Folks at home, folks at home, at long last we’re on the verge of learning that the only thing that could knock Ike out of the Classic was Ike himself.
His entry music in 2018 at Hartwell was Mike Morazzini’s “Never Give Up,” but perhaps he would’ve been better served by Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye” [or, if you’re a stickler for detail, the G.C. Cameron version as featured in the 1975 movie “Cooley High”]. He’s fished 17 Classics in a row, once making it in through a last minute Open victory, another time when double- and triple-qualifiers opened an unlikely door, and he’s yet to use up all nine lives.
He missed the first Open in each of the two series this year, so he’s not going to make it in that way. After a 29th place finish in the first Elite Series tournament at Lake Martin, the second event (on the Sabine River) was postponed until June, and it will now be stop number five. As it stands today, Ike would have to miss it due to a scheduling conflict. It’s not altogether impossible that he could whiff on points in a single event and still qualify for 2019 (case in point: Brandon Palaniuk finished 105th at Okeechobee last year, and not only did he qualify for the Classic, he won AOY), but it’ll be an uphill slog into a headwind on a road covered with banana peels while wearing flipflops.
As I wrote earlier this year, there are lots of rumors swirling around about Ike’s eventual retirement from tournament fishing. It’s certainly his right to quit whenever he wants, but I for one will be disappointed if he goes out without fishing another Classic. I’ve watched him from the stands at some – I’ll always remember him coming into the Pittsburgh arena with a Penguins jersey and an LED belt buckle. At others, I’ve been the closest boat to him when he’s landed a key fish or cursed a dog. With the possible exception of KVD, no one deals with spectators better, and I guarantee you that no one feeds off their energy more ravenously. The Classic is the sport’s biggest stage, and for an entertainer who considers all the world his stage it just magnifies his personality that much more.
I started attending Classics as a member of the media the year AFTER he won on the Louisiana Delta, and while the field has many deserving competitors, I for one will feel deprived if I’m not present at an Iaconelli Classic win, if nothing else but to see how he’s changed over the intervening 15 years. Certainly there are haters and non-fans who consider that heretical, but as a swan song it would be so much better than watching him leave the playing field without another bright moment.