"It's got to be Billy Graham," said Jersey Red. "He's the strongest one." "I think Oral Roberts is right up there," said Courtney.
"Oral Roberts!" scoffed Jersey Red. "Why, Graham could give him the six, seven and eight and the break and still beat him. I once saw Graham in a little town in Texas. He had 150,000 people sitting on a hill in the rain. He said, 'Come on down.' And they all came on down and dropped some money in his bucket. Now that's strong."
The city of Burlington met the pool players with some trepidation, but people were quickly won over. For one thing, the perils of this particular game over regular pool would make an admirer out of most anybody. While one-pocket is the chess game of pool, and straight pool is the most dignified and the dullest, nine-ball is where the excitement is, and the action. Only the first nine numbered balls are used, and the first eight of them are meaningless. He who sinks the nine wins. He can make the nine on the break, on a combination off another ball or by first, in order, cleaning up everything else.
"It takes courage to play," said one shooter. "You always have to be on the offense. The closer you get to the nine ball, the closer you are to winning. But at the same time, you are also closer to the other guy winning. I know guys who can make the first eight balls with great shots and then couldn't shoot the nine into a bushel basket."
There was no problem in understanding the tournament rules: win and advance; lose two games and you're out. The 80 shooters started on Thursday in a room set up in the Municipal Auditorium, an edifice built on the banks of the river in 1939 by the WPA. They went after each other around six tables in 21-game sessions, with the winner the first man to reach 11 victories.
Some of the sessions lasted only about an hour, the time it took Pete Margo to beat nine-time U.S. open champion Irving Crane, The Deacon, on opening day. Two days later, with the crowd holding at about 800 balcony sitters, Crane lost his second game, to Billy Cress, and was gone.
Saturday's play began at noon and rolled on past midnight in uninterrupted action, and the list of the twice-fallen began to grow. Gone were such top speeds as Buddy Hall, who fought a 2�-hour marathon in losing, and Dallas West, this year's open champ (who may have had a premonition; he had checked out of his hotel before the match). Ousted, too, were Jersey Red and Fast Eddie and Captain Hook and clean-shaven Freddie the Beard.
As play started on Sunday, only two men remained undefeated: Rempe, by then everybody's favorite, and Mike Carella. And only four were in the losers' bracket: St. Louie Louie Roberts, Richie Ambrose, Jim Marino and young Steve Mizerak, a cool-shooting New Jersey schoolteacher who had won four straight open titles.
When the last shot was fired, at 9:42 p.m., to be precise, it was by Rempe. He drilled the nine ball into a corner pocket to cinch an 11-6 victory over Ambrose, who had fought back from his one-loss handicap. The crowd had swelled to 2,000 for the finale, and its hero could have run for mayor.
The next big outing will come in mid-February, a $33,000 nine-ball tournament at an Oregon ski area called the Inn of the Seventh Mountain. Other plans are in the works for four more $10,000 meets, plus a $25,000 championship session for next year.