The Tim Duncan of fishing?


There's no doubt that by the time the Bassmaster Classic starts on Feb. 20, the anglers, the river and the bass will have been broken down more times than a 1989 Hyundai Excel.

You can already find the list of Classic qualifiers two different ways on this site, including alphabetically, in case you were wondering who got to stand in the front of the line in elementary school (hint: not Kevin VanDam).

Speaking of VanDam, it's this time of year when the Tiger Woods comparisons usually start to crop up and the arguments begin.

We figured, why stop there? So here are all 51 Classic contenders, stereotyped and analogized through the sporting galaxy.

Are you a sports fan but don't follow bass fishing? Here's your guide to the Classic.

Think ... Bart Starr, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan in a Wizards jersey, Gordie Howe, Ted Williams, Roger Staubach

Get ... Rick Clunn (Ava, Mo.)

Perhaps Clunn's current status among the top anglers in the sport is closest to that of Michael Jordan when he played in D.C. The 62-year-old Clunn is a legend, and has the four Classic titles to prove it, but he hasn't been consistently on his game this decade.

The other legends listed also played their best years (or entire careers) in eras bygone. Clunn was a machine two and three decades ago. Those of us in the YouTube generation may have missed his glory days, but it still wouldn't be a true Classic without Clunn.

More than 70 Elite Series anglers will be sitting at home (or working the trade show) during the Classic thinking that a Classic appearance means you're on your game, but Clunn, in his record 32nd appearance, has set a higher standard. An 18-point, 7-rebound game from Jordan never did feel Jordanesque, even though those are solid NBA numbers. Clunn has won too many big tournaments and caught too many fish in places where no one else could, so when he finishes in the middle of the pack  or even in the top 25 percent  people start asking what's wrong.

But just like Jordan in his Wizards days, everyone knows the old champ could find his old stride any moment, and wow us once again.

Think ... not Tiger, not Jordan, not Roger Federer ... but Ken Griffey Jr., Emmitt Smith, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady

Get ... Kevin VanDam (Kalamazoo, Mich.)

Here's where the rioting begins. VanDam is, according to almost all fans and anglers, the best bass fisherman in the world. He has incredible focus and wastes a total of .25 seconds in an eight-hour day on the water, making more casts than an X Games doctor.

But you're not Tiger Woods just because you're the best. Woods doesn't lose  ever. And when he does lose, which he doesn't, he finishes second.

VanDam can't approach that level of domination, but that's OK. Being Brady, Bryant, Griffey (mid-'90s Griffey, of course), or Smith is a good thing. VanDam, like all the names listed above, will go down as a legend in his sport.

Here's how to keep things in perspective. VanDam's a front-runner to win his third Classic  just as he's a front-runner to win any tournament  but if you could bet $100 on VanDam or the field, you wouldn't hesitate to take the field. Woods or the field, and you start sweating.

Think ... Annika Sorenstam

Get ... Kim Bain (Alabaster, Ala.)

Easy, right? Bain is the first women to ever compete in the Classic. There is, however, one distinction that should be made between their accomplishments.

Bain actually has a chance to win. Sorenstam was looking to make the cut and didn't in the PGA Tour tournament she played in. Bain, although it would be an amazing long shot, has a legitimate chance at being Classic champion.

Bass fishing, unlike golf, lends itself to an angler pulling up on the right spot, with the right bass and making a career day off it. (Which is part of the reason KVD can't dominate like Tiger.) Bass are predictable to a point, but there's still a good amount of educated guessing and adjustment that goes on in an angler's day.

If Bain's educated guess happens to be perfect the first time, there will be a circus of attention surrounding this tournament and a lot of shocked dudes. Then maybe we'd upgrade her to Billie Jean King.

Think ... Phil Mickelson, Tim Duncan, Derek Jeter, Shaquille O'Neal

Get ...
Skeet Reese (Auburn, Calif.)
Michael Iaconelli (Runnemede, N.J.)
Mark Davis (Mount Ida, Ark.)
Alton Jones (Waco, Texas)
Todd Faircloth (Jasper, Texas)
Mike McClelland (Bella Vista, Ark.)
Steve Kennedy (Auburn, Ala.)

This is the tier of guys who are a threat to win any given tournament, and given the right circumstances, each could easily be the next Bassmaster Classic champion. None of them is necessarily a favorite going in, but as Jones proved at last year's Classic, a solid angler can win from below the radar and no jaws will hit the floor.

You can bet that half these guys will finish in the top 15.

Think ... Barry Sanders, Dan Marino, Karl Malone, Greg Norman

Get ...
Gary Klein (Weatherford, Texas)
Kevin Wirth (Crestwood, Ky.)
Peter Thliveros (St. Augustine, Fla.)
Bernie Schultz (Gainesville, Fla.)
Aaron Martens (Leeds, Ala.)

In terms of the Classic, these are the pros who tend to disappoint. Between them, they have been to 63 Classics and have put up eight top-five finishes, zero wins.

Martens finished second in three out of four years from 2002 to 2005. This will be Klein's 27th Classic, and still no luck (a record for appearances without a win). Thliveros has come up huge in other big tournaments, but has been to 12 Classics without finishing in the top 10 (another dubious record).

