Classic Countdown: 24

Twenty-five anglers qualified for the first Bassmaster Classic back in 1971. It was to be the "test of the best," and 25 seemed like just the right the number of anglers to invite to the tournament, herd onto a jet bound for who-knows-where and start a new era of professional bass fishing with its first true championship.

But today's story is about the number 24, not 25.

And although 25 anglers were invited to fish that first Classic, only 24 showed up. Then 35-year-old Johnny Adams of Winter Garden, Fla., decided to sit it out.

A decision like that would be unthinkable today. But today's Classic is a lot different than the first one Ray Scott put on back in 1971.

For starters, a Classic win in 2009 is worth half a million dollars, a pretty good payday in anyone's book. In 1971, first place paid $10,000, a respectable sum in the day, but hardly life changing.

For another thing, at the first Classic, only the winner got a check. Second place got nothing at all! Today's Classic runner-up can't exactly retire on his winnings, but he'll make several multiples of what the winner earned at the first Classic.

It's also true that the anglers had no idea where they'd be headed for the first championship. It could have been a lake or river that would be well-suited to an angler's skills, but it could just as easily be a body of water that was unfamiliar and unfriendly.

So sitting out the first Classic might not be as inexplicable as it first seems. Adams had limited vacation time, and he wanted to spend it with his family. Unless he was fortunate enough to win the whole thing, all he lost was the experience. But it was the experience of a lifetime for those who went.

Those first 24 Classic qualifiers were in uncharted territory. When they stepped on the private plane in Atlanta with a handful of media members and awaited Scott's announcement of the destination, they had no idea what was going to happen, how it would be received or whether the tournament would even be successful enough to have it again the following year.

Adams did eventually make it to a Classic. He qualified again in 1981 and finished 37th on the Alabama River. There were 42 qualifiers that year, which — as you know — is just 24 in reverse.

The story of the number 23 involves a Classic collapse. Find out tomorrow how one Classic leader's tournament went straight to the dogs.