Koby Kreiger: An underdog story

In this country, we have an undeniable fascination with the underdog.

It’s why we all enjoy seeing Daniel LaRusso kick that little blonde twerp in the face at the end of The Karate Kid.

It’s why millions of people — even those who don’t care that much about basketball — skip work during the NCAA Tournament in March to see if a No. 15 seed can knock off a No. 2.

We like seeing people come out of nowhere to do special things — and if you’re looking to support someone with that kind of opportunity in pro bass fishing, look no further than Koby Kreiger.

By finishing fifth at the Elite Series event at Cayuga Lake, Kreiger qualified for the Bassmaster Classic Bracket tournament scheduled for July 19-22 on the Niagara River in Buffalo, N.Y. The tournament will pit the Top 8 finishers from Cayuga in a three-round, bracket-style elimination format.

The tournament will have a total purse of $50,000, with $10,000 awarded for first place, $8,000 for second, $6,000 for third and fourth and $5,000 for fifth through eighth. There is no entry fee.

But here’s the real kicker:

The winner also gets a berth into the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic — and no one needs that berth like Kreiger.

The other anglers in the tournament are Kevin VanDam, Drew Benton, Jordan Lee, Dean Rojas, Brett Hite, Keith Combs and Jacob Powroznik. Every one of them ranks 21st or higher in the current Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.

That means, barring a total crash and burn, they control their own Classic destinies.

Then there’s Kreiger, who, in his second season on the Elite Series, ranks 72nd in AOY points.

Since only the Top 35 anglers from the AOY standings are invited to the Classic — and since there are only two regular-season Elite Series events remaining — Kreiger would need a miracle to get in.

Or, he could just win the bracket tournament.

As the underdog.

Those are his words, not mine.

“If you like rooting for the underdog, you should definitely be rooting for me,” Kreiger said. “That’s me in this tournament — no question about it.”

But don’t worry, he’s OK with it.

“All of these other guys are basically in right now,” Kreiger said. “All they’re fishing for is $5,000. If they’re not taking it as seriously as I am, that could work in my favor.

Kreiger’s not being naïve. He described that scenario as a “pipe dream.”

No matter where they rank in the standings, he knows guys like KVD, B. Hite and Dean “The Machine” aren’t gonna lay down for anybody. Neither will young guns like Lee and Benton or a long, tall Texan who catches as many 20-pound bags as Combs.

Kreiger knows Jacob Powroznik, his longtime friend and the perennial power he’s paired against in the first round, certainly won’t be taking a dive.

But Kreiger also knows he doesn’t have to beat all of those heavyweights himself. He doesn’t even need three great rounds of fishing — not necessarily.

He just has to finish with an ounce more than whoever he’s paired against in the moment.

“I’ll be depending on some other people to do a little dirty work for me,” he said.

It’s worked for other underdogs in other sports.

Evander Holyfield didn’t have to beat Mike Tyson at his headhunting, upper-cutting best because a guy nobody had ever heard of named Buster Douglas took care of him first. Then Holyfield whipped Douglas for the heavyweight title.

No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth made it all the way to basketball’s Final Four in 2011, partly because No. 10 seed Florida State cleared second-seeded Notre Dame out of the Rams’ way.

It’s not like Kreiger is helpless in this situation. He’s not the kind of long shot Douglas was back in 1990 when a lot of Las Vegas casinos wouldn’t even take bets on his fight with Tyson.

In addition to a sparkling resume with FLW, Kreiger’s fished 60 tournaments with B.A.S.S., with nine career Top 20 finishes, including a couple of Top 12s this year. He won a Bassmaster Open event on the St. Lawrence River in 2002 and eventually qualified through the Opens for the 2003 Bassmaster Classic.

He’s been to the Classic before — and 13 years later, he has a chance to go back.

It’ll be by a very different path this time.

It’ll be a difficult path, with a need for all of the stars to line up.

But aren’t those the kind of stories we always love best?