KEY WEST, Fla. — The scorecard looked like it was a blowout, but it was only a matter of inches that decided the 2008 Quiznos Madfin Shark Series champion.
It was noticed by tournament director Steve Bowman as he added up the score on a yellow notepad. Here's how it looked after the first tally:
• Team Lowe's Key Limey: 2,650 (including a big fish bonus of 500 points on 7-½ foot lemon)
• Team Andros: 1,800
• Team Academy Spear One: 1,750
A closer look at the scorecards sent Bowman to the tapes. Steve Rodger and Jake Perry of Academy, who finished second to Tony Murphy and Carl Masiello of Lowe's the previous two years, listed their big fish at 7¼ feet. It would be a thousand point swing if either team — or both — were off with their estimates, which would be enough to give Academy the victory.
ESPN cameramen James Massey, who was with Lowe's, and Gregg Goodwin, who was with Academy, handed over their tapes from the day, and Bowman plugged them into the player.
After half an hour of watching both of the teams' catches from every possible angle, Bowman decided Lowe's' shark measured 7 foot, 5 inches and Academy's 7 foot, 3 inches. Two inches separated Academy from the championship that has narrowly eluded them since the first Madfin in 2006.
Last year it was a last-minute catch by Key Limey, and this year it was the tip of the nose leading 200 pounds of muscle and teeth. But the salt in the wound for Academy were the six bull sharks Rodgers said he and Perry missed in the late morning.
"We're used to this," Rodgers said. "We're used to choking at the end — that's kind of how it works, right?"
For the third straight year, Rodgers and Perry won the first two days of competition but saw their lead vanish because weights are zeroed for the four-team final day.
"People get better as time goes on," Rodgers said. "Our points today were better than most people's scores on Day One and probably Day Two, but as time goes on, people start to figure it out.
"I wouldn't have changed anything today. We saw the fish. We had it. We dropped what we needed to win today and that hurts."
Perry said they went to deeper water early and caught their limit of lemon sharks and then came closer to home for the bulls. A furious morning gave way to a slow afternoon, and when they finally pulled into the dock at 4:35 p.m. ET, they didn't think they had enough to win.
"Maybe we'll win first shark and big shark," Rodgers said, implying it might be enough to give them the win. They actually did have the first fish (250 points) but fell 2 inches short on receiving points for the biggest.
Rodgers and Perry flashed mostly smiles through the festivities Friday night, but they were obviously in pain over their loss. More than the short shark, their minds kept going back to the lost bulls.
"They weren't real aggressive … they were taking the bait by the tail," Rodgers said. "When you lost that many fish, you don't expect to win."
Perry said there wasn't a whole lot they could do after the loss except go back to work on Monday.
"I'm not frustrated," he said. "We can't do anything about it — stuff happens. Sometimes they get off.
"We have to just move on. We don't really have a choice, right? Is there another option?"