Pete Weber, son of legendary bowler Dick Weber, couldn't control himself. Sitting off in a corner of a Fairlawn, Ohio, hotel bar last Saturday evening, he burst out laughing, clapped his hands and raised his arms in glee. "This tournament has made me the best," he said. "I don't have to beat anybody. They all have to beat me. I have nothing to prove anymore. They all have to prove they are better than me." Which was reason enough, in his judgment, to order up another Jack Daniel's.
Weber had every right to be giddy. Two and a half hours earlier he had outperformed 51 other pros to win bowling's most prestigious event, the Fire stone Tournament of Champions. It wasn't just that on the final day he beat, in order, Mike Aulby, Mark Roth, Art Trask and Jim Murtishaw; he destroyed them. This was the first time in the tournament's 23-year history that a player positioned fifth in Saturday's five-man stepladder final round had moved through (in the playoff format No. 5 faces No. 4 for the right to face No. 3, and so on) to become champ.
Aulby gave Weber his toughest match, and he lost by 26 pins. Roth, who has won 32 tournaments, was lucky to escape before the blood flowed. He lost by 30 pins and made only one strike.
For some time now the sport has been fretting over its lack of new stars who can take over for the old guard. Murtishaw? Trask? Please. The sun is setting on Dick Weber, Earl Anthony and Carmen Salvino; it's past midday for Roth, Nelson Burton Jr. and, maybe, Marshall Holman. On whom is the sun rising? The answer is clearly Pete Weber.
Consider that Anthony, who has won more money ($1,273,286) and titles (41) than anyone in PBA history, didn't win his first tournament until he was 31. At 24, Weber has won 10, more than anyone ever has at that age. Consider that by collecting the $50,000 winner's check at the Firestone, Weber brought his career earnings to $733,331, thereby surpassing his father, who has earned $731,003 in his 29-year career. Consider that Dick never won the Firestone. "It's another era," Dick says. "It's a youthful game."
Indeed, so far this year 12 of the PBA's 16 tournaments have been won by players who aren't yet 30. So, says Dick Weber. "You have to make way for the youngsters." Even if one is your own. "I hope he triples what I made," says Dick. "And he might. He has no idea how much talent he has."
How much? you say. Anthony and Burton believe that Pete is the most gifted bowler the tour has ever seen.
And herein lies a potential problem. Could it be that Pete will self-destruct on wild living en route to reaching bowling immortality?
"Nope," he says. "I already self-destructed once, and I won't do it again." That was in 1984, when he spent four weeks in a Lonedell, Mo., drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in an attempt to unhook himself from booze, cocaine and marijuana.
Although Pete insists his druggie days are history, he says, "Pete will always be Pete, and Pete likes to drink." He has never met a good time he didn't like or a 4 a.m. he didn't love, and bowling officialdom is worried. Waste your worry on other things, says Pete. "I don't stay out all night drinking when I have to bowl the next day. And what I do on my off time is my time. People shouldn't judge me in bars. They should judge me on performance."
So, do you have great talent?
"Yes, I do."
Are you a better bowler than your father?
"Yes, I am."
Do you have goals?
"Yes. To win more titles than my father [Dick has 28], to win more than Anthony and to become the alltime money winner."
"I don't think so. I'm here on earth to please me, and that would please me."
Then he laughs. He knows he's cocky. But he also knows he has the numbers to go with the mouth. Weber has made the five-man playoffs five times this year, more than anyone else. He is the leading money winner for 1987, with $149,825.
What Weber also has is marquee value. Along with that grand name, he is colorful and flamboyant.
There he was on Saturday, sliding on his knees to finish off another strike. There he was, shaking his fist in triumph. There he was, puffing on Winston Lights between frames and. later that night, downing Jacks. Weber is simply a classic one-of-the-guys type of guy—except for that wondrous talent for knocking down tenpins with a 16-pound ball. Then he is way beyond every other guy.
Never was that talent more evident than last week at the Riviera Lanes, just outside Akron. Weber had only two scary moments. One came in the eighth frame of his match against Roth. Weber got a nasty 5-7 split, and his lead was in jeopardy. So all he did was convert the spare, by moving over three boards, while keeping the same aiming mark. Why? "Because I remembered that's what Dad always told me to do," he says. Ah, yes, as Burton, who like his dad is a Hall of Famer, says, "Breeding counts a lot, too."
The other frantic moment came in the second frame of his deciding game with Murtishaw, who, like Weber, is a high-school dropout and, also like Weber, did most every drug he could lay his hands on as a kid. Weber threw one adrenaline-aided ball far too hard. It never grabbed the lane and got only six pins. His second ball was far too soft and got only two pins.
An open frame can be shattering. Weber stared at the pins and mumbled to them, "I'm not going to let you do this to me." The pins succumbed. All of them fell the next five times Weber rolled, and that was the end of Murtishaw, who had only one strike in the first seven frames. Final score: 222-190.
The personalities of the two bowlers couldn't be more dissimilar. Does Murtishaw consider himself a great bowler?
"No, no," he said. "I'm a journeyman who just plugs along." Indeed, last week's five finalists had won a total of 59 PBA titles. Murtishaw could claim only one of them.
Does he have goals?
"Sure. To make enough money to stay on the tour." Murtishaw turned pro eight years ago, but before last week he could afford to bowl full-time only in 1980 and '84. He figures it costs him $800 a week to remain on the road with his wife and baby—and that's if they sleep cheap and eat cheaper. Thanks to last week's $28,000 check, which raised his career earnings to $130,937, he will have money enough to remain on the tour through this year.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, Weber is asked if he expects to dominate the tour in the future. "I'm dominating it now," he says.
As Weber rolled to victory in Saturday's playoffs, his body English spoke volumes.