TULSA, Okla. – There’s a Buddhist concept called “mudita,” which is “sympathetic joy” or “happiness in another’s good fortune.”
Edwin Evers’ victory in the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro slung a lot of mudita this way. My household was a sloppy mess of mudita because the Oklahoman, who in the past has been so close to winning bass fishing’s major titles, finally won one.
Take note that my wife and I have no skin in the game. We’ve never claimed to be fans of anglers. We’re both more like interested observers, objective journalists if you will, just waiting to see what unfolds and helping bring it to fans.
I’ve worked at JM and B.A.S.S. for the past decade and have been on Evers’ boat maybe twice, and I’ve interviewed him about a dozen times. Heidi knows most of the anglers’ back stories as she’s published tournament content, including editing stories and photo galleries, on the website almost as long.
No real personal connection, although I have always admired Evers’ workmanlike approach, and I see the knock of him being secretive as simple “verschwiegen” – that’s German for keeping knowledge secretive.
If everyone knew the right mix of 11 herbs and spices and had a pressure fryer, there’d probably be no need for KFC. Since fishing has long been among the most secretive of professions, I can see any angler being protective of his intellectual property. If you copy my writing, it’s called plagiarism, and that’s synonymous with piracy, theft and stealing. Anglers supposedly do better financially if they share their juice. That's debatable.
Heidi and I, as well as anyone else who’s paid attention, have seen Evers come oh-so close to winning the big titles, only to suffer extreme disappointment. He’s won his share, with 10 tour wins, just not a big one. He'd been called the best to never win a Classic. Scrap that awful title.
Although we were 272 miles apart, Heidi and I each followed Evers’ good fortunes, as well as Jason Christie’s misfortunate, on Sunday. When I drove home later that night, we discovered similar reactions, although we wouldn't have blinked an eye if Christie, or any of the others in the Super Six, had won.
“As soon as (emcee Dave) Mercer announced Evers had 29 pounds, I was screaming at my computer, clapping, applauding like crazy,” she told me.
I told her my story and asked her exactly why she thought that was. “I can remember seeing his disappointment so many times,” she said.
That’s it. That’s probably what a lot of bass fishing fans experienced. It’s why I had “freudentranen,” or tears of joy, which really kind of surprised me. Mercer’s blast of excitement spun me on my heels – I walked away from the stage, in the empty darkness behind the camera platform, pumped my fist for Evers and had a verklempt moment as 19,000 Oklahomans roared their approval.
We all knew Evers had finally broken through. You could feel that huge weight lifting off a guy who has walked away from Classic stages in third, fifth, sixth and eighth. He’s tucked tail as AOY runner-up three times. He won't be called the best angler never to win a major again. Mudita, yeah.
Then I stood next to Christie’s boat, and saw him stand tall. He knew. He actually looked to maybe just be experiencing some pride for his friend, even at his own expense.
As a former college basketball player, Christie felt defeat many times, so he knew how to handle it. Didn’t like it, but he was gracious, signing autographs while Todd Faircloth weighed in. He was solid backstage doing interviews. His time will come, he said as much later.
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN EVERS WON?
(Note: Heidi wanted to share what she experienced the night Evers won, so she told me to let her. Women! Uh, she wonders where the boy gets it.)
As Zane sat contentedly building lego rocket ships in our living room Sunday, my screams suddenly disrupted life in his imaginary space station. The 4-year-old stood up, clutching his rocket ship, and ran into his parents’ room to see what that was all about.
“Mommy?” he said.
“Hi baby,” I said. “He’s won it! I know he has!”
I was jumping up and down, clapping wildly. Tears started making their way down my cheeks. “Holy largemouth, 29 pounds?!? He’s won it this time!”
Zane stared at me incredulously. I was pointing at the computer screen, trying to get him to look at the three men holding five big, silvery-green fish. I was blubbering and babbling like a baby. Still holding his rocket ship, he shook his head as if to say, “Women!” and made his way back to his space station.
Zane is still probably a little young to appreciate Evers’ accomplishment, but I did. I have maybe spoken to Evers twice, but you’d think I was his mama the way I cried when he finally won his first Classic.
