As of the deadline for this issue (approx. Feb 25), longtime promoter Barry Behrman was still in serious condition in the ICU in a Norfolk, Va., hospital, battling to recover from what his son described as MRSA-based pneumonia.
After concerned employees from Behrman's Q Master Billiards club found him unconscious on the floor in his Virginia Beach home on Feb. 4, the 69-year-old Berhman spent more than two weeks barely clinging to life, as the deadly infection caused most of his organs to shut down. Behrman made modest improvement in his third week in the hospital, finally able to breath without the aid of a ventilator and rid of the bacterial infection that almost killed him.
Behrman's son, Brady, who periodically worked at Q Master and helped his dad run the annual U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships before starting his own tech company and moving to Charlottesville, Va., kept his father's many friends and acquaintances in the pool community apprised of developments on a daily basis on Facebook. The posts were sometimes hard to read. I could only imagine the emotional toll the roller-coaster ride of steps forward and steps backward had on Brady and his sister, Shannon.
Not surprisingly, the news of Behrman's illness hit me hard. I will not pretend to be "besties" with Barry. We don't socialize or exchange Christmas or Hanukkah cards. But he's been an important part of the billiard business in the U.S. for more than 40 years, and I've known him and have dealt with him on a business level for every one of the 36 years I've been with Billiards Digest. When something bad happens to someone you've known for that many years, it certainly gives you pause.
Of course, Behrman has been a lightening rod for controversy over the last decade, and he's been an easy and convenient whipping boy for his failures and his sometimes-odd decisions. No one knows that better than me. Billiards Digest has praised Behrman when his actions have deserved praise, but we've also taken him to the woodshed on numerous occasions. And I will give him credit; Barry Behrman has always taken his beatings like a man. He's willing to admit when he's made a mistake. (He just has to make those admissions far too often for some!) And he's always greeted me with a smile, saying, "I've gotten the good, the bad and the ugly from you, but we're still friends."
I do know that when I heard about his condition, and how he was fighting for his very life, my mind drifted back to last October, when Behrman was recognized at the annual Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame Banquet for his 40 years of promoting the U.S. Open. Some people actually questioned praising Behrman, given the prize-money snafus that have plagued his event in recent years.
He was celebrating the 40th annual U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships. Forty consecutive years. Think about that. How astonishing is it that one person has run the country's biggest tournament for 40 years?
Any top player can tell you about the countless number of promoters and events that came into the sport gangbusters, only to disappear after one or two years.
Why? Because running a pro tournament by yourself is too tough. It takes too much work. It's impossible to make money.
Barry Behrman never said those things. I guarantee he had those thoughts. But he never stopped running the U.S. Open because he loves the players and loves the sport And, as I've said before, the U.S. Open is important to pool in the U.S. It's pool history. We should all be thankful that he's battled so hard to keep it alive.
And don't kid yourselves. It is that inner fighter that has kept Barry Behrman alive and swinging in this latest battle against the odds.
Whenever controversy is swirling around him and critics are calling for his scalp, Barry, a talented wrestler in his high school days, likes to tell me, "You know what they say, Mike. Winners never quit, and quitters never win." He loves that phrase. He likes to think it embodies what he is about.
In the past year, Behrman has made overtures about selling his business and turning the production of the U.S. Open to Accu-Stats founder Pat Fleming, who was charged with handling the event's prize fund in 2015.
I hope Barry returns to realize those dreams.
Mostly, I'm glad the industry didn't pass up the opportunity to pat Barry on the back last year. Too often, friends leave you before you get the opportunity to tell them how you feel.
Hopefully, this will be one of those instances in which we will get a second chance to tell Barry that we're happy he's around, imperfections and all.