SYRACUSE, N.Y. — He was as cordial as he could possibly be on stage, but it really wasn't fair. He was dealing with a dollar's worth of change, an IPOD Shuffle, a stiff breeze, a little more than a movie starring Sean Penn — Steve Kennedy was trying to explain how 28 grams cost him $220,000.
"It may have made a two ounce difference. Who knows?" Kennedy said with a forced smile as he talked to the crowd on stage. "Great job."
He had just been bumped from first place in the Bassmaster Memorial Major presented Evan Williams Bourbon because of a four-ounce dead-fish penalty on a smallmouth bass that Kennedy could have easily culled.
He held his smile until he was about a half a step back stage when he started swinging his arms around out of frustration. The usually cool, even-keeled Kennedy — for lack of a better term — kind of lost it.
His bag weighed-in at 18-15, which was good enough to win by two ounces over the eventual champion Peter Thliveros, but because a smallmouth that had been skin hooked in the side of the mouth (the least damaging type of hook) couldn't make it two hours in a livewell without going belly up, Kenndy walked away with $32,500 and second place.
"It hurts," he said. "That's all I've got to say, it hurts. And knowing I caught more weight, that's what smarts.
"There was nothing I could do. There's nothing I did that caused him to go. He stressed and was gone."
The pain was obvious on Kennedy's face. He kept rehashing the last two hours of his day. There were a number of different combinations that would have left him holding the trophy. The largemouth bass he culled with the eventual dead smallmouth was only two ounces lighter, which might have given him a one-ounce victory. He also caught another smallmouth that he said was hard to tell which was bigger, but went with the one in the livewell because it "might have been a couple ounces bigger."
"They were pretty close," Kennedy said of the largemouth he culled. "The smallie (the one in the livewell) was obviously bigger, but maybe only two or three ounces. But I figured he was alive, I've got 10 minutes to go, and he'll make it. But he didn't.
"I probably could have gotten him to reflex over there but I didn't make [the BASS official checking the fish] look at it long enough. I just didn't think it would make that much difference."
It was a painful scenario in a tournament that Kennedy said he desperately wanted to win. It wasn't necessarily the money or the prestige, it was something else.
"I wanted to win so bad," said Kennedy, who attended his grandmother's funeral earlier in the week. "I don't know why I wanted to win this one so bad. I guess because my grandmother passed. I don't know."
But he didn't put the loss completely on the dead smallmouth. Kennedy has won on the Elite Series (2007 Golden State Shootout) and has dealt with the pressure, but for some reason, perhaps because he wanted to win so bad, he fished nervous on Sunday.
"I missed my opportunities," he said. "We live to do this, and I had almost a panic attack I missed so many this morning."
He talked first about pitching a jig for the first time all week and hooking a six-pounder that came off at the boat. And there was more.
"I broke off 65-pound braid jerking on one, I got so wound up," Kennedy said with remorse. "I missed three in a row before that. Then I broke that off, and, honestly, I wanted to scream.
"That's how bad my day was. I wanted to scream all day long."
Dave Wolak, who started the day in first with almost a two-pound lead, had the smallest bag by over two pounds on Sunday (13-15), which put him in Kennedy's club of upset anglers backstage that felt like they gave it away.
"I was doing all of the same stuff as yesterday, they were all just two and half pounds," said Wolak, who finished in fifth. "The slick water was definitely an issue. It's not that they wouldn't bite but I think a lot of the fish got scared away by the trolling motor.
"Yesterday, I could just drift through it and be totally quiet. It was like stealth mode."
But even only moments after watching the money get away, he found some humor in his frustration.
"See, you guys just aren't looking at it right," he said. "You see it as I gave away $250,000 because I had such a big lead, but I had big bag of the tournament, didn't I? That's something like eight thousand dollars right there. So, I only gave away $242,000."
Julia Kennedy, Steve Kennedy's wife, said it may be a little while before Steve will be joking about his loss.
"He'll be rolling around in bed tonight saying, 'One ounce … one ounce,'" she said. "We're staying in the area and he's going to fish Oneida for the next couple of days, so he'll fish it off."
And as for Julia, she might need some time to mourn as well.
"What's the difference between first and second?" she asked. The answer, roughly $220,000, kind of put her on her heels. "Oh, wow. I hadn't done the math."