This time of year always makes me nostalgic.
The Mosconi Cup is right around the corner and, by now, readers of Billiards Digest should be well aware of my love of Matchroom Sport's annual transatlantic 9-ball tilt.
The Mosconi Cup is pool's best event. Period. That's not to say that it is the most lucrative, the most meaningful or the best test of skill. It is a team event, using short races, alternate breaks and Scotch Doubles.
But as an "event," it is unrivaled in the pool world. For my money, it is the equal of any sport's marquee event when it comes to drama, excitement and passion. Players who compete together as friends during the year treat one another like mortal enemies once the Mosconi Cup starts. European fans who love watching American players like Shane Van Boening and Earl Strickland 11 months of the year despise those same players during the Cup's four-day duration. The same is true of American fans who love watching the likes of Darren Appleton and Niels Feijen.
The Mosconi Cup is all about national pride, and nothing makes the blood pulse like putting your nation's honor on the line.
Only one side goes home happy.
Or, at least, that's the way it should be.
This month's Mosconi Cup recollection is of the 2006 Mosconi Cup...the only Mosconi Cup to end in a tie!
The 2006 Cup was held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The U.S. squad was still dominating the Cup, having won the previous three outings and nine of the previous 10. But the Europeans were clearly closing the gap. European stars like Mika Immonen, Niels Feijen and Ralf Souquet were no longer youngsters cutting their teeth in pro events. They were all champions and no longer felt that the mighty Amercians were invincible.
What I remember about Rotterdam was that the once quaint Mosconi Cup was starting to become a contentious battle ground...which, after all, is precisely what Matchroom and its founder, Barry Hearn, wanted. Fights to the death make for great television. And the 2006 Mosconi Cup made for great television.
Team USA was at its arrogant, boorish best, with Earl Strickland leading the charge. During one match, Strickland verbally called out Immonent, suggesting they take their personal business outside.
Not to be outdone, the normally calm Immonent went completely out of character, dancing around the table before depositing a match-winning 9-ball.
(It was Immonen, however, who would end up wearing the goat's horns, blowing a three-game lead with Team Europe on the hill and twice missing the case 9 ball.)
In the end, however, the real villain in 2006 was Hearn, himself. In deference to golf's Ryder Cup, Hearn allowed the tournament to end in a 12-12 tie, with the U.S. "retaining" the Cup. When Corey Deuel sank the final 9 to end the event, you could feel the air leave the building. The fans wanted a conclusion. The players wanted a conclusion. The television audience wanted a conclusion.
Years later, Hearn would admit that the decision was a mistake. In my eyes, it remains the lone blemish on the 22-year-old event.