- Ken Duke
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Every sport has its number.
In baseball, it's 56 for the length of Joe DiMaggio's consecutive game hitting streak. In football, it's 50 for the number of touchdown passes Tom Brady threw in 2007. In basketball, it's 100 for how many points Wilt Chamberlain scored in a single game in 1962.
In the world of professional bass fishing, the number is 28.
That's how many consecutive Bassmaster Classics Rick Clunn fished before failing to qualify in 2002. It's a record that may never be broken.
From 1974 through 2001, Clunn was a staple at the Classic. When other superstars of the sport had a bad season and missed the championship it was no big deal except to them. When Clunn finally failed to qualify in 2002, it was bigger news than Jay Yelas winning the event.
During those 28 years of excellence, Clunn's dominance of the Classic was complete. He won four times (1976, 1977, 1984 and 1990), finished in the top five 11 times, in the top ten 16 times and boated more than 700 pounds of bass. His accomplishments left his name on virtually every page of the record book.
To put Clunn's consecutive Classic record in perspective, let's consider the anglers who are the closest to matching it.
Kevin VanDam has the longest active consecutive Classic streak at 19 years it's also the second longest consecutive streak in Classic history. He's been to every Classic since 1991. To catch Clunn, KVD will need to make every Classic from now until 2018.
Tim Horton has the second longest active streak at 10 straight Classics. He'll need to keep that going through 2027 if he wants to reach Clunn.
No other qualifier for the 2009 Classic has been to more than 8 consecutive championships.
The other anglers who have posted consecutive Classic streaks of 10 years or more are Larry Nixon (18 years), Gary Klein (17), Jay Yelas (16), Ricky Green and Tommy Martin (14), Hank Parker (13), Roland Martin (11) and Woo Daves (10).
In further defense of Clunn and to put his record in clearer perspective, it's a lot easier to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic today than it was in the 1970s and early 1980s when Clunn started his string. Back then the Classic fields varied in size from 25 to about 40. Since then, the number of qualifiers has risen to as many as 61 (2003) and presently rests at 51.
What's more, until the early 1990s, tournament pros shared their boats with other pros and had to split time in the front of the boat and selecting fishing areas. If you had a bad boat partner one day, he could wreck an entire tournament or season for you.
VanDam and the later generation of pros have a much easier path to the championship today.
Tomorrow we'll take a look at the number 27 and why it's a source of pride and consternation for Gary Klein.
For the full countdown to the 39th Bassmaster Classic, click here.