Wrapping up a couple of things I know, or think I know, from the 2013 Bassmaster Classic:
I know every year I walk away from this showcase event feeling it was better than the last. The only hiccup in that was the Chicago Classic, but I know even it had its redeeming moments.
I know regardless of where it’s held, fishing fans typically leave having a “that’s awesome” moment at some point in time. I think I know those moments were more numerous and more prolonged in this particular Classic.
I know there was truly something special about this Classic. I know you could feel it in the air. You could see it driving around Tulsa or Grove where businesses rolled out welcome signs on every block, with throngs of fans packing the BOK Center to the rafters.
I know it was the epitome of what a Classic is and should be, from the very beginning, all the way to the end with Cliff Pace hoisting the trophy over his head.
I know in the days since, Pace has taken a few hits for being what some think was unemotional or unexcited at winning this life changing event. I know most people don’t know Cliff Pace very well.
I know what we saw from Cliff Pace was nothing more or nothing less than the real Cliff Pace. I know Cliff Pace was as giddy as he will ever be. I know he deserved, based on his skills as an angler, to hoist that trophy.
I also know Michael Iaconelli deserved to hoist that trophy in 2003. I know then there were folks who didn’t like his excited antics. But I also know, based purely on his angling skills, it was his trophy to hoist.
From those champions from 40 years ago to those of today, I know one constant remains: The guy who lifts that trophy deserves it. I know it is and has been their Classic to enjoy in any way they want.
I know to suggest anything otherwise is a disservice to our sport’s greatest title, which is and will always be a measure of fishing skills, nothing more, nothing less.
I know there is no angler as driven to succeed as Pace. I know when he was a teenager he worked seven days a week, 20 hours a day at two different jobs through the summer to save enough money to buy a bass boat. I know after the summer he came up a $1,000 short. I know his father surprised him by buying that bass boat but not before teaching him the ultimate lesson: To achieve something you have to work hard to get it.
I know Pace has been working at becoming the best bass angler there is and that is all that matters to him.
Because of that, I know we haven’t seen the last of Pace. I know he is regarded as one of the top five anglers on the Elite Series. I know his record is proof. I know every Elite angler believes he is an angler to fear in competition. I know now that he has won, he will step up his game just like almost every other Classic champion to come before him.
I know fishing fans who paid attention to the final day watched Pace fight one of the more monumental battles in Classic history. I know he started the day with a 7-pound lead, and there were questions of him imploding by mid-morning when he only had two small keepers in his livewell.
I know it would have been easy for any man to implode under the heavy spotlight of what was taking place on the water. I know the mental toughness Pace owns pulled him through. I know the battle raging in his mind when things weren’t going his way showed us a strength we expect from our Classic champions.
I know when Pace won that mental battle he also learned what it truly means to hoist the Classic trophy.
I know when he held it above his head, he flashed the shortest of smiles across his stoic face, which may have been one his longest smiles of his career. I know then the raging battle that occupied his brain hours earlier had been replaced with a euphoria most of us will never experience.
I know I witnessed one of the greatest anglers win the Classic, and he did it on his terms. And that’s all I need to know.