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It was 2:40 a.m. on Monday, October 4, but no one in the vast crowd at old Jack Hagerty's Bowling Center in Toledo made a move to go home. For two days and nights the spectators had applauded and stomped their feet as the nation's 44 top teams battled through the B.P.A.A. elimination tournament to decide which two would roll for the U.S. match championship.
Now a silence thicker than the smoke clouds drifting toward the ceiling settled over the alleys. Every pair of eyes turned on a short, stocky, pleasant-faced man with rimless glasses.
Clyde Potter, 47, had bowled half his lifetime without winning a major event. And here he was, the anchor man of the dark horse Maibach Furniture quintet of Akron, Ohio, on the threshold of national fame. He had rolled strikes in the eighth and ninth frames to give his team a fighting chance. If he spared in the tenth frame, Maibach would go into second place. If he missed, the team might never have another chance to bowl for the title.
It was a sultry morning. Potter wiped the mist off his glasses. He dried his hands with a towel and picked up his ball. As he got set for his now-or-never roll, this was the picture:
The Pfeiffer Beer team of Detroit, perennial archrival of the champion Stroh Beers, had finished hours before and was in first place with 11,783 for the 12 games. But three teams had fine opportunities to forge ahead: Stroh needed only 2,903 in the final three-game block, Maibach 2,905 and the Budweiser Beers of St. Louis 2,967.
Ordinarily the Strohs could be counted on to better 3,000, but they were off form this night. Only a 713 series by Lee Jouglard had kept them on top after the third block. Despite a 277 game by Jouglard, the Strohs totaled only 942 in the third game of that block. Jack Hagerty, who has seen the best come and go in his 57 years as an academy proprietor, wondered aloud if the Strohs were through.
The Strohs answered promptly with a fine 10th game. Midway through the 11th, there was no longer any doubt. They finished first with 11,881 pins.
That left it up to Budweiser and Maibach to try to oust Pfeiffer from second place. Going into the 12th and last game, the Budweisers needed 999 pins, the Maibachs 1,006. Budweiser, an all-star quintet which includes national titleholder Don Carter, collapsed to finish fourth with 11,748. Maibach, with not a single "name" in the lineup, fought to the end.
And now it was up to Clyde Potter. There was no trace of nervousness about him. Carefully, he scanned the alley and fixed his eyes on a dark spot on the polished surface. He stepped gracefully toward the foul line, released the ball with a smooth swing. It rolled over the dark spot and hooked into the 1-3 pocket. Strike. He bowled two more strikes, but they were not needed. Maibach totaled 11,813, only 68 pins less than Stroh.