SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Maybe those "KVD" boat trailer license plates the Skeeter Boats team was issued just before the Bassmaster Classic in February were an omen. Todd Faircloth, after all, is a member of the Skeeter team.
Those Texas-issued plates foreshadowed what was to come this season on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour, especially for the Jasper, Texas, native, who had his only bad tournament in the final week of the season. Faircloth's 93rd-place finish in the Champion's Choice on Oneida Lake marked the only time he didn't make the top-50 cut in the 11 tournaments.
That's what allowed VanDam to overcome a 21-point margin and take the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of Year title away from Faircloth last Friday at Syracuse.
"Now I really know I'm going to break (VanDam's) kneecaps at some point in his life," said Kelly Jordon, a fellow Texan and KVD license plate owner, who has known Faircloth since they were teenagers. "I've got millions of reasons to want to do that. This is just one more."
Jordon was joking — mostly. He and VanDam are constantly challenging each other. All you have to do is ask, and Jordon will begin recalling a long list of incidences when he's out-smarted or out-performed VanDam.
(This writer hasn't heard VanDam's side of those stories.)
But Jordon can get Texas-serious when he starts talking about Faircloth and how good a bass fisherman he is. Jordon predicts the 33-year-old Faircloth will be in the hunt for that Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title many more times before his career is over.
"I always thought he was going to be the next Rick Clunn," Jordon said. "He and his dad probably won 15 boats on Sam Rayburn (Reservoir). That was before he went pro.
"Todd started on the (BASS) tour a year before I did. He did pretty good, then he just kind of hit a lull there. I was wondering what was going on, because when he was young, you couldn't stop him. He's one of the greatest fishermen I've ever seen.
"I think he's found his speed or whatever, and got his head on right. We all know it's all up here," said Jordon, pointing to his head. "It's about time he did that."
If that unbearable pressure of going head-to-head with VanDam in the last tournament of the season didn't do permanent damage, Faircloth's performances in the last five BASS seasons bear out Jordon's observations.
Faircloth finished 116th in the 2004 TTBAOY standings. Since then, it has been a steady climb into single digits. Faircloth was 42nd in 2005, 23rd in the first Elite Series season, sixth in 2007 and now second.
"This is what bothers me about why he didn't do well here," Jordon said from the launch dock Saturday before Day Three at Oneida Lake. "He's a master grass fisherman. That's what Rayburn is, it's structure and grass.
"He's an awesome structure fisherman, too. That's how he won (the Elite Series tournament in 2006) at Table Rock.
"Todd is very versatile. But him and his dad, when it came to dropping in the grass or flipping mats, you just couldn't touch those guys. All I can think is that he got hung up on those smallmouth out here.
"That can happen to anybody. But it's just hard for me to believe it happened to him on this pond, the way it's fishing for largemouth.
"That was probably his curse, when he found that big school of smallmouth (in practice)."
That certainly appears to be the case.
Faircloth and two other Elite Series pros found the same big school of deep smallmouth bass at Oneida. But when the thunderstorms rolled into the area Thursday, Faircloth couldn't coax a bite from them, and nobody else did, either. He scratched out a 10-pound limit of largemouths in shallow water at the end of Day One to keep a TTBAOY points lead over VanDam.
But Faircloth never got back on that smallmouth bite. He said they didn't even appear on his electronics Friday — they were simply gone. And he never found anything else nearly as productive. Faircloth's limit weighed just over 6 pounds Friday, and VanDam took the title and made the top 50 cut with 13-plus pounds.
"(Todd) should have never fished for smallmouth," said Jordon, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight. "He is a master grass fisherman. A master of the masters.
"Especially that grass out there that's not matted — pitching those jigs out there in deeper water, reading his electronics."
If Faircloth can turn a bad experience into a learning experience and continue that climb in the annual TTBAOY standings, he'll be the 2009 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. That's the only improvement he can make on a runner-up finish.
Faircloth will have a lot of time to think about that.
And if he's going to be anywhere close to, as Jordon forecast long ago, the next Rick Clunn, he will learn from that stinging experience of being so close he could taste the title.
But that next chapter in Todd Faircloth's bass fishing career won't begin to be written until March 2009.