(MIKE’S NOTE: I didn’t cry like that, I just got a little mudita.)
THICK AS THIEVES, THESE OKIES
Evers and Christie arrived together at Classic registration in Tulsa a week ago, and stayed connected throughout the event as they battled neck and neck for the title.
The Oklahomans, who are running buddies on the Bassmaster Elite Series, were prohibitive favorites in their home state. In Fantasy Fishing, Evers topped Bucket A as he was chosen 37.4 percent of the time. Christie was chosen in Bucket B by six of every 10 players.
No one was surprised they finished 1-2 on Grand Lake. And no one would have been shocked if the results were reversed.
Christie, who admitted yes, they were "thick at thieves," led the first two days, but Evers had one of the most magical final days in Classic history to overcome a 6-pound, 5-ounce deficit and win by 10 pounds. It might go down as the most intriguing battles of all-time.
Christie sure would have liked a reverse outcome, but it being Evers who topped him takes out a bit of the sting. So did the magnitude of victory – losing by ounces causes so much more second-guessing.
“It was a little bit easier to swallow, losing like that,” Christie said. “I didn’t lose it, he just beat me. That’s all there is to it.
“This is my fourth classic, I’ve been close three times. He’s finally got him one. I’ll get me one, one of these days. I’m glad for him. He deserves it. He’s a great fisherman.”
Evers turned his respect back to the man he called the “the man-child on this lake.” He told media at his news conference that they usually stick together the entire week and talk things out.
“This week, we talked a little bit at media deal or here and there, but we really didn’t ever dive off into fishing,” he said. “Once the tournament started, I don’t think we ever talked other than saying good job, or good luck.
“It’s kind of weird, we’re friends all year long but when this event rolls around, we’re definitely competitors against each other. So we didn’t talk a whole lot.”
KVD HAD SIMILAR DISAPPOINTMENTS
Kevin VanDam said he can relate to Evers being called one of the best anglers to never win a Classic. While KVD won the first of his seven AOYs in 1992, it wasn’t until 2001 that he took his first Classic.
“The late Tim Tucker always asked, every year, ‘How’d it feel to not win?’ It was like driving a stake through your heart,” VanDam said. “And that’s the same thing for Edwin. He’s been really, really close multiple times.”
Including last year, when he became the first since VanDam to win two Elite events in a season. Martens then equaled him and pulled away for his third AOY. Being so close but so far is excruciatingly painful for the super competitive, like Vandam and Evers.
“I personally know Edwin really well, and there’s not many people in any sport who have the burning passion that he does to want to win,” KVD said. “All you can do is put yourself in position, which he has done multiple times, and eventually it’s going to happen. So, it’s not a surprise to me.
“He’s been fishing at an incredible high level – he deserves it.”
COULD BE THE START OF A BEAUTIFUL BATTLE
Like Ali-Frazier, the 2016 Classic could be foreshadowing of more epic battles between Evers and Christie. This might not have lived up to a billing of Classic of the Century, but Evers definitely landed a huge knockout in the Grinder at Grand.
And future battles royale could certainly be on the horizon. Join in to name a few … and remember to be alliterative or rhyming:
The Shootout at Sam Rayburn
Gunfight at Guntersville
Swelter on the Delta
Hartwell Heart Attack
Wailing at Wheeler
Go-Go and No-No on Toho
Wow, it’s really late, isn’t it?
- Evers’ victory catapulted him over two anglers into third place on the all-time B.A.S.S. earnings list. KVD tops the charts with $5.78 million and Skeet Reese is second with $3.08 million.
- Evers’ $300,000 payday jumped him over Martens and Denny Brauer with $2.79 million.
- Brent Ehrler climbed from 25th at the start of Day 3 to finish 13th, increasing his payday $2,250. Dean Rojas had a similar climb from 14th to seventh, and his check went from $14,000 to $21,000.
- But Evers’ move was most valuable. He climbed from third place and its check of $40,000 to the winner’s $300,000 share. Christie took home $45,000 for second.