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Surprise, Surprise: Mike Wilbon Upsets Wes Malott

DETROIT - FEBRUARY 3:  Sports writer and co-host of ESPN's 'Pardon the Interruption' Michael Wilbon arrives for the ESPN The Magazine Next Party during Super Bowl XL weekend February 3, 2006 at the Colony Club in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
David BurnettCorrespondent IApril 19, 2009

Jim Nabor’s famous TV character Gomer Pyle often proclaimed: “Surprise, Surprise”.   And surprise is the best word for what happened when I finally got a chance to watch the Mike Wilbon-Wes Malott bowling challenge the other day. 

   

Believe it or not, with a surprising effort, Mike Wilbon, the co-host of the popular ESPN sports talk show Pardon the Interruption, with the benefit of a 57 pin handicap, knocked off Wes Malott, the PBA’s player of the year 256 - 248.

Winning based on handicap is a fair and accepted practice in bowling. In fact most bowling leagues all across the country use the handicap system. Wilbon who rolled a “scratch” or actual 199 game, performed well under the TV lights against one of the best bowlers in the world. 

At one point Wilbon, who was dressed in a special PTI bowling shirt, rolled four consecutive strikes. Wilbon’s “HAMBONE” as TV bowling announcer Randy Pederson often proclaims when someone hits four straight strikes, is pretty darned good—no matter who is rolling the ball.

This all started a couple of months ago when Wilbon, on Pardon the Interruption, was highly critical of Wes Malott for failing to appear at an old-school, plastic ball only tournament. 

Wilbon suggested with his remarks that Malott did not want to test himself without the benefit of the high-tech special surface balls that are normally used by professional players and top ranking amateurs. 

These high-tech balls are believed by many bowling purists to have artificially inflated bowling scores. The unstated is that a “real bowler” should be able to win with any ball, old-school plastic or high-tech.

A couple of weeks later Malott, while winning a tournament in Indianapolis, taunted Wilbon on the air for suggesting he was afraid to use plastic balls and challenged the TV host to a match. 

Malott said he would use only plastic balls and destroy Wilbon. On his TV show the next day Wilbon accepted Malott’s challenge but said he needed at least 57 pins as a handicap since he would be facing the PBA’s top player.

The match finally took place last week, and will air on ESPN 2, Apr. 22 as part of a special PBA bowling series.  If you don’t want to wait till then, the match is available to see right now on ESPN.com.

What I saw was an impressive showing by an amateur player in Wilbon. Rolling a 199 is an excellent score by any measure. And when you consider the pressure that Wilbon was under to perform on camera against one of the best bowlers in the world you’ve got to give the PTI host credit.

Now let’s see Wilbon take on LeBron James, one on one. I hear LeBron is a pretty good bowler.

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