With all the hoopla surrounding Randy Howell's 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic win, now is a great time to give it some historical perspective.
Let's start with something subjective, but with which most knowledgeable bass fans would agree.
Howell Beat the Best Field Ever!
Don't believe it? Here are a bunch of reasons why it's true.
The 2014 field was the second most experienced in Classic history. The average angler had already competed in 5.82 championships before ever launching on Guntersville.
Want accolades? How about seven former Classic champs with 10 titles between them. And there were eight former and current Toyota Bassmaster Anglers of the Year with 18 AOYs to their credit.
Need some local competition? There were nine Alabamans in the field, including one (Chris Lane) who not only calls Guntersville home but won the Classic in 2012. The rest of the Alabamans knew Guntersville almost as well. Most have won tournaments there.
And there were few weak sticks in this gauntlet of angling talent. The Carhartt College Series qualifier (Jordan Lee) calls Guntersville his home lake and finished sixth, the Weekend Series qualifier (Adam Wagner) has won big tournaments on the lake (he finished 10th), one of the B.A.S.S. Nation qualifiers (Coby Carden) has a big reputation there and a couple of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens qualifiers (David Kilgore and Randall Tharp) are among the guys to beat on Guntersville.
But don't forget the Elites who have won on Guntersville (Michael Iaconelli, Aaron Martens, Skeet Reese and Kevin VanDam). Every one of those guys was short-listed when pundits were predicting likely winners.
Finally, there's the popularity of Guntersville as a tournament destination. It's on everyone's radar. If you're a touring pro, you have to do well here because it shows up on the schedule so often. The same could be said of Rayburn, Toho or Kentucky Lake. There are places every pro knows, and that raises the level of competition.
Howell climbed a huge mountain by beating this group. It'll likely be a long, long time before a better field is assembled.
The Records and the Comeback
Though Guntersville didn't "show out" the way everyone predicted, the fishing was solid, and some big numbers came across the scales ... even if there weren't many records.
Howell's limit weighing 29-2 on the final day was the fourth best in Classic history and third best with a 5-bass limit. His three-day total also ranks third all-time.
Where Howell really lit things up was with his comeback. With 20-3 on Day 1, he was tied for 12th overall and 7-5 back of the leader. Only three eventual champs started further off the pace than that.
And things were even gloomier after Day 2 when Howell managed just 18-3. That put him 9-0 behind the leader and in 11th place.
Of course, he turned things around in the finals and won by a pound, coming from the farthest back (by place) in Classic history. Only Rick Clunn (1990) made up a larger weight deficit (9-10).
If you like Classic drama, Howell gave you plenty.
Get Behind Me Curse
If you're a student of the Classic, you know that only one angler was able to win in his home state before Howell pulled it off in 2014, and that was fellow Alabama resident Boyd Duckett who won on Lay Lake in 2007.
Part of the reason for no home state winners has been simple luck of the draw. Rick Clunn has won four Classics, but only had one chance to win in the state he resided in at the time (1979 on Lake Texoma). The other four-time champ, Kevin VanDam, lives in Michigan, and it'll be a cold day in Michigan and you-know-where else when there's a February Classic in the Wolverine State.
It's only natural that Alabama has produced the only two winners at home — the state has hosted 12 championships!
And this was Howell's fourth shot at a Classic win at home. He also fished three championships in Alabama on Lay Lake in 2002 (he was 34th), 2007 (13th) and 2010 (33rd). Only Greg Hackney (Louisiana) has had as many opportunities to win at home.
All of this takes nothing away from Howell's accomplishment, though. Winning at home is tough. Expectations, distractions and lots of history on the water can drag you down. Eighty-nine anglers have had the opportunity to win at home, and only two have pulled it off. Congratulations to him for being one of them.