I want you to picture the single most memorable, prolific sports celebration that you can. It can be any sport, any athlete, any era. What popped into yourhead? Maybe you’re picturing Tiger Woods on the 16th hole, improbably jarring a chip from off the back of the green in the final round of the 2005 Masters. Perhaps you’re envisioningBrandi Chastain, who has just ripped her shirt off after netting the penalty kick to win the 1999 World Cup. Maybe you’re seeing Michael Jordan elevating over Craig Ehlo, hanging in the atmosphere for an immaculate split second, then draining the game winner to take the 1989 NBA title.
You can open your eyes now.
I’m sorry to inform you that whatever you just pictured in your head is incorrect and stupid. I am, however, pleased to say that the greatest sports celebration that ever was didn’t take place on a field, nor a pitch, nor a court. It all unfolded on February 26th, 2012 at the 69th (hell yeah) US Open of the Professional Bowlers Association.
Most of you know the lore by now. It’s been passed down through generations for going on 7 years now. I would expect, at this point, that grandfathersare bouncing grandkids on their knees on front porches, telling them stories about the time old Pete Weber cranked out a flawless strike to take home gold in the US Open.
His performance was a real life embodiment of the classic underdog story that youhear so much about but rarely get to see come to fruition. To add another layer to his already impressive resumé, this particular US Open was very meaningful to Pete for several reasons: First, he had a chance to pass his late father as the professional bowler with the most US Open victories of all time. He came into the tournament with four US Open titles and a chance to bag another to break the record, which was held by his own father, Dick Weber. Second, he came into the tournament as the lowest possible seed with an uphill battle ahead of him. Suffice it to say Pete was throwing rocks that day with achip on his shoulder. Additionally, on top of everything listed above, throw in the factthat Pete Weber is a certified freak on the lanes, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a powder keg of a PBA US Open final. There’s an aptly named, twenty minute 30-for-30 documentary on him called The Bad Boy of Bowling, which I would highly recommend for some background context. Having said all that, I humbly present to you for your viewing pleasure:
No exaggeration, this is my favorite sports clip on the internet and I think about it often, probably more often than I should. A close friend knows my fascination with this and got me an autographed Pete Weber trading card for my 27th birthday. It’s one of my most prized possessions. You always hear the quote “Live every day like it’s your last”and I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a few hours of the precious time that I have left on this earth and waste it doing an in-depth frame-by-frame breakdown of Pete Weber’s storied celebration after winning the US Open. I hope you waste a few minutes reading it.
Sidenote: Let me lead this off by saying if you’re not up to date on your bowling lingo, this might be a good opportunity to do so and show some damnrespect to professional bowling. This will be a much easier and enjoyable read if you do so. And if it feels like I’m overusing these terms, it’sbecause I am. Do yourself a favor, brush up on the terminology, and we can continue unabated. Here you go: Bowling Lingo
In his final frame of the championship match, it’s easy to tell how determined he is simply by looking at his unnervingly-calm yet focused demeanor. Not a single hair on his head out of place, visualizing his ball’s path to a strike… In this moment he is completely unflappable (more on Pete’s hair later, stay tuned). This is all very much unrelated and might be slightly off-putting, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that Pete Weber smells elite. You don’t generally look like that without wearing expensive cologne and smelling the part. Whether or not those glasses are meant to shield his eyes from the bright lights of ESPN’s broadcast or just shroud him in mystery, the underlying fact remains that they look badass. There’s never been another human being as remarkably dialed-in on anything at any given point in time in the history of mankind.
If you’ve ever seena bald eagle take flight, you’ve witnessed true American majesty. I’ve been to several eagle sanctuaries and I’m here to say, Pete’s armswing is as majestic as it gets. To have everything on the line, to know his father is smiling down onhim from Heaven’s bowling alley, and to step up with a contorting armswing like that is absolutely preposterous. Just think of the level of stretching and flexibility one would have to maintain to do this over and over again throughout the course of a bowling tournament. Notice the arm nearly perpendicular to the ground, left arm fully extended with which to generate balance, eyes still squarely on the entry zone. I’m pretty sure this iswhat bowling pornography looks like, folks. His unbroken gaze is foreshadowing for what is about to happenboth to his opponent and any haters that wish failure upon him.
First of all, notice the arrows where Pete starts his ball, then note that his ball makes initial contact on the right side of the beak. Pete is a certified boomer through and through, and the action he puts on this winner is pure bowling erotica. The form remains perfect, left hand splayed outward, right hand pointedly aimed at his destination. It should also be noted that in this frame we get our first glimpse of Pete’s glove, a bowler’s best friend. Let me also note that at this point in the video clip, in the split second after the ball leaves his hands, the crowd goes absolutely batshit crazy. The quiet stillness of the crowd before and the eruption as soon as he releases the ball is wild. An electric environment for an electric athlete.
