From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.
May: Coffee & Puzzles
FOR THE most part, pool nicknames are manufactured and forced. They've become more marketing tools than spontaneous identifiers, the product, I suppose, of the need to create memorable characters on televised pool events.
The Women's Professional Billiard Association and Matchroom Sport are the chief offenders. They've spent years insisting that every player have a moniker. But, really, is it likely any of Allison Fisher's old chums would see her on the street and call out, "Hey, Duchess of Doom, how are you today?" Do Alex Pagulayan's buddies in the Philippines really call him "Killer Pixie?"
I like the nicknames that simply came upon players naturally.
Grady Mathews looked like a professor. And he pontificated like a professor.
He was "The Professor."
Mathews died April 18 following a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 69.
Funny thing is, to me Grady looked 69 when he was 50! I picture him being born with a receding hairline and bushy mustache. I never knew him any other way. He looked, well, professorial!
My single most lasting image of Grady was from the 1983 World Open straight-pool championships in Niagara Falls. I was watching the 10 a.m. matches in an otherwise empty ballroom. Pool players and the fans that follow them are notoriously allergic to pool before noon. Only players with scheduled matches dare show their faces that early, and even those usually look like vampires facing daylight.
On this morning, however, there was one non-playing player in the arena. He sat quietly in the top row of the bleachers. In one hand was a steaming cup of coffee. In the other hand a pencil. And on his lap was a newspaper. The paper was opened to the daily crossword puzzle, which was nearly completed.
I remember tip-toeing up into the bleachers.
"How's it going, Grady?" I asked.
"Not much of a challenge here," he responded. Pointing out that the newspaper crossword puzzle he was rapidly solving was the local paper, Grady chided, "I really prefer the New York Times crossword puzzle. It offers a much greater challenge."
Grady loved puzzles, and he loved challenges. And to him, pool offered both.
Grady spent virtually his entire adult life solving puzzles both on the table and off.
On the table, Grady loved the game's chess matches straight pool and one pocket. They offered the kind of cerebral challenge that he enjoyed. 9-Ball, on the other hand, was the bane of Mathews' existence. He loathed the rules that allowed luck to be as integral to the game as skill.
"It's a crying shame that a guy who is a professional has to play a race to eight on tables with 5-inch pockets, with rules that allow you to luck balls in," he moaned incessantly. "I think it's a disgrace"
So Grady became a promoter and tournament director. He staged events in which he could control the rules, always insisting that the cream rise to the top.
And he created events to spur interest in the game, like his enormously successful multi-city tour with Fisher in the late 1990s billed as, "Pool's Battle of the Sexes."
His most lasting legacy, however, may well be his influence on one-pocket in the U.S. The growth in the number of one-pocket events over the past 15 years, the following the discipline enjoys and even the emergence of the One-Pocket Hall of Fame all owe a debt of gratitude to Mathews.
It offered a challenge. And wasn't it just like Grady to solve that puzzle.