Storytelling

The Greatest Bowling Match Ever Bowled

When the rules of bowling were standardized in 1895, the intention was to make competition standard, and thus promote the best aspects of the ancient game of rolling a ball at some sticks. The standard rules allowed the American Bowling Congress to recognize champions. Some champions from those early days stand out more than others, in particular the brothers Ralph Johnson and Leo Johnson. Ralph Johnson was known as “The Duke”, and Leo Johnson was known as “The King”. The royal implications of their nickname were because their father, Sydney Johnson, was one of the greatest bowlers ever, and was the first to master the use of mineralized bowling balls. Sydney bowled several 300 games in his lifetime, and won all but one of the championships in which he competed. Sydney’s strength was the thing of legend, as he could juggle four sixteen balls, and frequently shattered the wooden pins.

Sydney left the game, however, when, on a dare, he threw the ball at the pins, rather than rolled it. It was one of the greatest feats of strength ever demonstrated, and the ball carried far beyond the fifty feet to the pins, and crashed through the wall above them at high speed. Unfortunately, he had not warned the pin boy, who waited on his ledge above the pins for the next toss, and was killed with the bowling ball as it struck his head. As fate would have it, the corpse of the boy fell on the pins, knocking them all over. Sydney never bowled again, but still scored the frame as a strike, noting that the pins speak for themselves, earning him the nicknae, “The Lawgiver.”

Sydney taught his boys well the game of bowling, and instilled in them that same vicious competitiveness.

The Duke and the King faced each other many times in their bowling careers, and more than once their games ended in 300-300 ties, dual perfect games. In the early days of bowling tournaments, it was the custom to award co-championships when the final match ended in a draw, and in the case of two perfectly bowled games it was considered the correct thing to do. But this never satisfied the Duke or the King, as they both were eager to prove to their father that they were the best, and in the American Bowling Congress championship of 1949, agreed that the finalists would continue bowling matches should they game end in a draw, until a clear victor was determined.

The brothers did both reach the finals of that tournament, and their championship match ended in a perfect draw, 300 to 300. So they bowled again. Once more, the match ended in a perfect draw, 300 to 300. Word of the perfection spread, and the crowd from Brunswick, Ohio, grew. The brothers were in no particular hurry, and the laws of the game at that time had no time stipulation, so buses were dispatched to help transport the interested public. It was a jovial, excited crowd. The brothers were accustomed to drinking a beer each frame, and had developed the metabolism for this, but so they too needed extra time. When the third match began, they had each drunk several dozen beers, and so it was agreed that if this match ended in a tie, they would take a short break, which would allow the folks from nearby Cleveland to settle in.

And so it happened that the third game also ended in a perfect draw. With the score tied at 900 each, the brothers decided to spend the break apart. Ralph sat quietly in a chair, dozing as his friends and fans gathered around him. Leo seemed agitated, and stepped outside for some fresh air, and complained of an upset stomach so he spoke with the waitress about the quality of the beer being served.

The fourth game continued like the previous three, with both brothers showing no signs of weakness, throwing strike after strike. The crowed numbered in the thousands, and cheered heartily with every toss. Ralph, finishing the tenth frame first, settled down with his score of 300 recorded, and watched as Leo stepped onto the lane.

Leo threw a strike, and then another. He needed a third strike to tie his brother, but the pin boy was slow in returning the ball, so he offered to share another beer with Ralph while they waited. The waitress stumbled as she approached, and fell into Ralph’s lap as she spilled beer on her chest, soaking her to the skin. She complained of a twisted ankle, and Ralph helped rub that ankle just as Leo’s ball made its return.

Leo offered to finish the frame, and Ralph agreed, pleasantly distracted by the waitress’s needs. Once Leo had bowled his ball, Ralph turned to watch, and noticed immediately that there was a problem with the pins. The pin boy had mistakenly set down eleven pins instead of ten. He shouted in distress, but there was nothing else to do but watch. Hardly anyone else in attendance had noticed the discrepancy, but Ralph knew, and Leo knew. For of course during the break, he had arranged with the pin boy to set an extra pin for the final ball, and had arranged with the waitress to distract Ralph. All that was left was for Leo to throw yet another strike, because Ralph knew as well as Leo knew that the pins speak for themselves.

And that’s how the greatest bowling match ever played ended 1200 to 1201.