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A Call to Greatness

After a breakthrough in '91, Archer (with father, George) was all smiles as the Player of the Decade.

Archer joined the pro tour in 1986, but, curiously, he didn't win a single big event for five years. Not that he didn't have the talent to snap one off, he simply didn't have the composure, going on tilt after making the slightest mistake. He'd stamp feet; he'd bang sticks; he'd turn red-faced and glassy-eyed and mumble to himself. He'd burn so badly that onlookers thought he'd spontaneously combust.

"I never would've gone anywhere with that temper," he says. "It's one thing to get mad when you lose, but it's another when you let one bad shot affect your next shots."

One embarrassing incident in 1991 turned him around for good. After missing a critical ball, he collapsed in a huff into his chair, dropped his stick to the floor and began cursing up a blue streak. Suddenly, he noticed, sitting right behind him in the front row, some pubescent boy watching him. "And I could see the disappointment on his face," he says. "I felt horrible. I knew right then and there that I had to develop a positive attitude or else. I had to learn how to be a professional. I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I'd have to fight the demons in my head. But I knew I had to try to change." He tried to model his demeanor after his hero and ultimately one of his closest friends, Nick Varner, "who never twitched no matter what the other guy did and whose face never changed no matter what the score," says Archer. Only a couple of months later, in June of that year, Archer snapped off his first major win, the Sands Regency XIII 9-Ball Open, beating Jim Rempe in the title match. And the following year, he cracked through completely by adding five more titles, including the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) World 9-Ball Championship in Taiwan by beating Bobby Hunter in a hill-hill final.

"I'm convinced that the World Championship was the turning point in Johnny's career," Varner says. "Johnny made this incredibly tough out to win it and it had to do something for his confidence. I believe there's a thin line crossing over from being a good player to being a great player, and I've often wondered what would've happened if Johnny had lost that match, or if Bobby had won it. Both careers might've turned out very differently."

The baby of a family that included two brothers and two sisters, Johnny grew up in the tiny town of Twin City, Ga. "It was a place where nobody had a lot," he says. "And what little you had, you had to fight for." His mom died when he was 6 and his father, who remarried, was an auto mechanic who owned a service garage. Johnny remembers how he'd start and end an entire school year with only one pair of shoes, and that his big fun was running off with a quarter in his pocket to spend the whole day at a man-made beach only a few miles from home, having just enough money to buy a Coke and a bag of potato chips.

"It was simple, rough life, and it made me hungry for something more," he says. And it's that hunger that would become his trademark as a pool player.

"No matter how many tournaments he wins," says his wife, Melanie, "he always wants more. It's never enough for him."

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