JASON THOMAS: Top Ten Moments in T of C History

by jthomas  |  Monday, August 16, 11:01 AM

With the announcement of the epic 2011 edition of the $1 million PBA Tournament of Champions coming last week, now's as good a time as any to look back at some of the great moments in that signature event's storied history.

With the $250,000 first prize and all PBA champions invited, will the 2011 tournament produce a moment that will crack this illustrious list?

#10 - Holman's Million-Dollar Win
The year was 1986 and the great Marshall Holman was at the peak of his career and looking for his second T of C win (he first won it in 1976, becoming the youngest ever to capture the prestigious title at 21). A win would also make him the third player in PBA history (after Earl Anthony and Mark Roth) to top $1 million in career earnings.

After a wild and crazy final against Mark Baker (who fouled early in the match but still mustered a late string of strikes to push Holman to the finish) Holman came out on top and in his post-match interview, exuberantly exclaimed, "Going over a million and doing it in style at the Firestone...I LOVE IT!"

Whoever wins it this year will find himself (or herself) a quarter of the way there.

#9 - George Branham III Wins Last Firestone
The celebration of the first African-American winner of the Tournament of Champions was short-lived, as 1993 champ George Branham III also represented the last winner of the tournament with Firestone as a sponsor. As the tournament's host all the way back from it's inception in 1962, the tire company announced it would be leaving after the 1992 edition. Since then, the tournament has sported a number of different title sponsors, including General Tire, Brunswick, Dexter and H&R Block.

#8 - Weber Becomes Youngest to 10 Titles
After ransacking four opponents to win the 1987 T of C, the win also earned Pete Weber the title of youngest player in PBA history to win 10 times on Tour. Weber was just 24.

Even though Tommy Jones made it to 10 wins in fewer tournaments, Weber still holds the distinction of reaching the magic number at the youngest age (Jones was 29 when he earned his 10th in 2007-2008).

#7 - Earl Gets Title #30
Earl Anthony's second T of C triumph came in 1978 with an easy 237-192 win over Teata Semiz. With Bo Burton making the show (he finished third after losing to Semiz in the semifinal) Dick Weber sat in with Chris Schenkel to call the action. As the prior all-time wins leader, Weber was all class in pronouncing Earl as the undisputed King of Bowling. Earl was equally classy in his humble, thankful acceptance speech.

#6 - Bomb Scare
In 1991, the start of the ABC-TV broadcast of the Tournament of Champions was delayed due to a bomb scare. So why does this make our list of top moments? Well, because it was memorable first of all...and second because even though it was a highly ignominious moment, it illustrates just what a large stature the Tournament of Champions held in 1991 that it could be pinpointed as a target for a terrorist.

Local police cleared the threat after what was an approximately 40-minute delay and David Ozio captured the title, which was the highlight of his Player-of-the-Year 1991 season.

#5 - Rhino's 4-Count
Those of us watching the 2009 Tournament of Champions are never going to forget the look of shock on both Rhino Page and Patrick Allen's faces after Page threw the four-count heard around the world to lose the title. After striking on his first shot in the 10th, Page needed nine and a spare to lock up his first major win against best-buddy and fellow lefty Patrick Allen.

Pitching his shot a little wide of target, the ball missed the headpin and cut through the rack leaving the unheard-of 1-2-4-7-9-10, leaving Page with room for just 263 (and four pins short of Allen's 267) with a conversion. The hands covering the respective faces said it all.

#4 - Michael Haugen Jr.'s Comeback
This exhilarating match featured a 53-pin comeback by Michael Haugen Jr. in the final four frames, and is perhaps the most painful TV loss in the large catalogue of tough TV losses suffered by Chris Barnes.

After struggling mightily through the first six frames, Haugen made a desperate ball change and found a little something to put together what looked like a too-little-too-late double. But Barnes, looking invincible in the semis and through most of the final lost his carry and inexplicably flagged a single pin spare to allow Haugen a sliver of an opening to win the match. The two-time champ stepped up and struck out in the 9th and 10th, and when Barnes was unable to strike on his second shot in the 10th, the title was Haugen's.

His Hale Irwin-esque high five run with the crowd while Barnes sat in disbelief on the approach was a moment of pure sports thrill-of-victory-agony-of-defeat contrast.

#3 - Couch's Three-Peat
In 2002 at the Mohegan Sun Arena, Jason Couch had a chance to become just the second player in PBA history (Mike Durbin was the first) to win three T of C titles. More amazingly, he also was looking to become the first to win three straight.

After surviving a tough match with Robert Smith to reach the final, Couch was dominant in the title match against Ryan Shafer, firing a huge 266 to lock up the win and paving the way for his now-iconic "three-peat" celebration.

#2 - Don Johnson's 299
For the first 50 years of the PBA, this moment was probably the most iconic in PBA lore. At the 1970 Firestone, Don Johnson met up against Dick Ritger for an epic final, with both players starting the match with a big string of strikes. After Ritger stopped at seven, his 268 was still enough to force Johnson to mark in the 10th despite starting with the front nine. With tens of millions watching on ABC, Johnson packed the first two in the 10th to lock up the $25K win, and needed just one more for an additional $10K 300 game bonus.

After throwing what looked like a perfect shot, Johnson went to the floor, begging for the carry. His request was denied by the bowling gods, who cruelly left him with a ringing 10-pin and a 299 final score. Johnson's reaction lying on the approach, face-down is perhaps the most memorable image in PBA history. But the trophy presentation where Johnson holds the pin that had the gall to stand, the trophy and the check while enjoying a very long kiss with his wife is also priceless.

#1 - Kelly Kulick's Historic Win
Even though this happened just seven short months ago, it would be hard for anyone to argue that the historic victory of Kelly Kulick in the 2010 Tournament of Champions deserves the #1 spot on our list. To understand the odds that Kulick was up against in recording this victory and the pressure and expectations she was forced to overcome all week long, is to truly know the makeup of a champion.

Parlaying a special invitation to the winner of the 2009 PBA Women's Series World Championship, Kulick steadily hung with the leaders throughout the week, and her inspiring come-from-behind run on Friday evening to qualify for the telecast in second place (which you can go back and watch on Xtra Frame in the Archived Tournaments section), was probably special enough to make this list. But her performance on Sunday, defeating Mika Koivuniemi and then Chris Barnes with a convincing 266 game in the final with millions watching (the telecast was the PBA's highest-rated show for the year) is a feat that will be remembered for as long as bowling is broadcast on TV.

So, will the 2011 new and improved T of C produce a moment that will make this list? You'd be hard-pressed to bet against it (especially since it's coming to you live from Red Rock Lanes in Las Vegas).

Are there other moments you thought may have belonged on the list? Maybe Mike Durbin's third win in 1985? Or Jack Biondolillo's 300 game? Or Mike Aulby's 1995 victory to give him the career Grand Slam? Your comments are welcome below.