John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Tennis had John McEnroe throwing fits, basketball had Bobby Knight throwing chairs and bowling has Pete Weber throwing strikes.
After winning his fifth U.S. Open (his father, Dick Weber, and Don Carter each won the tournament four times) last week in New Jersey, Weber permanently engraved his name on bowing’s legacy.
It should have been a shining moment for Weber and the sport of bowling.
But it wasn’t.
After throwing a strike and beating Mike Fagan by a single pin, 215-214, in a thrilling game, Weber lost it. He directed his comments, laced with expletives, toward the stands and the fans who came to watch a champion get crowned. But at the end of this tirade, I had to wonder why anybody would cheer for Weber. Sure, bowling fans (like NBA star Chris Paul) will defend him and tell you he’s one of the greatest ever, but he’s supposed to be a professional. He’s there not only to compete but also to represent and promote the sport.
Bowling fans should admire Weber for what he’s accomplished. They should admire him because he is the only bowler to win the Professional Bowlers Association’s U.S. Open five times. They should admire him for his 36 PBA Tour event wins. They should admire him because he’s third on the all-time PBA Tour list behind legends Walter Ray Williams Jr. and, my favorite, Earl Anthony.
But if you’re among the sport’s shrinking fan base and you have a chance to see him bowl in person, be forewarned — the guy can fly off the handle.
In the past, he lost it when a camera shutter made noise while he was on his approach, and last week he stared down a fan who had shifted in his seat while Weber was on the approach. The encounter, and his tense relationship with the fans, fueled Weber’s antics after the victory.
I’m part of a generation that grew up with bowling. I spent my Saturday mornings bowling a few games to improve my skills, and during the week, I took part in a local junior league. In those days, the bowling alley was filled with leagues nearly every evening, and I can remember watching the top PBA professionals going head to head on my dad’s television.
Maybe that is why I have a hard time cheering for Weber. It’s clear he learned a lot about bowling from his father growing up, but he must have missed his dad’s lesson on how to promote the sport. Dick Weber, who died in 2005, was a founding member of the PBA who constantly promoted bowling and once rolled a game on a Boeing 707 in flight to draw attention to the sport.
By Tuesday, his son’s actions had earned him more than a half million hits on YouTube, bringing attention to a sport that rarely is noticed by most Americans. I guess Pete Weber also promotes bowling, but I’m not sure that’s the kind of attention the sport needs.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com