The speed and momentum with which his ball slams into the pins leaves no doubt. As if they ever stood a chance. Pete’s bowling ball assaults the pins and there’s never been a more sure strike in bowling history. Meanwhile, his unfortunate opponent, Mike Fagan, is forced to sit idly by and watch his US Open title chances go down with the pins like some cruel, front-row watch party. As if things couldn’t get any worse for Mr. Fagan, The Celebration is about to unfold directly in front of his face. There’s something to be said about Gary Thorne’s live call, as well. “Strike to claim it, a strike to claim it… Annnnd HE GOT IT!” A perfectly timed, succinct line followed by silence to give the microphones a chance to capture what turned out to be celebratory nonsensical ranting gold.
By now his fate is secured as the US Open champion for 2012. He has broken his father’s record and locked up his fifth US Open victory. The floodgates are open.
As we witness Pete come completely unglued on national television at the beginning of Phase 1, we notice that at some point he removes and slam dunks his sunglasses onto the wood floor, almost definitely shattering them into a million pieces. He doesn’t need the sunglasses anymore at this point, his job here is done. We hear an emphatic “YES, GODDAMMIT, YES!” as he throws haymaker fist pumps, his face quickly becoming beet red with adrenaline and unbridled winner’s rage. You can spot Pete’s wife celebrating in the front row of the stands in the scarf. As ecstatic as some in the crowd look, there are others in the crowd that appear apathetic, almost disappointed with the outcome. When you’re the Bad Boy of Bowling, you’re bound to make a few enemies.
OPTIONAL SIDENOTE:After watching the following video, it’s plain to see why some in the crowd might’ve been less than pleased to see this polarizing figure come away victorious. Watch the entire thing, then continue reading.
To stop what he’s doing completely, on national television, and identify one bystander for moving in his approach is high-level bowling drama. Even the announcers know to stay out of his way when he’s in the zone, the fan would’ve been well suited to do the same. From that point on, the fan was squarely in Pete’s crosshairs. The animosity after every single roll, the pointing, the cocky stare-downs after converting spares, it’s all so surreal. Then he GOES AND WINS THE TOURNAMENT. That’s some villain shit that I am here for, now and forever.
On the other hand, others were thrilled, like these guys in the crowd. Maybe a little too thrilled. This is what pure bliss looks like. The gentleman in the middle with eyes wide and mouth agape legitimately can’t believe what he just saw, he just appears stunned. Their underdog and the lowest seed in the entire tournament has just delivered one of the most clutch bowling performances of all time to take down the #1 seed in the US Open championship. Remind me to buy some front-row tickets for the next major bowling event when Pete Weber is in the hunt.
As we progress into Phase 2, you can see that Pete’s skin is medically unsafe shades of red by now. What Pete says during this phase of The Celebration is, at times, indecipherable, but I’ve given it my best shot for you, the reader. The entire production is something out of a fever dream, and the announcers do an impeccable job of allowing Pete’s rant to be heard start to finish. He furiously bellows to no one in particular “THAT IS WHY I DID IT! I’M NUMBER FIVE (?), ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!”
It’s in this tender moment that the camera pans to his wife, overcome with emotion (maybe embarrassment?), who has now covered her face. Nevertheless, Pete continues to savor the moment with ridiculous, misplaced rage the likes of which PBA has never seen.
He then appears to shift his attention to the unruly fan that he’d sparred with previously and he dedicates an extra-special fist pump his way with a final blow: “THAT’S RIGHT!”
Then, seemingly targeting the same individual in the crowd with a bombastic flare of his arms, he venomously spits the one line to rule them all: “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, I AM!!!”
I’m having a hard time thinking of a cockier, more disrespectful celebration. I’m not sure one exists or will ever exist in competitive sports. The raw emotion, the incoherent sentence fragments, the alarmingly popped neck veins. I can’t be sure, but at certain angles I think you can see a little smoke coming out of his ears. It’s almost like a rush of blood to the head jarred something loose, because in the very next frame we get this:
The ensuing head rush. This specific frame looks like he’s not entirely sure where he is at that point in time, dazed but awash in the bloodlust of victory.
From there, after gathering himself momentarily and surveying the fans, he throws a punishing right hook directly into his own left hand and gives it one more “DAMMIT RIGHT!”
He eventually settles down, receives the highly-sought-after PBA US Open Championship green jacket, and hoists the legendary US Open trophy for everyone to see. As it turns out, the trophy is basically just a statue you could pick up at a seedy gas station along with cheap bongs, incense, and oversized pocket knives.
I think part of why I and so many other lifelong bowling junkies love this entire sequence of events so much is because of how freakishly similar Pete Weber is to Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken from the 1996 box office smash hit Kingpin. For anyone that’s never seen it, you’ll have a deeper appreciation of The Celebration after watching. Protagonist Roy Munson and his longtime rival “Big Ern” face off in a $1 million winner-take-all event in Reno, Nevada and Bill Murray’s character is only slightly more over-the-top than a real-life Pete Weber:
May we all move forward with a better knowledge and appreciation of the things that transpired on that day in February of 2012. Let us attack each challenge that life might present us with the same reckless ferocity that Pete showed in that US Open victory. Bless you, Pete Weber, and thank you for The Celebration.