Greatness- the quality of being great, eminence, distinction, the concept of a state of superiority affecting a person or object, acquisition of status by the people who have contributed to an organization. All of the above are easily found official definitions of the word. Greatness comes in all shapes, sizes and forms, usually in short fleeting glimpses of time.
There is another form of greatness, one that covers a longer period of time, is much more enduring and has a much more profound impact if you have developed the ability to appreciate it when you see it. This is the kind of greatness I had the privilege to witness this past weekend. Covering the Bassmaster Elite Tournament on the St Johns River quickly went from the work of gathering various forms of coverage and interviews to an emotional chance to see greatness in its truest form.
There is a legend in our sport and I would encourage those who are spectators to the sport to enjoy his presence in it while it lasts, and those who participate in the sport to model themselves after. His name is…….Mr. Rick Clunn. Yes I called him Mr. Clunn, where I come from Mr. is a sign of respect, an acknowledgement of one’s vast level of experience. Mr. Clunn achieved more the first half of his long and illustrious career than even the best Professional Fishermen achieve in an entire career. Mr. Clunn is knocking on the door of 70 years old, had not won an event in 14 years, barely had the strength after a long week of fishing to hoist the trophy he won over top of his head, yet there he was the last man standing, the winner, at a highly competitive level in his sport, at a time in his life when most of us are enjoying a peaceful retirement.
I remember as a young amateur tournament angler, reading a Bassmaster Magazine article about how even after his 4 Bassmaster Classic wins Mr. Clunn still stayed at campgrounds during his days on the trail, passing on the luxury of staying in a nice hotel more suited for such an accomplished Pro. His answer to the writer’s inquiry was “I Prefer to be in the outdoors, feeling the same weather the fish do, and understanding how they react during those conditions gives me a worthwhile advantage.” At the time it sounded like a response from an angler possibly losing touch with all of the advantages of modern technology, like the sport may pass him by. I forgot about greatness, it is earned through hard work, humility, ambition, and possibly most important persistence.
After 2 days Mr. Clunn made the 50 cut with a little over 31lbs, then greatness happened. Day three you could hear the buzz behind stage at the tanks, someone had a monster bag, the competitors knew it, the fans would have to wait for Dave Mercer to run through the weights, hinting at what was to come. Up the steps from the tanks to the stage, Mr. Clunn was feeling no pain from the previous three days of competition; instead he hid the stress of knowing what was to come the final day like a grizzly old poker player. Over 31lbs of fish in one bag, the biggest limit of the tournament by far, gave way to Dave Mercer displaying a vertical leap of excitement that would have had NFL scouts at the combine amazed. The crowd roared and gave standing applause, they could only hope to see what was to happen the final day, but it was as if they already knew…….Greatness.
The final day it became a battle of the old guard and the current guard, well established Pro, Greg Hackney with plenty of credentials of his own vs. the Grey Beard, Mr. Clunn. In the end Mr. Clunn didn’t just hang on for the win, like the Greek God Neptune unwilling to give up his reign of the sea, he threw down his trident winning by a 4lb margin. The crowd a mixture of old and young, was respectfully silent as Mr. Clunn humbly shared a few moments on stage with his family and spoke words of, well……..greatness.
“I enjoy being around the young guys on the tour, they drive me to compete, as they should if they are any good.” Not the words of declining veteran of the tour jealous of their youth, but of a true competitor who respected the excitement they bring to the sport. “ and for all you folks out there my age…..everyone peaks at some point in their life, but don’t think for one second that just because of your age your greatest moments have to be behind you” Spoken like a great competitor, a great role model for the young guard, a great father. Like I said…….Greatness.