Zona: Classic redemption and the sands of time

We’re headed into the most unique Bassmaster Classic of all-time. This may be the last shot for 69 percent of the field to win Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.

That’s how many of the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods anglers have left B.A.S.S. this year, and after this Classic, have voided their opportunities to win the most celebrated and coveted title in the sport.

And that’s just a fact.

I think about the previous winners and even multi-Classic winners in that group who get one more shot at expanding their legacy. But how about the guys who came oh-so-close to winning previous Classic events and still haven’t held that trophy over their heads?

This is their last shot at getting that opportunity. Though I should acknowledge that some guys may find a path back to the Classic down the road.

Every bass fisherman who has ever been bitten by the tournament bug has thought about, “Wow, how cool would it be to win the Bassmaster Classic?”

Well, how about the ones who wince while saying, “Wow, I had the Classic won and it slipped through my fingers.”

I’ve interviewed guys who won and those who nearly won. I’ve seen the overwhelming gratification on winner’s faces and the burning pain in the eyes of those who stumbled at the one-yard line.

That’s no disrespect to those anglers. They are tremendous fishermen and have proven their grit as touring pros.

But it’s a fact. Their dreams are fading in the sands of time.

Guys like Aaron Martens, Jason Christie, Brent Ehrler and Gerald Swindle come to mind. They were all within one bite of holding that trophy.

Now they’re down to one more chance.

And here’s the thing, no one wants to go down in Bassmaster history as the Buffalo Bills of competitive fishing. In case you’ve forgotten, the Bills of the 1990s had several chances to win the Super Bowl but never got it done.

But here’s a difference – the Bills still have a chance to win the Super Bowl.

After this Classic, those guys don’t.

I don’t mean to be coarse and I’m not picking on them. They made a business decision they felt was right for them. I get that.

But I have to wonder about the mindset of those close-to-winning but-never-did anglers as they head into Knoxville.

Do they feel a sense of extreme pressure, a sense of do or die, or is it the feeling of desperation that, “I better do it now.”

I have to believe those who have come so close will feel the most pressure of any angler in this field, or perhaps, in the history of the Bassmaster Classic.

But here’s a caveat that I’ve learned: When the pressure is at its highest, one of these dudes tends to deliver.

Without question, there are several other interesting story lines at this Classic. For example, will one of the current Elite Series anglers come in and win against 69 percent of the field?

Can Jordan Lee three-peat?

Can Kevin VanDam win his fifth and set the record for Classic victories?

Those are all great story lines, but to me, the one I will be watching is whether one those anglers who had that trophy slip from his hands in previous Classics finally get it done.

Some anglers may utter the cliché “I’m only fishing against the fish.”

Well, I call B.S.

This time, you also are fishing against an hour glass and most of the sand has sifted to the bottom.