ALTHOUGH ANDY VARIPAPA  was born 111 years ago--and died almost 20 years ago--his legend lives. The Varipapa saga was revived for some--and revealed for the first time for many--in a recently aired History Channel special about bowling. A segment featuring the trick-shot artist showed Andy in grainy black-and-white film clips, many from the movie shorts he started making in 1934. 

Varipapa knocked down pins placed on every portion of a lane and even some across two and three lanes. He would also place the ball perfectly through narrow paths with delicate lamps or people on both sides, and he converted the dreaded 7-10 split by tossing two balls at the same time.


Varipapa had one shot in particular that always amazed and amused his audience. He would plop the ball at the foul line, and it would slowly roll down the lane. When it was about halfway to the pins, he would sternly order the ball to come back, and because of the backspin he had applied, the ball would slowly return to the foul line.

Just like that ball, Varipapa keeps coming back. In addition to being a great showman, he was an outstanding competitive bowler and was the first player to win consecutive National All-Star events (now the U.S. Open)

He was often called the "Clown Prince of Bowling," a tag he didn't like. "I consider myself an artist with a bowling ball," said Andy.

He certainly was.

Thirteen years ago, a survey of touring pros named Walter Ray Williams Jr. the best spare shooter on the circuit. If another survey were taken today, he'd still be on top. That's a longer reign than most world leaders enjoy.

What follows is not for the squeamish:

In a November episode of HBO's smash mob drama "The Sopranos," bowling was a featured player. After a gang hit, there was a need to get rid of the body. Most of the body was bagged and tossed into a river, but the head was neatly placed into a bowling bag and buried. In one eerie scene, silence was broken by the thumping sound of the bowling ball bouncing up and down after it was removed from the bag to make room for the head.

Over the centuries, royalty as well as ruffians have participated in games similar to bowling. And after battles, some ancient tribes would celebrate by taking the decapitated head of the losing group's boss, placing it in front of a ceremonial pattern, and throwing rocks or other objects at it.

If that seems savage, cruel, and hard to believe, just remember that today, that pin up front is universally known as the "head" pin.

Here's one for you trivia buffs: The first 300 game on live TV came in 1953 during a telecast of Eastern All-Star league action from the Newark (N.J.) Recreation Center. The late ABC Hall-of-Famer, Graz Castellano, authored it. The accomplishment is more noteworthy because it came during five-man team action, much slower than the normal head-to-head TV competition.

There is only one person more difficult to find than a witness to your claim that you didn't foul--even though the detecting lights indicated you did: someone who saw you roll a 300 game in a practice session in a center without automatic scorers.

Del Ballard Jr.--with 12 national titles to his credit--should be a shoo-in for the PBA Hall of Fame. Among his strengths was bowling in long, demanding tournaments. In addition to the Tournament of Champions, Ballard won the U.S. Open, World Open, and ABC Masters. Too bad for him that he can't go back to the days when 100-game events were common.

Madison Square Garden--the world's most famous sports arena--is most associated with boxing and basketball, but the first major sporting event at the current venue was the 1967 PBA National Championship. The winner was Dave Davis.

Young bowlers make great subjects for photos. If you can catch the moment a bowler rolls his first strike or receives her first trophy, you've captured a moment in history.

I'm often asked the origin of "turkey," a word that in bowling parlance indicates three strikes in a row. In the sport's early days, many tournaments were conducted during the holiday season. Prizes included cash, small denomination gold coins, baskets Of groceries, and even piglets.

But the most special prizes were turkeys. To lure contestants, lane conditions were purposely made very difficult. And to add to the prizes a special award was a turkey for whoever could record three strikes in a row--which didn't happen very often. When it did, the other bowlers and spectators would yell, "That's a turkey." The designation caught on, and stuck.

If you notice a bowler still shining his or her bowling ball after almost every shot, ask them what else they got for Christmas.

Senior writer Chuck Pezzano is one of the top bowling writers in the country. He has won more than 60 writing awards and writes a nationally syndicated bowling column. He also is a member of the PBA and ABC Halls of Fame.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Century Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

The Greatest

Andy ("The Greek") Varipapa is a powerful, stubby little man, and his own warmest admirer. Says he: "Hell with that blushing violet stuff." Varipapa, is, and admits it, the world's greatest bowler.

Despite a limp (one leg is shorter than the other), he has rolled more perfect (300) games, 68 in all, than anyone else. He can and does bowl with either hand, with both at the same time, with his foot. In Detroit, where bowling goes biggest in the U.S., he gets $900 a week when he puts on exhibitions. Says he: "If I'd been a golfer, I would have putted with precision. As a bowler, I am a master of rhythm." Varipapa's confidence is unbruised by the fact that in 16 tries he has never won the A.B.C. (American Bowling Congress), biggest tourney of all.

Man Against 18,000. In Los Angeles last week, amid the rumble-and-crash of mineralite balls on maple alleys, Andy Varipapa again flunked his A.B.C.s. The unknown who pushed into the lead at the tourney's halfway point was slim, 49-year-old Fred Breckle of Detroit. His score was 738; Varipapa's, 715. But the man the crowds came to see was Varipapa, who has won every other major tournament often enough.

In the A.B.C., 18,000 men compete and the odds are against any one expert. In the singles, each man is limited to three games. In so brief a test, he has no chance to study the beds (alleys), get the feel of the wood,-the bounce of the floor. The best Varipapa could do was to roll 13 consecutive strikes.

As a $9-a-week switchman on the Brooklyn Bridge, Andy Varipapa used to jog back & forth across the bridge every day to develop his legs. In the finals of a recent Chicago tournament, 16 crack bowlers had to roll a grueling 64 games in four days. Varipapa, though 53, was the only one to finish without sore muscles. Despite his chunkiness his arms are sinewy, his wrists powerful, his legs hard. Volatile as he is, Varipapa rarely loses his temper during a match. Says he: "Sometimes I get mad when the ball hits the pins the right way and they don't go down like they should. But I don't blow up. I know that Varipapa will win in the end with his perfection and precision."

From his exhibitions, movie shorts and lectures, Andy Varipapa earns about $25,000 a year. His advice to the nation's 18 million amateur bowlers: the approach is the most important thing, four even steps with no sudden stop when the ball is released (though he himself, an exception to his own rules, takes five); the arm should swing up as if the bowler were throwing it up to shake hands with someone; the eyes should not be on the pins but on a point at the foul line where the ball will first touch. But there is one thing more: "Varipapa is rhythmical . . . that's why he's the greatest.",9171,793685,00.html


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