I’m sure that Skeet Reese does not need to be reminded that the 2012 Bassmaster Classic will be the first one he’s failed to qualify for since the 2002 championship, breaking his streak of nine straight. In fact, it’ll be only the third one without him in the field since his first visit to the big show in 1998.
He’ll be missed, and it’s not because we’re all waiting to see what his hairdresser has accomplished in the offseason.
None of the Elite Series pros like to sit-out the Classic. You can’t win it if you’re not in it, so failure to qualify puts off the opportunity to rake in the big bucks for at least another year. Looking at it from a more negative angle, it puts you one foot closer to the bass fishing graveyard – it’s hard enough to make a living at the sport when you’re doing well, but the increasingly limited sponsorship dollars don’t tend to congregate around also-rans.
Some of the pros do little things to remind themselves of how much it sucks to miss it. My friend Kevin Short has a little square of carpet he stole from the Classic Expo floor last year affixed to the windshield of the old BassCat to remind him that he doesn’t ever want to do that again. Skeet won’t need to manufacture that sort of a reminder this year because the Shreveport landscape is going to do that all on its own. The last time the Classic was held there (2009), he brought home all of the hardware. He’d already won an AOY at that point, but it was the Classic victory that moved him into the upper-uppermost crust of tournament success stories.
From a fan perspective, Skeet’s win also positioned him to become a viable contender for KVD’s throne atop the sport. Others, most notably Mike Iaconelli, had attempted coups of their own, but had not been able to sustain Kevin’s superhuman agenda of winning individual tournaments, AOY awards and Classics. Over the next couple of years, Skeet labored to keep pace with Kevin. Except for the quirky postseason rules he might’ve had two more AOY awards, both of which went to Kevin. Kevin also managed to double his number of Classic wins to four since then, but he’s never won on the Red River.
I don’t mean to suggest that if Kevin wins on the Red this time, without Skeet in the field, it’ll be hollow in any way, but as a fan I want to see the best of the best. More importantly, I want to see rivalries: Magic Johnson was made better by Larry Bird; Sugar Ray Leonard’s history is inextricably tied to Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler; and without the Red Sox as a foil, the Yankees are just another Bronx playground bully. Kevin has lots of top-notch competition and he’s by no means a lock to win any single event, let alone any title, but it’s starting to feel like he’s extending the separation between himself and the rest of the field. Skeet’s ascent led me to believe that the gap was shrinking and that there could be a long-term rivalry. That may still happen, but Skeet’s atypical 2011 season has delayed its development for at least another 12 months.
I understand that Skeet’s win took place three years ago, so the concept of him as “defending champion” is more than a bit of a stretch. Still, he’s the defending “Red River Classic Champion.” That apparently does not get you a berth through the alphabet soup qualification structure set up by BASS, nor should it. In my opinion, BASS erred when they failed to extend Luke Clausen an opportunity to defend his title. I understand why they did it (the so-called “Woo Daves Rule”), and it was within the parameters of their published rules, but still thought that it was shortsighted. No amount of wiggle room would have allowed for Skeet to get back this year, nor should it have. If Classic qualifications were made automatic, based solely on the basis of achievements outside of the past season, it would lessen the meaning of the victory. Still, it just feels wrong that he won’t be there. Ever since I started covering Classics in 2004, he’s been a constant presence at media day. To be totally honest, at first I thought he was too cocky by half. I remember listening to him give an interviewer blunt answers that were outside of the “just happy to be here” spectrum, but after riding with him on the first day of the 2006 Classic at Toho I learned that there’s some depth behind the bluntness and a broader prism of emotions than I’d initially perceived. As a result, while it doesn’t benefit me directly to have him in the field, I can’t help but regret that Skeet will be hawking yellow rods and reels on the Expo floor. It’s not just a loss for Skeet Reese – it’s a loss for the sport as a whole.