Ike’s guarantee

There really aren’t any guarantees on sports outcomes.

The Georgetown dynasty was supposed to demolish Rollie Massimino’s Villanova basketball team in 1985, but the Wildcats prevailed.

In two Februarys four years apart, Tom Brady’s Patriots were supposed to crush the Giants in the Super Bowl, but both times Eli Manning’s team took home the Lombardi Trophy.

If you weren’t shocked when Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson, then either you weren’t aware that the fight was happening or else nothing short of green aliens landing in your front yard will surprise you.

While we’ve learned to expect and occasionally treasure the unexpected, and as much as we remember the great upsets, we also remember the times that athletes have predicted inhuman feats and then accomplished them.

Babe Ruth supposedly pointed at center field during the World Series and then hit the ball right where he’d pointed. Called his shot and then delivered.

Joe Willie Namath boldly guaranteed that his Jets would beat the highly favored Colts in the Super Bowl and then backed it up on the field.

My favorite is Moses Malone’s response to a reporter’s question about the 1983 NBA playoffs: “Fo’ fo’ fo’,” he said. In other words, they were going to sweep each round in four games. As the pundits subsequently noted, it turned out to be “Fo’, fi’, fo’,” but he was pretty darn close.

We remember the brash athletes who make good on their claims and we forget the hundreds of times that others make similar “guarantees” that don’t come true. In most cases, we like our heroes confident. Mike Iaconelli, who just qualified for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic by winning the final of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open season on Lake Erie, occasionally overflows with confidence.

Iaconelli is one of probably 50 guys on the Elite Series tour who believes he has a shot to win every tournament he fishes. He’s probably one of a dozen or fewer who truly does have a chance to do so, so while he only had a handful of chances after the end of the Elite Series to qualify for the upcoming Classic, he outwardly didn’t seem panicked by it.

Iaconelli didn’t guarantee that he’d win one of the remaining win-and-in-you’re-in events. In fact, in his August 27 column on Bassmaster.com, he specifically said: “I’m not going to say that it’s a guarantee or anything, but I have a shot. I’m not just saying that. I honestly believe it.” It’s hard to gauge the depth of that belief without being fully inside of his head, but it seemed sincere and he appeared to be working on a plan where checks didn’t matter, where points didn’t matter and where saving face after a tough Elite campaign didn’t matter. In his September 9 column, Ike then wrote, “This one is about winning.” No guarantees, but still oozing confidence that he’d qualify for his 15th Classic and 13th straight.

No, Mike did not make a guarantee this time around, but I was reminded that early in his career he pretty much did. As he noted in his autobiography, he was quoted by the late Tim Tucker as saying the following: “I don’t want to sound conceited when I say this, but making the Classic anymore, I don’t see that being a problem for me at all….My real thing I’m trying for every year is Angler of the Year now. Between the Invitationals and the Top 150s, I expect to make the Classic every year, and if I don’t, I’ll be super, super disappointed in my performance.”

He received a little taste of comeuppance a few months after that statement was published because he failed to make the 2001 Classic. That was a period of time when the “Going Ike” was still largely used a pejorative phrase. I remember fishing with one old-school pro shortly after it was confirmed that Iaconelli hadn’t made the Classic who told me of the plan he and some of his colleagues had brainstormed to collect as many copies of the magazine with Ike’s near-guarantee in it and have them delivered en masse to his New Jersey home.

The grizzly pro who looked to punish Ike for his bravado is no longer fishing. Iaconelli started off 2002 by winning the first Tour event, on Lake Seminole. Like Moses Malone, his exact prediction might not have come true but the world-beater spirit was the same – “I’m a threat to win anything I compete in,” either athlete might’ve claimed. I think Mike Iaconelli in 2013 is savvy enough not to claim outright that he’s unbeatable, but he’s also confident enough to know that he has a legitimate shot to win every time out, whether it’s a northern lake, a tidal river, a southern impoundment or a parking lot mud puddle.

In the past three years I have covered five Bassmaster Opens for B.A.S.S. Ike has fished three of them, never finishing worse than 6th, but never winning, either. Including this most recent Erie tournament, he has finished in the top eight in the last six Opens in which he has competed. He has also made the top 12 in five of the last six Classics. I fully expect to see him out there on the last day at every event I cover.

Somewhat surprisingly, he hasn’t won a regular season Elite Series tournament since April 2006. That tournament took place at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville, where he edged out runner-up Alton Jones by 2 ounces. By winning this most recent Erie event, he qualified for February’s Classic on….you guessed it, Lake Guntersville. I’m not making any guarantees about how he’ll do there – the field is simply too stacked for that – but if he wins, it certainly won’t be a Buster Douglas level surprise.

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