SYRACUSE, N.Y. — One of the final scenes from yesterday's third day weigh-in at the Ramada Champion's Choice found Arkansas pro Billy McCaghren hoisting the Rookie of the Year trophy above his head while the raucous applause of fans and fellow anglers alike thundered in the background.
While the fans may end up cheering current leader Chad Griffin at the end of today's drama, there are four veteran anglers who'd like nothing more than for the Texas rookie to stub his toe and drop down the score sheet.
Griffin's three daily limits have totaled an even 50 pounds, and his nearest competitor, Greg Hackney, is 4-04 back with 45-12. But after that, the weights tighten up. Four veteran anglers — Jeff Kriet, Gerald Swindle, Jason Quinn and Bernie Schultz — are within 14 ounces of Hackney.
Those four anglers have another thing in common: none of them has ever won a tour-level event with BASS.
Kriet (3rd, 45-04), who hungers for an Elite Series win, said that he's "not going to say that it looks great, but stranger things have happened." He takes solace in what happened to his traveling partner Mike McClelland last year at the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida. Entering the final day of that tournament, Missouri's Brian Snowden held a nearly 10-pound lead, but suffered through a miserable last day and allowed McClelland to escape with the win.
Gerald Swindle (4th, 45-00) has an Angler of the Year trophy on his mantle but believes he may be on the verge of a more dubious honor. "I'm flirting with being the first guy in BASS history to win a million dollars without winning a tournament." Heading into this tournament he was at $939,529, and would gladly forego that achievement should the opportunity present itself.
"Marty (Stone) said that I'm going to get to $995,000 and then win one to pull me over the top," Swindle said.
Despite a lengthy list of career achievements, Bernie Schultz (6th, 44-14), who made the final day cut this week for the third time in three tries at Oneida, has never finished higher than third place in BASS competition. He entered today's competition in 41st place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, so he's dealing with the twin pressures of moving into the Classic cut and trying to overtake the remaining field.
"Somebody can catch him for sure," Schultz said of Griffin. "I'm going to start in an area I haven't been starting in. There are fish in that area that are the right quality."
Jason Quinn (5th, 44-15) agreed with Schultz that Griffin shouldn't be making any plans for the $100,000 top prize just yet. "He kind of slipped yesterday," Quinn said, subsequently explaining that "he had been catching mostly largemouths, but yesterday he caught smallmouth. Maybe his largemouths have dried up."
Quinn entered the tournament in 55th place in the TTBAOY standings, but thanks to his high finish, has achieved the goal of moving inside the cut for his fifth Classic. With that achievement wrapped up, he's ready to take a shot at his first Elite Series win.
"Eighth is like 12th to me," Quinn said, then adding that he's saved a big school of quality smallmouth for the final day. "Nothing is going to be held back today."
He knows that the chances of passing Griffin are probably slim, but nevertheless he holds out hope. "If we make it, we do, but if not, we're going to scare the hell out of him."
As Kriet said: "All I can do is put myself in position to win." He keeps telling himself that "It will happen. It's going to happen. And when it does, I'm not going to win just one."
Stone thinks that the same thing will happen to Swindle and told him that when he wins one, he'll probably "win two or three in a row."
Apparently, the first one is the hardest, and, whether it's Griffin or one of the veterans, there's a substantial chance that there will be one less member of the zero-win club when the scales close today.