LAS VEGAS -- Why, you disrespectful dolt. You irredeemable ignoramus. You see this Terrell Owens venture into bowling as some sort of frivolous foray into a semi-frivolous game, don't you? You have no idea. You would have less than no idea if only that were mathematically possible.
You're oblivious to the seriousness required and the shark-tank involved. You're clueless about the complexity. Having bowled target-practice style at house lanes, sometimes even with libations, you know nothing of the top of the game, of the oil on the lanes... or the various oil patterns for the various competitions... or the mid-game effects of the game traffic on the oil patterns... or the gauging of the behavior of the ball to help read the oil you cannot really see... or the desired path between the oil and the friction... or the effect of oil on the balls as they absorb the oil... or how that affects the need to choose the proper ball... or the nuances, and the nuances.
And the nuances.
You never heard Mike Machuga, with his two titles and 00,000 in earnings on the PBA Tour, say, "For somebody starting out who was bowling only on house conditions, which are very, very, very easy, the playing field feels about as foreign as bowling with your left hand."
You never heard Chris Barnes, with his 15 titles and million in earnings, tell you, "All the speed control and the ability to play different angles, and achieving different lay-downs depending on different lengths of the pattern, and then understanding the physics and dynamics of bowling balls, and how to use them and when to use them, that's all part of the deal."
You never heard Pete Weber, with his 37 titles and .6 million in earnings, say, "Watch your ball hook 10 times more than it does at home and then watch it go 60 feet farther than it does at home."
You never heard Clara Guerrero, the 31-year-old Colombian who up and made the World Series of Bowling finals set for this weekend, say, "You are going against an invisible 'court,' pretty much. We can't see what is out there."
And you never heard the former Tour player and current coach, Mark Baker, who has worked with Owens, say, "I bowled on Tour a lot. I bowled a lot of celebrity pro-ams. The only guys who made fun of it were the guys that were bad at it. It's not a sport if you're bad at it. That's an easy copout."
The endless puzzle of it, the decades of diligence at it, the painstaking development of feel for it, the fiendish morphing of the patterns within it... you just don't know. Even Owens himself, still looking glorious at 39, having caught the bowling bug, attending every match as an owner of the Dallas Strikers, hooked enough to want to see how far he can take this, and playing here in the qualifying for the World Series on a commissioner's waiver, only begins to know.
"Dude, for me, it was eye-opening, you know, being a professional, and I think I process a lot of things," said the retired remarkable receiver. "And so even with football when I started to really understand my abilities and what I was able to do on the football field, I started seeing things in my mind. You know, like I told a lot of people, like in my third, fourth, fifth year, when I started becoming, you know, that person on the field where I felt like I became unstoppable, I could be in the grocery store, I could be driving, I could be in the middle of a club, like, 2 or 3 in the morning, and I'm running routes in my head. And people don't understand, they don't know that about me, but that's what I did.
"Same thing here, with bowling. I could be walking in the casino, I'm in the room, and I'm thinking about the patterns that I bowled on, the mistakes that I made, I'm replaying all that in my head. You know, how can I get better? Some of the guys... they're giving me notes of what I'm doing well, what I can do to get better, and those things, I'm constantly replaying and playing in my mind."
He knows all about the gradual. He reminds how nobody recruited him in high school except when they came to look at the other receiver, how he walked onto the Tennessee-Chattanooga basketball team until somebody told him he should concentrate on football, how he came to the NFL as an anonymous third-rounder, 89th overall.
Soon thereafter, at a team-organized 49ers bowling excursion his rookie year, he wound up getting some tutelage from Norm Duke, the PBA great with the 37 titles and the million in earnings by now. They had met at the ESPY Awards. They would see each other at ESPYs through the years. Last year, while bowling with Chris Paul in the latter's charity event, Owens saw Baker, and got more instruction. He got more involved, bought into the Strikers and turned up in March on the cover of -- who would have guessed? -- Bowlers Journal magazine, at age 100 the oldest monthly sports publication in the United States.
He said this week, "I'm just glad to be in the same room with guys like Chris Barnes, Pete Weber, Wes Malott, Norm Duke." He said this week, "I probably still think going over the middle and going into the secondary is probably a little bit harder than this, but this is challenging." And he said this week, "If I could just use my status or what-have-you to bring more eyeballs and create more viewership with some of the PBA tournaments..."
Now you find him on a Monday morning, you dolt. He's in Lane 19 of the bowling enclave of the South Point Hotel Casino. He wears a motif largely green, green bowling shoes, "Owens" scripted on the back of his shirt.
It's the thick of four days of qualifying for the World Series of Bowling. Some 240 bowlers have arrived from 30 countries, 31 if you count Las Vegas. Some 24 in each of the four maddeningly varying oil patterns -- Cheetah, Viper, Chameleon and Scorpion -- will make it to a further round of qualifying. Some four of those 24 will make it to what they call "The Show" -- and they use that term much more than do baseball people -- which means the weekend finals.
Some entrants already have quit.
Owens carries no illusions of making the 24. He wants to avoid last place.
It's rough out here. The scores up on the bulletin board back out near the entrance indicate that in the Cheetah round on Saturday, Owens placed 233rd out of 237. In the Viper on Sunday, it was 234th out of 235.
With the patterns sort of fitting their animals (the Cheetah is fastest, etc.), we're on to the Chameleon on Monday, before the Scorpion on Tuesday.
