BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It is an accomplishment that veteran ESPN sportscaster Ron Franklin put on the highest pedestal last year.
"I think that (Rick) Clunn's 28 consecutive Classics may be the most amazing accomplishment in sports," said Franklin, an avid angler and anchor for ESPN's CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic coverage. "People who don't know much about tournament fishing don't understand what it takes to qualify for a Classic. To perform at that level for 28 years is incredible."
Clunn, the event's only four-time winner, will be in Birmingham July 25-27 for the 2002 Classic. But for the first time in his illustrious career, he will be there as a spectator and representative for his fishing-industry sponsors. This time around, the Missouri pro will be stuck on the shores of Lay Lake.
All good things come to an end. And the sport's most impressive streak came crashing to a halt as Clunn endured his worst season ever.
"I haven't come to grips with it completely yet," Clunn said. "I don't know what I'm going to feel. At times, I think I do, but until (the Classic) happens I don't think I'm going to know.
"I think the hardest time will be during the three or four days of the Classic to represent sponsors and things like that. I think I need to experience it, too. I don't want to go hide someplace and not experience it or try to insulate myself from it. I really don't want to do that."
Most guys only dream of the career Rick has had. ”
||— Texas Pro Jay Yelas|
Clunn's incredible accomplishment comes into sharper focus when you consider that the current longest consecutive Classic streak is just 12 — a mark shared by Kevin VanDam and Jay Yelas (who have never failed to qualify for fishing's Big Show).
"It won't be the same without Rick being there," Yelas said. "Most guys only dream of the career Rick has had."
"There are two parts of me that are trying to deal with it," said Clunn, 55. "The competitor in me, no, I don't think it's really come to grips with it. And I don't think it really will come to grips with it until the Classic is over. Because how can you come to grips with something you've never experienced? And I've never experienced not being there.
"I have experience in not being in the finals of the (elimination) tournaments that we have now. I know how my competitive psyche just mourns when I think I should be in the finals of a tournament and it's still going on while I'm driving home. Even in those, I don't really let it go until the tournament is over. Then you analyze it and critique yourself — both negatively and positively — and then you go on.
"The human side of me, I think, is dealing with it a little bit better. It's kind of defined everything a little more in my career. Even though I've always critiqued my years as far as how I fished or didn't fish, this has helped me realize that I haven't had a bad year in 28 years. Now I know what a bad year is."
Although there are no Clunn-like Classic streaks remaining, there are several Classic accomplishments among the current contenders that are worthy of note.
There is a new breed of sharp young pros that have started streaks of their own. Alton Jones currently has the third longest streak with seven consecutive Classics. Aaron Martens is enjoying his fourth consecutive Classic appearance. Kotaro Kiriyama, Tim Horton, Todd Faircloth, Scott Rook and Mike Wurm have qualified for three straight Classics, while Kelly Jordon, David Walker and Robert Lee are all competing in their second in a row.
The Classic is much more than just the crowning event of the CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail. Classic Week is the annual celebration of the sport of bass fishing that attracts B.A.S.S. members and other fishing fans from across the country, who come to meet their fishing heroes, attend the weigh-ins and participate in youth and other fan-friendly events.
The launch venue for the event will be Paradise Point Marina. The exciting CITGO BASS Masters Classic weigh-in show and the Classic Outdoor Show will take place in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. With the exception of the launch site, all of the venues for the event are located in close proximity to each another.
By sanctioning over 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its B.A.S.S. Federation, B.A.S.S. is the world's largest fishing organization. The CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit. It continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism, and sportsmanship after more than three decades. B.A.S.S. is a wholly owned subsidiary of ESPN.
Sponsors of the 2002 CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic include: CITGO Petroleum Corporation, Chevrolet Trucks, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Long John Silver's, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, Bass Pro Shops, Armstrong Industrial Hand Tools, GMAC/ B.A.S.S. Vehicle & Boat Insurance, and B.A.S.S. Platinum Visa/First USA.
Associate Sponsors include Bass Cat Boats and G3 Boats.
The 2002 CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic will be presented locally by the State of Alabama, City of Birmingham, Jefferson County and Shelby County.