In the closing moments of the Jan. 6 PBA Hall of Fame Classic TV Finals on FS1, an emotional Bill O’Neill crouched by the ball return and pondered the moment. He had just become eligible for PBA Hall of Fame consideration after winning his 10th tour title. And he had done it, in all places, on the site of the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame in Arlington, Texas, just a minute’s walk from the International Training and Research Center where the show aired live.
His victory in that event, the PBA’s first show with FOX in the 2019 season, came just months following his mother’s death in August. That fact clearly weighed on O’Neill’s mind as he fought back tears while speaking with sideline reporter Kimberly Pressler.
Weighing on top-seed Jakob Butturff’s mind was the stunning manner in which he had lost the match to O’Neill — by failing to cover a routine spare in his 9th frame (the 4-7) after previously having whiffed a single-pin spare in his 2nd (the 7-pin).
As forthcoming shows would prove, the PBA Hall of Fame Classic hardly would be the only time viewers were left with dropped jaws following a PBA Tour telecast’s conclusion in 2019.
Take the moment of déjà vu Butturff delivered the following week. For the third consecutive PBA Tour title event going back to the 2018 U.S. Open, Butturff appeared as the No. 1 seed on a PBA telecast, this time the PBA Oklahoma Open . . . and promptly whiffed a single-pin spare in his 2nd frame.
A stunned Butturff stood frozen in place on the approach and buried his face in his hands, just as he had done in his disastrous 9th frame the week prior. Was he about to go 0-3 from the top-seed position for the third straight tournament?
No. Being Jakob Butturff comes with perks. Like the ability to stroke the next nine consecutive strikes to wallop Jesper Svensson, 267-201, following that terribly familiar miscue to win his 5th career PBA Tour title at age 24.
Or take the moment in the Mark Roth-Marshall Holman PBA Doubles Championship, which was taped that afternoon in Oklahoma and aired the following Sunday on FS1, when Matt Ogle’s partner Sean Rash reached into the crowd to lift Ogle’s six-year-old son Gavin and send him onto the approach so the boy could bask in the moment his father seized his lifelong dream of winning a PBA Tour title.
Or the unforgettable conclusion of the PBA Lubbock Sports Open the following week live on FS1. There, momentum shifted four times in a frame as Rash whiffed a 10-pin spare with his 14th title in reach, then watched Dick Allen roll a 2-pin on his first ball of the 10th. Much in the manner of Butturff, a disbelieving Allen buried his face in his hands.
Allen then tossed a solid shot for a must-have strike on his next ball. He somehow came away with eight pins on a final shot that went through the face when eight pins were exactly what he needed to seize victory from Rash’s clutches. PBA CEO and Commissioner Tom Clark described it as an “instant classic.” Yes, the show was the epitome of that term.
And has there ever been a more riveting four-bagger in the opening frames of a title match than the one Jason Belmonte tossed on the live Tournament of Champions show the following week on FOX? Or a more consequential 5th-frame ringing 10, the moment the $1 million bonus available for a 300 game eluded him? Belmo’s failure to convert that single-pin spare suggested the sting of that break still lingered with the two-hander as he attempted the spare shot.
Perhaps even more stinging — and stunning for viewers — was the pocket 7-10 split he left on his first shot of the 10th frame in the PBA Players Championship title match Sunday. Belmonte, by then, had led the last 11 consecutive rounds of PBA Tour action going back to the TOC, and was gunning for a record 11th major on the PBA Tour to eclipse the 10 Pete Weber and Earl Anthony amassed.
Belmonte collapsed to his knees and paused before the foul line with folded arms to contemplate the history that had just slipped through his fingers like so much sand.
“The 19 times I’ve won, I was the more fortunate player and today it was not me. If you can’t accept that reality, then professional sports isn’t for you,” Belmonte tweeted later that afternoon.
Anthony Simonsen instead made a little history of his own, becoming the youngest player in PBA history to win two majors at age 22.
As Clark tweeted following that unforgettable show in Lubbock:
If you think that is hyperbolic, you have not been watching.