John E. Hoover: Kevin VanDam, fishing's resident rock star, embraces fans' adoration
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, February 24, 2013
2/24/13 at 5:32 AM
Watch videos and view slideshows: Watch a timelapse video of the launch. See a slideshow from the first day, and much more.
Follow along during the event: See unofficial estimates throughout Saturday
Tour the lake: Using Google Earth, World outdoors writer Kelly Bostian gives you a tour of Grand Lake.
Anatomy of a bass boat: We have an interactive map detailing the equipment on a bass boat.
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.
REMEMBER HOW Tiger Woods, pre-Elin, was the safe bet each week playing golf against the field?
If you took Tiger and the odds every time, you made money.
Fishing is that way with Kevin VanDam.
Boats drift around VanDam's favorite fishing holes like the galleries that followed Woods around America's best golf courses.
The crowds that form around VanDam for autographs and pictures look like the ones Tiger used to wade through.
And most of all, VanDam's competition often sits in wonderment, just like Tiger's once did.
"You know, the Phil Mickelsons, guys like that, they might be really good," said Bassmaster rookie Matt Lee. "But even he's wondering how (Tiger) does it. He's just that good."
Although VanDam goes into Sunday's final round of the Bassmaster Classic in sixth place and needing something of a miracle - he's nearly 13 pounds behind leader Cliff Pace - VanDam remains the rock star of the sport.
"Everybody knows that he's the best," said veteran Gerry Jooste. "That's as simply as you can put it."
Numbers tell one story.
Among the 53-man field this weekend on Grand Lake, VanDam's resume stands alone. He has more Classic victories (four), more Classic appearances (23), more tournament victories (20) and more top 10 finishes (98) than anyone - double his nearest competitor, in some cases.
Many times, other anglers figure they're fishing for second place before they ever put their boat in the water.
"I don't think that way," VanDam said. "The thing about competition, or this sport, is I learned a long time ago to worry about variables that I can control.
"If you're already mentally in that place where you say, 'I'm not fishing for first place,' you're not gonna win. You've got to go out there and believe."
VanDam's rock star status tells another story.
The boat in which he's fishing, the trailer on which it rides, the truck that pulls it up and down the Will Rogers Turnpike - they're all adorned with a custom wrap that features thousands of fan photos submitted to his Facebook page.
"Oh, I think it's great," he said. "It's flattering."
Remember the story about two Sooner fans who plopped their infant down on Sam Bradford's table and had him autograph the baby's tummy? Or of poor Tim Tebow forced to sign some Gator groupie's cleavage?
"Oh, I've signed plenty of babies before," VanDam said. "I've signed some chests. A lot of kids have you sign their phones. I've signed every imaginable - lamp shades, boats, a lot of people have you sign their paddles. Thousands of lures. People bring one of my signature baits, crankbaits, things like that. Gosh. Windshields. Inside their deck lids. Dashes of trucks."
VanDam embraces the idea of being around his fans. His outgoing personality and down-to-earth behavior seem to draw them together. In a limited-audience sport like fishing, that's vital not only to his own popularity, but to the sport as a whole.
"It's important," he said. "The thing about what we do that's different than other sports, an NFL player or a baseball player, they're paid by the team. We're paid by our sponsors, which in turn really is the fan. I mean, the reason why I have the sponsor base I have this year is because I've got a fan base that I can dictate to potentially buy certain products from these companies. So, the bigger your fan base, the more that you can do, the more power you have there. My boss, my employer, in reality, is the fans. Not everybody realizes that here, but it's something I figured out a long time ago."
VanDam, 45, is a self-described family man from Kalamazoo, Mich. He's got his entire family with him this week in Tulsa, and that helps keep him from falling into that whole Tiger Woods celebrity thing.
The 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2011 Classic champion and all-time Bassmaster money winner characterized his disappointment Saturday in catching only four fish.
"It really bothers me I couldn't get that fifth fish in the boat today," he said. "But on this lake, you can come back. It's not like some lakes where you don't have that potential. Grand Lake has that potential."
Despite a tough day on the water, a rock star is a rock star, whether it's Bono at Wembley Stadium or Tiger at Augusta National or KVD at Grand Lake.
"Rock star," said Lee, "is when the best anglers in the sport look to him and know that he's better than them. ... Everybody else wants to know what he's thinking. Not just me, but the best guys, the guys that beat him. They still know that he's better."
Original Print Headline: Fishing's resident rock star embraces fans' adoration
Read John E. Hoover's blog tulsaworld.com/johnehoover
Kevin VanDam fishes on the second day of the Bassmaster Classic on Saturday at Grand Lake. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World
Kevin VanDam launches his boat for the second day of the Bassmaster Classic on Saturday morning. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World