These are the guys  the top-tier anglers who have yet to win on the biggest stage  who remind everyone just how hard it is to win a Classic.

Think ... Randy Moss, Manny Ramirez, Manu Ginobili

Get ...
Terry Scroggins (San Mateo, Fla.)
Brent Chapman (Lake Quivira, Kan.)
Dave Wolak (Wake Forest, N.C.)
Casey Ashley (Donalds, S.C.)
Kelly Jordon (Mineola, Texas)
Boyd Duckett (Demopolis, Ala.)
Fred Roumbanis (Bixby, Okla.)
Dean Rojas (Lake Havasu City, Ariz.)
Ish Monroe (Hughson, Calif.)

This category was hard to compare across sports. The most apt of the above three is Ginobili.

The idea is, this group may not be at or near the top of every tournament and may have some 80th- and 90th-place finishes thrown into a season, but the moment you go to sleep on them, they'll show up with an impressive victory that makes you wonder why they don't always win.

Anyone in this group could get on the right bite and run away with the Classic and no one would be too surprised. Then again, they could finish 45th and presses would not stop.

Think ... Ray Lewis, Kurt Warner, Pedro Martinez, Dirk Nowitzki, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry

Get ...
Davy Hite (Ninety Six, S.C.)
Tim Horton (Muscle Shoals, Ala.)
Scott Rook (Little Rock, Ark.)
Randy Howell (Springville, Ala.)
Bobby Lane (Lakeland, Fla.)
Edwin Evers (Talala, Okla.)
Shaw Grigsby (Gainesville, Fla.)

This group is more consistent than the Moss/ManRam/Ginobili crew above, but still volatile. Everybody knows the skill is there and it shows up pretty much every tournament one way or another.

But when the right situation presents itself (see: Horton, Lake Champlain, 2007, and Rook, Arkansas River, 2006), these guys show up big. The Classic seems to be setting up pretty nicely for Rook, so this could be his chance to take advantage of his circumstances.

Think ... Jake Delhomme, Andy Roddick, Charles Howell III

Get ... Greg Hackney (Gonzales, La.)

There are probably a few other guys who could have worked their way into this category of fast starters turned cold, but when it comes to the Classic, especially this year's Classic, Hackney gets to hold the position alone.

In the middle of this decade, Hackney was a force. He got the nickname "Hack Attack" and was using what he learned on the southern stretch of the Arkansas River to thump many of the best anglers in the world.

He was four points from being the 2004 Angler of the Year and finished fifth in 2005 standings. He fell a little in 2006, finishing 11th and fought his way to the same finish in '07.

It looked as if he would be back to form in 2008 after fifth place in the Classic, which was his best finish by far in six tries. But things pretty much spiraled downhill from there.

He finished absolutely dead last (109th) in the Elite Series opener on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida and didn't make a top-50 cut until a seventh-place finish at the fourth Elite Series stop on Lake Amistad.

Credit Hackney for fighting his way back to 36th in the Angler of the Year standings, which is the last spot guaranteed a Classic berth. But everyone will admit he's not fishing as well as he was four years ago.

Now, he's fishing on some of the most familiar waters he's going to see, in the biggest tournament in bass fishing.

The table is set.

Think ... Luke Walton, Rich Beem, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, James Blake

Get ...
Bill Lowen (North Bend, Ohio)
Dustin Wilks (Rocky Mount, N.C.)
Matt Herren (Trussville, Ala.)
Greg Pugh (Cullman, Ala.)
Kenyon Hill (Norman, Okla.)
Brian Snowden (Reeds Spring, Mo.)
Kotaro Kiriyama (Moody, Ala.)
Bryan Hudgins (Orange Park, Fla.)
Rick Morris (Lake Gaston, Va.)
Byron Velvick (Del Rio, Texas)
Michael Burns (Plano, Texas)
Jami Fralick (Martin, S.D.)

It should noted as we get to this point in the list of comparisons, that just being in the Classic means you're among the best of the best. More than 70 Elite Series anglers fished last year and didn't qualify, and a lot more than that tried to qualify for one of six spots through the Opens.

But these are the guys the fishing public can look at and say, "Man, if that guy is doing this professionally I might be able to." This is actually my favorite group because it represents the disparity between pro and amateur. As soon as Joe Schmuck utters those words, Ilgauskas is dunking in his face or Beem is giving him two strokes a hole and still lighting him up.

It wouldn't be any different here. Just because they can't beat VanDam doesn't mean you can beat them.

Think ... Chris Hoke (backup nose tackle, 2008 Steelers), Kurt Thomas (2008 Spurs), Greg Golson (outfielder, 2008 Phillies)

Get ...
Ken Baumgardner (Monongahela, Pa.)
Jay Evans (Corvallis, Mont.)
Terry Fitzpatrick (Waulkon, Iowa)
Scott Parker (Londonderry, N.H.)
Waine Pittman (Villa Rica, Ga.)
Bryan Schmidt (Olney, Texas)
David Williams (Maiden, N.C.)

This is the group of guys who qualified through the Federation Nation or Weekend Series. It's an incredible place to be, but they're pretty much along for the ride. A top 10 would be a Cinderella story. A win? From this tier, it's happened just once ever in a Classic.