, Kulick competed admirably, cashing in 17 of the 19 events in which she bowled. Although her performance failed to earn her another season on Tour, her story and her accomplishments inspired women, men, girls and boys for an entire season.
Pete Weber’s romp through the media
The first official season of the "new" PBA...let's be honest...was not going so well heading into the Great Lakes Classic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The scores were down in the dumps (thanks to a new commitment to "Sport" compliant oil patterns), the players were visibly nervous on TV (thanks to a heap of expectations and pressure not to disappoint) and Koko Taylor had taken a metaphorical butcher knife to the National Anthem in Peoria just one week after 9/11.
Enter Pete Weber and his sunglasses. Sporting a new look and the same old attitude, Weber absolutely electrified the crowd on hand and on TV with a 299 game. Of course, many players had bowled 299 on TV in the past (and even 300 for that matter) but the way in which Weber did it was more performance art than bowling. He fist-pumped, he shouted, he ran out shots, he yelled at the crowd, and he introduced what I believe is the first official "finish move" that any bowler in history has ever "trademarked."
Running off to the right after a strike on the left lane, Weber slid toward the audience, put his hands up high, then thrust them down, slapping the front of his thighs just adjacent to his crotch, before spreading his arms back open wide with his palms facing the ceiling. The move (to the dismay of puritanical PBA fans who've always complained about anything that would "further degrade the image of bowling") was later dubbed the "crotch chop" but, after the win, as if to put an exclamation point on the entire magnetic performance, Weber uttered the now famous line, "I'm back and I AM P-D-W."
ESPN's Sportscenter ran highlights of every TV finals of every tournament for the rest of the season and PDW appeared on just about every major sports talk program for the next several months, gaining more media attention for the PBA than it had experienced in years.
The deaths of Earl Anthony and Dick Weber
The PBA has produced no two stars bigger than Anthony and Weber and, to our misfortune, we lost both in a span of less than four years.
In 2001, the news of Anthony's death from an accidental fall shocked not just the bowling community, but the world, and received coverage in Newsweek, Time Magazine and countless other major media outlets. The all-time titles champ (at the time) was one of the great ambassadors of the sport, and a tournament was immediately named after the legendary lefty, which is still on the PBA Tour schedule today.
Just four years later, the the world lost another bowling giant in Dick Weber, who was the man who probably had the most to do with the growth of popularity in bowling in the '50's, '60's, '70's and beyond than any other person in the sport.
Like Arnold Palmer in golf, Weber brought an aura of class, grace and elegance to a sport that people often looked down upon and, because of his tireless efforts to promote bowling throughout the world, it is often said that every player should donate a portion of their winnings to Weber just for the opportunities that he created for bowling to even exist at the competitive level. There will never be another one like him again.
Does anyone still remember the days when any old 200 average bowler could plunk down their $500 and step onto the lanes to compete against Walter Ray, Duke, Voss and Weber for a PBA title? Those days ended in 2003 when the exempt Tour was instituted by the Steve Miller-led PBA.
Since the change was made, all standard PBA events now consist of a 64-player field (each receiving a guaranteed check) made up mostly of exempt touring players, and a handful of qualifiers and/or special invitees. While some detractors saw this as "taking away a lot of players' dreams" others saw it as preventing a lot of yay-hoos (like two MIT guys who averaged 130 in the U.S. Open in the early part of the decade) from mucking up the quality level of the competition. Plus now, to make it on Tour as an exempt player actually means you've achieved something (just ask guys like Tom Smallwood and Ryan Ciminelli). Or as the colorful ex-PBA CEO Miller once famously said, "If you don't like it, don't bowl."
50th Anniversary gala brings together the 50 greatest players in PBA history
When players of the stature and experience of Johnny Petraglia and Del Ballard Jr. say that an event is the "greatest thing they've ever been a part of in bowling," it must be something pretty special. That's exactly what happened at the 2008 Tournament of Champions, where the PBA threw a party to celebrate the 50 greatest players in Tour history to commemorate the PBA's 50th year in existence.
Nearly every last player named to the 50 greatest list (plus numerous writers, past employees, TV personalities and other luminaries) were in attendance at the black tie affair, which took place in Las Vegas during the T of C.
Earning top honors as the greatest of all was the late Earl Anthony, who edged Walter Ray Williams Jr. in a vote by the sport's most respected journalists. It is about as unlikely as the sun not rising tomorrow that such a gathering of bowling greats will ever be seen again.
Walter Ray breaks Earl’s all-time titles record
After chasing the legend for more than two decades, the great Walter Ray Williams, Jr. finally surpassed Earl Anthony's record of 41 career PBA titles.
With a commanding victory over Pete Weber in the 2006 Dydo Japan Cup, Williams became the PBA's most prolific winner with his 42nd career win. After the win, Williams said, "You have to have breaks along the way any time you win out here...fortunately I had a lot of good breaks this week. It was kind of silly." Yeah, and even though the man himself is too humble to say it, it may also have had something to do with the fact that Walter Ray has been really, really good for a really, really long time.
Denny’s becomes PBA Tour's first title sponsor, followed by Lumber Liquidators
In this day and age, everything from sports stadiums to space on the windshields of folks' personal automobiles are sold to sponsors. In 2005, the PBA Tour joined the club with Denny's as its multi-million dollar suitor.
The ubiquitous restaurant chain seemed a perfect fit for the Tour and sponsored the league for three seasons before wholesale flooring chain Lumber Liquidators picked up the torch as title sponsor in 2008.
The jury is still out as to which sponsor put out the better bowling-themed TV commercial. Is it Walter Ray Williams Jr.'s famous "egg-drop" Denny's spot? Or those cute Lumber Liquidators ads featuring Parker Bohn III and his wife Leslie? Only time will tell I guess.
PBA purchased by ex-Microsoft execs
And the biggest PBA story of the past ten years is one that actually occurred in the first year of the decade (makes it kind of like a movie winning the Best Picture Oscar after being released in January...a rare feat indeed). This story is so big, that if it weren't for this one, NONE of the other nine (plus any of the other ones that I am no doubt neglecting) would have even taken place.
Yes, I'm talking about the purchase of the PBA (and rescue from imminent bankruptcy) by three ex-Microsoft execs from Seattle in 2000. Led by bowling fan Chris Peters, the high-net-worth triumvirate purchased the league and, with the help of a few ex-Nike sports marketing executives, began rebuilding the PBA to meet the demands of an audience that demanded so much more entertainment value than it had when the league was formed back in 1958.
Ten years later, the PBA is still here, chasing the new owners' and leadership group's stated mission of becoming the next global emerging sport. But more importantly for us fans of the PBA and the sport of bowling, without the Microsoft guys stepping in, we'd have to (gulp!) find something else to do on Sunday afternoons (church? ick! football? even worse!) during the winter and early spring. And for that they've definitely earned the top spot on my and, no doubt, every other bowling fan's list.
Well folks, that's all for me for the year and the decade. But fear not fellow bowling junkies, the second half of the Tour season is less than two weeks away and that means lots more live coverage on pba.com, Xtra Frame and ESPN. Happy New Year everyone!