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.
THE REASON team sports are so compelling and bring so much more out of fans than individual sports is pretty obvious. Teams are more representative of a group, be it a geographic connection (to city, state or country), or an affiliation not necessarily linked to geography (to family, friends, academic institutions or ethnicity).
When we, as fans, feel that connection, that tug at our emotions, the end result takes on greater meaning. We identify with the teams for which we root, and we become part of the journey. The outcome can even affect us emotionally.
It comes down to loyalty, and loyalty spawns passion. It’s why golf’s Ryder Cup stirs more passion than individual tournaments like the Masters.
In pool, it certainly explains why the Mosconi Cup generates the enthusiasm and passion you never get out of an individual tournament — not the World Championship, not the U.S. Open Championship, not the Challenge of Champions, not even the World Games.
I am the first to admit that as hard as I might try to watch the annual USA v. Europe 9-ball competition as a nonpartisan observer, I feel my heart rate speed up and my emotional heartstrings getting pulled when the U.S. squad’s fate is teetering on a match or a single shot.
For nearly 20 years I’ve sung the praises of the Mosconi Cup, which was created and produced by Englishman Barry Hearn and Matchroom Sport. It’s fantastic sport, a bawdy backroom brawl of a tournament that makes for compelling television.
The recent 2012 version, staged at the damp, musty and perfect York Hall, an aging gymnasium and one of London’s most venerable boxing venues, was one of the best in its 19-year history. Team Europe and Team USA battled back and forth, the ebb and flow eliciting wild swings of emotion from combatants and fans alike.
(Complete coverage of the Mosconi Cup begins on page 30.)
Watching the Americans, heavy underdogs to the mighty Europeans, battle tooth and nail was extraordinary. Trailing, 9-6, on the final day in the race to 11, the Americans threw all of their heavy artillery (Dennis Hatch, Johnny Archer and Shane Van Boening) at the Euros and forged a 9-9 tie.
Archer, in particular, was absolutely superb throughout the week, winning all of his matches (in teams, doubles and singles), holding the U.S. squad together and maintaining his poise even when a group of raucous, over-served Brits took to heckling his wife, Melanie. Archer, whose place as America’s most respected player has never been more obvious, had a direct hand in six of Team USA’s nine total match wins.
[Note to Matchroom: An MVP trophy in a team event is contradictory. The obligation is to award it to a player on the winning team, in this case Team Europe’s Chris Melling. Change the award to “Oustanding Performance,” which is broader and doesn’t detract from the team aspect. By the way, in 2012, Archer clearly provided the event’s outstanding performance.]
With two matches remaining, the U.S. needed just one more win to assure a 10-10 deadlock that would have been broken by a “captain’s choice” match-up for the Cup title. Maybe Archer v. Darren Appleton with everything on the line? (And trust me, not a single person in York Hall holding anything other than a U.S. passport wanted to see Johnny Archer take another shot during the 2012 Mosconi Cup.) Would have been one of the most dramatic matches in pool history.
Unfortunately, the Americans ran out of gas and Holland’s Nick van den Berg sealed Team Europe’s 11-9 triumph in a tightly-contested three-cushion match against America’s Mike Dechaine. That’s what the tension, pressure and drama of the Mosconi Cup can do to otherwise solid players.
The coolest thing? I watched every match of the 2012 Mosconi Cup and never left Chicago!
At the last second Matchroom finalized a deal with ESPN to have every second of the four-day, 20-hour pool smorgasbord on ESPN3, the cable network’s online component. Unfortunately, there was little time to alert America’s pool community of the decision. And that’s a shame, because pool fans in America need to witness the Mosconi Cup in all its glory… every shot, every gut-wrenching moment.
And I guarantee, watching will give you a good sense of what makes a team match so much more exciting and enjoyable. Whether you’re from the U.S. or Europe, you’re vested in the outcome.
The value of team competition isn’t lost on other essentially-individual sports. Even professional bowling has created a team league in an effort to foster a more fervent fan base.
Pool will try to capitalize on team play with Bonus Ball, and I hope it gains traction among fans. It doesn’t matter whether your connection is to a player on one of the teams, or the city that team represents.
I’d love to see fans become vested in Bonus Ball because if it can create half the drama and excitement that the Mosconi Cup generates, pool may gain the boost it so desperately needs.