|Page (1) of 1 - 02/29/12||email article||print page|
Column: Pete Weber rolls to record 5th win at bowling's US Open, then the real fun begins
Fred Flintstone bowled. So did Ralph Kramden and The Dude from "The Big Lebowski." Over the 5,200 years-and-counting the game's been around, almost everyone has.
None of them is a match for Pete Weber.
"When I was younger, I always wished I could be more like Fred Couples the golfer, you know, more cool, calm and collected," Weber said over the telephone Tuesday. "I wouldn't get bashed as much. But somebody has got to be the villain."
Weber also happens to be one of the five greatest bowlers ever, something he's determined not to let the rest of us forget. He's a WWE-sized personality wedged into a lounge sport, a firecracker whose fuse is half-lit by the time he's done warming up. Anytime Weber wins ' which is still often ' you do not want to be between him and a camera. Double that when Weber wins something important, like last weekend, when he rolled to what might be the triumphal win of what was already a Hall of Fame career.
At age 49, Weber came in as the No. 4 seed and threw a strike on his final ball of the title match to beat Mike Fagan 215-214 and become the oldest and only five-time winner of bowling's U.S. Open. That gave him one more than his much-beloved father, the late Dick Weber, and his father's equally legendary friend and friendly rival, the late Don Carter. Weber long ago tired of all the talk that bowling had become a younger man's game, and at several junctures in Sunday's match, he got into stare-downs with fans, or stopped and scolded them for making noise during his approach. When the last pin toppled, he turned on his heels, flung his trademark shades to the floor and with all those emotions roiling inside him, just about went nuts.
"Yes! ... That is right! I did it! Number five! Are you kidding me! That's right!" Weber howled at the crowd. "Who do you think you are?"
He didn't wait for an answer, instead pointing both thumbs back in the direction of his chest.
View the highlights for yourself on YouTube, as well as Weber's choked-up, post-match tribute to his dad. By midday Tuesday, more than a half-million people already had, including NBA star and bowling aficionado Chris Paul.
"That's him. I wasn't expecting anything less," said Paul, who hosts an annual celebrity pro-am tournament to benefit his CP3 Foundation and has known Weber for years. He saw how competitive Weber can be up close when his team dethroned Paul's two-time defending champs this year. "He reacts that way because he's excited," Paul added, "and because he loves what he does."
Back at his suburban St. Louis home two days later, Weber was a lot calmer but still unrepentant. He'd just returned after walking a brisk 18 holes of golf, a game Weber plays almost as well as he bowls. He said he hadn't watched the highlights from the U.S. Open ' "only what I heard about it from other people" ' or any of the half-dozen other videos of his pre- and post-match antics over the years that are generating renewed buzz on the Web. He didn't see the need.
"I had a couple incidents with the crowd (Sunday), so I wanted to let them know that I'm the man, and when it comes down to it, they're not getting to me," he said. "That's why I did what I did."
What he's also done is win just about everything in sight. He ranks second in major titles with nine, and third in Professional Bowlers Association Tour titles with 36. He started bowling at 2, dropped out of high school in the 10th grade to set the pins at a local alley and work on his game and was named rookie of the year at 18. By 26, Weber completed the "Triple Crown," winning at least one of each of bowling's three majors. By his mid-30s, he was less popular with his peers than ever, twice divorced, fighting battles with alcohol and having disciplinary problems on tour. A few years after that, new owners took over the tour and decided that Weber's over-the-top and occasionally vulgar behavior wasn't a problem, it was exactly what bowling needed. The gentlemanly pro game his father pioneered hasn't been the same since.
Ted Williams once told a friend, "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say, 'There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.'" Weber liked that.
"I'd like to hear, 'There's one of best bowlers in world,' or maybe 'the only five-time U.S. Open champ,'" Weber said. "But I'd never say I'm better than Don Carter or Dick Weber or some of the other guys. They paved the way for us, and what they had to do was a lot harder. When they won the U.S. Open, they had to play 100 games in a week. I'm only bowling 50. What they had to bowl on ' I'm talking about the quality of the lanes ' was a lot harder, too. Some of the players out here would struggle to break 200 in the conditions they had to shoot on."
But he knows that plenty of the people who would recognize him on the street, even those who recognize the pedigree, won't stop there.
"They'll remember the other stuff, too. They'll say, 'There's the guy that brought the 'crotch chop' to bowling." And they won't be shy about saying whether they liked me or not. I just hope," he sighed, "they say 'He was the most exciting guy to watch on TV.' I've always been straightforward on the lanes. You always know how I felt after shots."
Weber wasn't being contemplative. He expects there will be plenty of time for that. He plans on competing "as long as I can walk." What he won't do is change a thing.
A decade ago, Williams was asked whether he was worried about the influence he might have on kids taking up the game. He replied, "Your kid will see worse in life and on TV than what I do when I'm bowling." That answer still stands.
"Actually, it has rubbed off on kids. I probably got a couple of 'em kicked out of tournaments for doing the 'crotch chop.' In fact, I know that for sure," he chuckled softly, "and I'm sorry about it."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.