The New York football Giants fumbled three times during their recent Super Bowl victory. Twice the ball took fortuitous bounces and they recovered. On a third occasion, the Patriots recovered, but were penalized for having too many men on the field. The Giants got the ball back.
We can never know for certain what would have transpired if the Giants had lost one or more of those fumbles. One was dangerously deep in their own territory and might have led to a quick Pats score. But I take issue with those who state confidently that if only one thing had gone differently, the game would have had an altogether different result. Yes, New England might have gone in to score shortly thereafter, or they might’ve turned over the ball on the next play. Perhaps they wouldn’t have scored but still would have used the momentum of the turnover to take control of the game. Maybe aliens would have seen the subsequent melee as an opportunity to invade the Earth and destroy Lucas Oil Stadium. We’ll never know. But we do know that the way all three cookies crumbled in this case increased the odds that the Giants would win and that the Patriots would lose.
In light of the upcoming Bassmaster Classic, that made me think of Jami Fralick. Bear with me on this one.
Fralick has built a workmanlike career casting for cash. The lone South Dakota pro in Elite Series history has fished 107 BASS events, finishing in the top ten on seven occasions. He was the runner-up at the 2006 Northern Tour event on Lake Erie and finished third in the 2007 Central Open on Amistad. He has a solid stable of sponsors and seems to be a pretty nice guy. He’s made it to the Classic three times – once through the Federation, once through the Opens and once through the Elites. But despite off of those warm and fuzzies, what I remember him for is an “almost.”
After Day Two of the 2009 Bassmaster Classic on the Red River Fralick topped the leaderboard. Unfortunately for him, the Day Two leader doesn’t get anything in the way of financial compensation, just a little extra press. To the Day Three victor go all the spoils, and when the scales closed that final day it was Skeet Reese who came out on top. Fralick might’ve prayed for a tsunami or alien invasion or other tournament-ending phenomenon, or maybe he felt good about his chances that last day, but either way he wasn’t taking the trophy home to the Dakotas. It’s not that he fumbled the ball away so much as that someone else took better advantage of the Day Three bounces.
Fralick went from gorgeous Prom Queen to ugly duckling mathlete in 24 hours. He wasn’t any less competent than he’d been the day before, and his story might’ve been just as compelling, but those members of the media who surrounded him on Saturday largely ignored him on Sunday. We’re a fickle bunch.
Skeet was certainly a deserving champion, but his Classic win cemented his legacy rather than creating it. Remember, he already had an AOY title at that point. I can safely say that even if he’d come in 2nd or 3rd or 49th that year in Shreveport, Berkley and Lucky Craft would’ve stuck by him and there would still be hordes of acolytes toting yellow rods to the pond. But if Fralick had won it? He would be a household name to a wide array of fishing fans, rather than just to those of us who follow the sport obsessively. I bet he’d have a few more goodies (for example, houses, cars, Facebook IPO shares), too.Fralick’s Cinderella story was not to be, but that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows the sport. When was the last time any up-and-comer came home before he turned into a pumpkin? We haven’t had a Cinderella in what seems like forever:
So Tak’s Lake Wylie championship, eight years ago, is the last time the Classic made a career? Since that time, you’ve seen many more Classic dreams derailed – Aaron Martens in Pittsburgh, Cliff Pace at Hartwell, Jeff Kriet at Lay Lake. But all three of those guys are still around, and still have long careers ahead of them. Think about what it would have meant for Dalton Bobo if a dead fish hadn’t cost him the title in 1997, or if Jim Bitter hadn’t dropped the winning fish over the side at the James River. Bassmaster Classics are typically won, not lost, but the difference between competitors at this level is fluorocarbon-thin. The second place finishers occasionally get remembered, but eighth place results, like the one endured by Fralick, are largely forgotten. That doesn’t make them any less painful for the anglers.
The year before Takahiro’s breakthrough, there was another up-and-comer who laid the foundation for a stellar career – Mike Iaconelli, who screamingly entered fishing immortality with a Classic win on the Louisiana Delta. In his autobiography, Ike later revealed that prior to the win he was no longer having fun chasing his dream and had seriously considered giving it up. One timely bounce in the form of a last minute fish pushed him back into the fray. In a sport like football, you can play for a team that never wins a Super Bowl, or even one that never makes it to the big game, and you can still have a stellar career and be set for life. In bass fishing, though, too many anglers stand to lose their shirts if the fumbles don’t bounce the right way.
It really doesn’t matter to me who wins the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. Fralick, like Skeet, won’t be back to try again. If KVD wins a third straight, or Ike wins his second, or the newbiest Federation dude hauls home the hardware, I’ll still have a story to write and I’ll still have exactly the same income level at year’s end. But there’s a certain group of guys – 10, maybe 20 – for whom this is not just the Super Bowl, but a tightrope walk between career and no career. I just hope that if the bounces go their way, they’re able to make the most of them.