Halfway through a 215 game in the first round of the Firestone Tournament of Champions in April, Pete Weber strolled over to the bleachers and motioned to his famous father. The spectators surrounding Dick Weber leaned in. What sumptuous tidbits of bowler esoterica were about to come down? Ball lift? Oiling pattern of the lane? Something about "moving five boards" perhaps? "When we get down to the other end," said Pete, "would you bring me a Mountain Dew?"
Dick Weber threw back his head and laughed. Then he slapped Pete on the back. Then he turned to several companions and slapped them on the back. Then he threw back his head and laughed again.
"Did you hear that?" said Weber père. "I'm a gofer." Even the legends of sport, you see, must know their roles.
Few athletes have played their changing roles through the years with more grace and class than Richard Anthony Weber. He has been the Kid and the King, and now he's both the Gracefully Aging Immortal and the Eager Father. Pete, the fourth and youngest child of Dick and Juanita Weber, is the Professional Bowlers Association's second-leading money-winner this year behind Mike Aulby. Many observers feel he has both the talent and the competitive temperament to surpass his father, who won 27 PBA events.
"Pete can be a legend," says his doubles partner, Brian Voss. "I don't think there's anyone out here who doesn't believe that."
A qualifier always comes with predictions about Pete. It's always "can be" rather than "will be." That's because from his early teens to March 1984, no one tried harder than Pete Weber to party himself into early oblivion, an effort that culminated in full-scale chemical abuse by 1983. "There are some screwed-up guys on tour," admits Pete, "but I was more screwed up than any of them."
On March 7, 1984 Pete entered White Deer Treatment Center in Lonedell, Mo., ending what his father called "eight years of hell." He stayed 28 days and came out a wiser man and a more competitive bowler. He says he has been off drugs completely since then. But there is still the boy within the man, and the boy likes to party. He admits he has fallen off the wagon "a few times," and there are many around the pro tour with ears cocked for the big thud.
Of all Dick Weber's roles, that of father to his youngest has surely been the most difficult.
Still, he can take pride in being the patriarch of bowling's First Family. Rich, 34, and John, 27, Pete's older brothers, both competed on the pro tour and both still work in bowling, Rich as the regional tournament director for National Amateur Bowlers Inc., and John as assistant manager of A.M.F Dick Weber Lanes, the Florissant, Mo. bowling house in which Dick sold his share to A.M.F. last year. The Webers have what must be a world-record number (50) of sanctioned perfect games by a family—22 by Pete, 20 by Dick, four by John, three by Rich, and one by daughter, Paula, 32, who had a 190 average once. And though Juanita may bowl, as Dick says, "in self-defense," she still averages 170 rolling Pete's old 10-pound ball. Pete's wife, Dee Dee, averaged 160 in NABI competition.
Three centuries ago Ben Jonson wrote, "Greatness of name, in the father, off times helps not forth, but overwhelms the son: they stand too near one another. The shadow kills the growth." And so it was for both Rich and John. "Can you imagine walking around the pro tour with DICK WEBER JR. on your shirt?" asks Rich, who did exactly that from 1968 to '78 with only limited success. But it never bothered Pete, not when he had his skinny fingers stuck in a bowling ball, anyway. He and his father were never close until Pete emerged from treatment last year, and it's only recently that the son has begun to realize and appreciate what the father has meant to the game.