Based purely on statistics, no one could argue that Pete Weber is the greatest bowler ever of the PBA era — Walter Ray Williams Jr. and Earl Anthony are well ahead of him there.
But my gut feeling, for lack of a better term, is that a great case can be made for Pete as perhaps the greatest bowler of all time, not just the PBA era.
At the least, his amazing win of a record fifth U.S. Open on Sunday elevated him to just below Walter Ray and Earl for greatest bowler of the PBA era.
And greatest is about more than statistics.
Pete has been at the top of bowling through more eras than either Earl or Walter Ray, starting at the end of plastic through urethane to reactive resin. He won his first PBA title — a regional — as a non-member in 1979 and has won in five decades.
You can’t blame Earl or Walter Ray for not doing that, as Earl’s PBA Tour career ended before reactive resin and Walter Ray’s started after the plastic era had ended.
One thing PBA reported is that Pete was the oldest to win the U.S. Open, eclipsing Norm Duke's win at 46. Technically, that is correct, but the legendary Andy Varipapa won the BPAA All-Star, which became the U.S. Open, back-to-back in the 1940s at age 56 and 57.
I first bowled against Pete in 1981 and have been friends with him for more than 30 years, but I don’t think my view is biased by that. That friendship didn’t stop me from writing a couple of things that I know have not gone over well with him — one long, long ago that I still feel somewhat bad about — and I don't think it colors my view of his place in bowling history.
You simply can’t deny that Pete has stayed on top through more changes in the game than any bowler in history.
And look how much his game has changed from when he was a teenager who arguably had the most powerful game in bowling to almost a finesse player who is little more than a tweener in the current era of two-handed ultra power players.
What hasn’t changed is his almost unreal competitiveness and will to win that has enabled him to rise to big occasions as much as any player in history, something that was epitomized by Sunday’s U.S. Open win.
One other thing in his favor — if that is the correct word — is the time he lost to suspensions over behavioral issues and what those issues may have otherwise cost him in terms of titles he might have won.
Of course, the counter argument there is that if he’d not been who he is — warts and all — he wouldn’t have won what he did win.
Pete Weber choir boy and gym rat? Well, that wouldn’t be PDW ... perhaps just another “run of the mill” PBA champion.
Greatness comes from many qualities, not the least of which is ego/courage/fearlessness/competitiveness. Some may not show those characters as much as others, but I guarantee you that even quiet greats like Walter Ray and Earl have/had huge egos, amazing courage, a necessary amount of fearlessness, and unrelenting competitiveness.
There certainly is no arguing that Pete has those qualities at near-superhuman levels.
Greatest ever is not an argument that can be won. It’s simply one of those great sports debates that every fan enjoys.
Who is the greatest? I’m not certain, but I know that Pete changed the debate for me on Sunday.
Similarly, a case can be made that Sunday’s title match between Pete and Mike Fagan was the greatest in PBA history.
Again, it’s really not an argument that can be won — there have been so many great matches that it’s impossible to pick one and have everyone agree.
A large group of bowlers gathered to watch the title match after the end of Sunday’s Greater Iowa Bowling Association tourney in Waterloo and it was bedlam at the end of the match.
Tell me there has ever been a better bunch of shots at the end of a title match than what Weber and Fagan did in the last few frames — flush shot after flush shot on the toughest lane pattern in bowling with extreme pressure. I sure don't remember anything as awesome as that!
First Fagan threw three great strikes in the 10th to force Weber to strike on the first shot or go 9-spare and strike to win by a pin.
Weber, who had switched from a Marvel Pearl to a Frantic during the title match, then nutted a shot for a ringing 10-pin, recovered from the disappointment to spare it, setting up the final shot.
I yelled out that I’d love to experience the feeling of throwing Weber’s final shot and that every hair on my body would be standing on end if I were in that situation. (I’ve felt that in far lesser situations a few times in my career.)
Considering all that was on the line, the flush strike Weber rolled to win may have been the greatest shots in bowling history.
Watch it again here.
“That’s probably the calmest I’ve ever been needing to throw a shot to win," Weber said, according to this PBA news release. "Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’m prouder of myself than anyone else. I’ve always wanted to be the one to throw a strike to win.”
That last sentence is what it’s all about in sporting competition — and it what separates the greats from the rest: performing when it’s all on the line.
The whole show was such great theater that it makes how far bowling has fallen in the American sports landscape almost inexplicable.
Even a non-bowling fan had to love that match if they watched it.
It's vital to point out that while Weber won, there is no way anyone can say that Fagan lost. His performance in that game shows just how far he has come and, combined with his win of the USBC Masters, shows that he clearly has moved to the top echelon of the PBA Tour.
Their battle reminded me of the famous duels between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus at the U.S. Open and British Open in 1982.
Weber turns 50 in August and it’s hard to imagine he will have many more moments on the PBA Tour like this, but I would bet the much younger Fagan will.
And he’ll always be able to draw on the championship performance he put on Sunday, even if he didn’t win the championship.
Here is a lengthy webcast interview with Pete on Above180.com with Tim Burg and Joey Cerar.
Here is Chris Schlemer's report on the U.S. Open.
Here is the Newark Star-Ledger story on Weber's win.
69TH U.S. OPEN
Brunswick Zone-Carolier, North Brunswick, N.J., Sunday
1, Pete Weber, St. Ann, Mo., three games, 663 pins, $60,000.
2, Mike Fagan, Dallas, one game, 214 pins, $30,500.
3, Jason Belmonte, Australia, one game 213 pins, $15,000.
4, Ryan Shafer, Horseheads, N.Y., one game 191 pins, $10,000.
Match One – Weber def. Shafer, 223-191.
Match Two – Weber def. Belmonte, 225-213.
Championship – Weber def. Fagan, 215-214.