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Original Issue

Bowl Hype

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in the following column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Time Inc. Magazine Company, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED or, for that matter, any other individual working for this magazine. Frankly, we wouldn't have considered hiring Mr. Chad had we known that he likes to bowl.

Yeah, I bowl. What of it? And I love to watch the pro bowlers' tour on TV. So? I know the young and the restless prefer American Gladiators and the not-so-young and the well-rested prefer golf, but I'm here today—wearing my polyester pullover shirt and my size-9 rented shoes—to give all those Club MTV and country-club types a simple message:

Bowling strikes me right!!!

I gently caress my 14-pound ball, sliding my fingers smoothly into place. The key is getting the thumb out of its hole at the precise moment of release. I take the full approach, all 16 feet, and while focusing on the second and third arrows, make a powerful, five-step delivery toward the foul line. Then, with tremendous wrist action and a great arm swing, I thrust the ball down the lane with a big loft and tantalizing hook, watching as nearly all the pins crash and fly in an explosive, violent flurry.

God, I hate the 9-pin. Damn thing won't go down.

O.K., so I'm only a 142 bowler.

I did pick up the 7-10 split once, but the spare was disallowed because the ball never left my hand. (Seriously, let me give you some solid advice on bowling for spares. There are two schools of thought on the 3-6-10: go cross-lane or accidentally hit the reset button and start the frame over.)

Contrary to popular belief, bowlers are not pinheads. Yes, beer and bowling are inexorably linked, but most of the time we put down the beer before rolling a ball. (This contrasts sharply with golfers, who'll continue smoking a cigarette while addressing the ball. DON'T GET ME STARTED ON GOLFERS. Golfers dress as if Walt Disney had thrown up on them. Not only do they dress loud, they speak loudly about their game. Many golfers, unprompted, will give you a hole-by-hole breakdown of their rounds. Golfers are pretentious, out-of-shape blowhards with big bank accounts. Bowlers, on the other hand, are just out of shape and, admittedly, sometimes behind on alimony payments.)

Now, it's one thing to bowl, people will tell me, but it's a whole other thing to actually watch bowling on TV. Every shot looks the same, I'm told repeatedly. Ha! No two snowflakes are alike; similarly, no two gutter balls are alike.

ABC just began its 31st consecutive year of televising the winter bowlers' tour. Chris Schenkel has announced it all from the beginning, and analyst Nelson (Bo) Burton Jr. has been his broadcast partner for the past 17 seasons. They're not Summerall and Madden, but they're comfortable voices for a comforting telecast.

It's a stunningly simple and rewarding format for the viewer. The top five bowlers from the week make the 90-minute TV finals. The No. 5 qualifier plays No. 4, with the winner playing No. 3, with that winner playing No. 2, with that winner playing No. 1. Every 20 minutes or so another match is completed. Many matches remain in doubt until the final frame or two.

And pro bowlers are regular people. Don't get me wrong—they are underrated athletes and skilled practitioners of their trade, but many struggle financially, traveling with their families in motor homes and hoping to cash a check from a sport that offers a fraction of the money that accompanies the golf and tennis tours.

They seldom get too big for their bowling shoes.

For instance, at the recent AC-Delco Classic, tour standout Del Ballard Jr., who had finished eighth, was the statistician-scorer for the TV finals, filling in for the ailing regular score-keeper. (Can you imagine Jimmy Connors, a day after being eliminated at Wimbledon, substituting for one of the umpires?)

I do wonder one thing, though: Do pro bowlers, like the rest of us, have to turn in one of their loafers at the front counter when they rent bowling shoes?