It's 8:01 a.m. Terrell Owens fluidly bowls a strike. He gently bumps fists with Rameses Chambers of Kansas City, one of his three playing partners.
Maybe you have not lived until you have seen Terrell Owens bowl a strike at 8:01 a.m. in Las Vegas.
Or until you've seen him pick up a spare in the fourth frame at 8:15, or sit chin-in-hand studying matters mid-round at 8:28, or finish the first game with a 160, then pull his case of bowling balls on its helpful wheels over to Lanes 31 and 32 for Game 2 of the mandated seven. Or clear a 9 pin for a spare in the third frame of Game 2. Or face a "washout" -- 1-2-4-10 in the seventh. Or finish Game 2 with a 167.
Maybe you haven't lived until you've seen Terrell Owens bowl a "Brooklyn" -- a strike to the unsought 1-2 pins to the left of the head rather than the desired 1-3 on the right -- and frown slightly.
The experts weigh in.
Baker: "The learning curve is so steep." Barnes: "His physical game is getting more and more consistent, but when the lanes get like this and you have so many bowlers changing the pattern constantly, you have to adjust to that." Duke: "I think the biggest problem that Terrell has to overcome is that he doesn't get to bowl an awful lot in these conditions."
Baker: "He didn't get to go to spring training. There was no pre-season." Barnes: "You know, he gets comfortable for a game and then he goes away, because you go to the next pair (of lanes)..." Baker: "What makes it really hard is you've got guys around you that are bowling really well and you're seeing what they're doing and you have no idea how to do it. That happens to everybody."
Tom Clark, the PBA commissioner: "He has professional revolutions, on his ball. And that's kind of a skill that he has that Chris Paul doesn't have that. I don't think he's as good as Chris Paul right now, but he has more potential. He has professional revolutions and he also has more love and rive for it. He's got a pretty classic style for someone that is new to it." Baker: "Everybody wants to help him. That's going to be tricky, too. You get nine pieces of advice. Which one's the right one?"
And Ronald Hickland Jr., who would be just your average, everyday 35-year-old who got a mechanical engineering degree at Purdue and became one of only four humans who design bowling balls (in his case, for Ebonite International in Hopkinsville, Ky.), and the bowler of 56 300 games in his still-budding life. He sits next to people on planes who presume the balls are simply round, only to learn from him the seemingly endless concepts for bowling-ball innards. He has been counseling Owens some since they met last year, and Hickland says, "He doesn't have that muscle memory that a lot of these guys have, to be able to repeat over and over again." And: "He's so physically strong, you actually have to be able to tone that down when he's bowling. So today I was telling him, 'You've got to really slow down, you've got to roll the ball, which is the dead opposite of what he's had to do his entire life."
Finally, Weber, on Wednesday, while noting the game's unsung brutality: "He's got to be proud just to finish."
By Game 4 of the seven on Monday, Owens seemed to have ground down. Looking on, Clark said, "I'm getting worried about him. I don't want this experience to knock the desire out of him."
Just before Game 5, though, Machuga offered some advice, the way many of these pros do toward a guy of whom they're clearly fond. Owens had been in the wrong place given the oil and the friction and the traffic. Said Machuga, "He didn't realize the lane was doing things to his ball that he thought he was doing to his ball." Said Owens to Hickland, "I'm going to bowl 200 this game."
He started with 7, then dispensed three straight strikes for a "turkey," then a fourth for a "four-bagger." His eighth frame saw him launch a proper strike. In the ninth, Owens left the 3-6-9-10 pins, and as Hickland whispered, "This is a huge shot here," he leveled the 3 and 6 and 10, which kindly slid over and spilled the 9 for the hard-to-come-by spare.
By the first two balls of the 10th, he had reached 200. With the third, he hit 201.
"He's got a lot of heart," Hickland said, plus "the ability to have a ton of pressure on you and be able to perform. His worst game he bowled all week was his (previous) game."
Of course, as Owens knows, this gruel requires much more than heart, and as Clark pointed out, if Owens averages about 160 and the leaders average about 240, some 28 games in the four patterns would leave him behind by, well, it ended up as 2,213 pins, for 230th overall after Tuesday.
So yeah, you fool, you didn't reckon that just going out there would take some guts.
"So after I finished my last round I walked by Pete (Weber) and C.B. (Barnes) and you know, I'm like, 'Dude, what's going on for the bottom 24?'" Owens said. "'So, what about the bottom 24?' So you know, I try to make light of it so it's fun..."
At the same time, he has learned that house lanes and tournament lanes are "vastly and dramatically different," and so he said, "Anybody that sits and tries to criticize me and tries to take shots at me on this, they have no earthly idea what they're talking about, because this is not easy. I challenge those guys to come out and play a game against me, on these patterns, because it's definitely challenging. You think you can go to the house lanes and you can bowl whatever score, you're not going to get close to that here unless you're a professional."
After all, it's pretty compelling when an athlete who scaled the heights of one game tries to climb anew, especially with an inscrutable sport that defies solution and yields seasoned assessments such as...
Barnes: "The one thing about oil is, it evaporates, it dissipates, and the way the balls are made, they hook because they absorb oil. So each ball that goes down the lane is taking oil off the lane. And so there's a constant transition that's not visible to the naked eye, so that part's the artistry and very much the feel of what's going on. When you get one a little bit right and you go, 'Oh, OK, now I have this, OK,' then maybe you get one up the lane and it hooks too much and you go, 'All right, I don't have this anymore.'"
Really now. Did you, in your insouciance, ever once give any thought to any of that?