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.
February: A Very Barry X-Mas
Christmas came EARLY for Barry Hearn in 2007.
For 14 years, the British promoter, and rabid golf fan, has patiently watched his pocket-billiard incarnation of golf’s Ryder Cup evolve. He knew the Mosconi Cup, his annual transatlantic 9-ball tussle pitting a team from the U.S. against European pool pros, would face an uphill battle in establishing legitimate sports cred in the United Kingdom, where national sports network Sky Sports broadcasts between 20 and 30 hours of live coverage each year.
So he stuck with it.
Why? Because, being a bit of a golf historian, he knew that it took the Ryder Cup many more years than this to become truly relevant on both sides of the Atlantic. The U.S. won 20 of 21 Ryder Cups (competed for biennially) from 1935-’83, including 13 straight from ’59-’83. The Ryder Cup didn’t explode in popularity until Europe started winning its share of contests. Relevance comes with parity. It comes when you don’t know ahead of time which side is going to win. At that point fans become invested, engaged. And that’s what eventually makes an event like the Ryder Cup … or, dare we dream, the Mosconi Cup … actually move the proverbial needle.
The Mosconi Cup may well have turned that corner at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas last December, when Team Europe scored a somewhat convincing 12-9 win over Team USA. It marked just the third time in 14 tries that the European squad snatched the Cup from their pedigreed contemporaries. Europe claimed the second installment of the Mosconi way back in 1995, when the Euro team was stacked with snooker pros and the U.S. squad was peppered with also-rans and has-beens. But since 1997, when only America’s very best donned the Team USA colors, the Cup’s eventual resting place has pretty much been a foregone conclusion. Even Europe’s 2002 win was more lightning-in-a-bottle than trend.
This year, however, was hardly the shocker many perceived it to be. Collectively, the European squad, as so neatly pointed out by Germany’s Ralf Souquet, has propped more hardware onto its mantel in recent years than its American counterparts. Souquet has been arguably the world’s steadiest winner over the past two years, and his teammates in Las Vegas — England’s Daryl Peach, Malta’s Tony Drago, Holland’s Niels Feijen and Russia’s Konstantin Stepanov — are nobody’s patsies.
Save for young stud Shane Van Boening, Team USA looked like it was trying to get by on intimidation and history. But the snarl doesn’t work any longer.
Some tried to insist this was the best Team USA ever.
In name, perhaps. But that’s it. The Team USA lineups from the late ’90s and into the early 2000s were vastly superior. Those teams had Johnny Archer and Earl Strickland in their primes. The Archer, Strickland and Rodney Morris who played in 2007 were shells of their former selves.
And the future doesn’t look much brighter. Who will compete next year? Van Boening is certainly the real deal. Corey Deuel? Still has the talent. But beyond that, who?
The aging Americans will have to start getting used to being the underdog fighting for its life in future Mosconi Cups, much like America’s golf pros do these days. The U.S. has won just three of the last 11 Ryder Cups.
The tide can change oh-so quickly. Winning is no longer guaranteed.
And for prophetic Cup patriarch Hearn, who gambled that this day would come, that uncertainty will make fans and viewers care. And that connection will keep them coming back for more.
I don’t like seeing Team USA lose, but in the end Hearn’s little Christmas present may help the entire sport.