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Lomas can still hardly believe what happened. On succeeding days, the Hurricane somehow pieced his old skills together and fought his way into the finals. It was a wild scene the last night as, tears streaming across his face, Higgins tried to hold the world championship trophy and his 18-month-old baby daughter, Lauren, in his arms at the same time.
It may have been the most popular victory in Britain since England beat West Germany in the soccer World Cup in 1966. The lads in the pubs didn't care that the Hurricane was a bad boy, nor that the very morning after his triumph he was due to appear before the WPBSA to answer, among other charges, one of watering some potted daffodils in an unorthodox manner at a practice session in the championship. "The greatest comeback since Ali," the Hurricane crowed, and that night nobody would have challenged him.
For Davis, meanwhile, despite that still unexplained first-round disaster, 1982 had been a spectacular year. He won seven out of 10 of the recognized major tournaments, and he had also achieved what he still considers his greatest feat, which is immortalized on his license plate: SD 147. It represents a perfect score in snooker, achieved by sinking the seven-point black ball with each one of the 15 reds (totaling 120 points) and then the colors in sequence. Such an achievement is akin to shooting a 60 in tournament golf. A good professional break in snooker is 70, an excellent one, 100.
But in January that year at Oldham in Lancashire, Davis not only hit a perfect 147 but also did it live on television, the first time that had ever happened. He recalls the final blue—with still the pink and the black left to sink—as the best shot of all. "I thought I'd blown it," he says. "My legs had turned to jelly." The crowd, abandoning its discipline, started to yell, "Come on, Steve!" On sinking the previous brown ball, he'd been unable to leave himself in good position for the blue; the cue ball had ended up tight to the cushion, well up the table.
But now the robot in Davis took over. The blue was cut into a side pocket, and the cue ball traveled off three cushions to end up behind the pink. Davis' crisis of confidence was over and he pocketed both pink and black. The perfect score had taken 11 minutes, nine seconds. "I felt," said Davis, with his royal instinct for understatement, "a nervous smile cross my face." That was enough to buoy him up until the spring of '83, when he wrested his title back from the Hurricane. Higgins' wife, Lynn, blamed herself for her husband's strange lack of aggression. "I remembered the vitamin B pills I'd given him before the match to relieve his nerves. Had he taken them? Yes, he had, he said. All 12 at once."
Though new stars appear—for example Jimmy White, still only 21 and nearly as wild as the young Higgins, and whose girl friend, it's rumored, had to write his letters for him—it's Steve and the Hurricane who hold the TV public enthralled. At Derby, Steve won with some ease. "A nice bonus," he said. Meanwhile the Hurricane continues on his stormy course. Erratic and distracted, he was knocked out of the '84 worlds in the first round by a 20-year-old, Neal Foulds. He has been banned from a tournament later this summer in Australia, and if he shows up, as he threatens to, the Aussies say they'll cancel the whole thing.
No such vulgar shenanigans for Davis. His eye, or maybe that of Barry Hearn, is on yet wider conquests. Already the game has taken off spectacularly in Southeast Asia, and Brazil now reports a growing audience for BBC snooker shows. What's more, Davis and Hearn have begun to eye the U.S. market. "We went to Dallas last summer," Davis says, "but it turned out a bit of a farce. Myself and Terry Griffiths, another pro Barry handles, played two top U.S. pool players, Jim Rempe and Mike Sigel. We played at an ice rink and, of course, it was a tie. We won the snooker, they won the pool."
Both Davis and Hearn believe the Great TV Snooker Craze can make a successful Atlantic crossing, with cable TV as a potential launching pad. If that happens, one of these days there's going to be a new kind of absenteeism in U.S. offices and factories.