A PERFECT TV DRAMA
Steve Nagy Is Remembered For Quite A Few Bowling Accomplishments, But His Televised 300 Game On 'Championship Bowling' In '55 Was A Particularly Riveting Moment.
by J.R. SCHMIDT
In the days before chemical bowling, a 300 game was rare. Most bowlers would go a lifetime without seeing or rolling one. So when the "Championship Bowling" TV show began filming in 1954, the producers offered $1,000 to anyone who could turn the trick before their cameras.
It seemed their money would be safe. Still, Chicago's Faetz-Niesen Recreation, site of the show, was a high-scoring house. Halfway into the filming, the reigning king of the hill was local star Eddie Kawolics, who'd won three straight matches with 700-plus series. Then he came up against Steve Nagy.
Nagy was a large, fun-loving Hungarian cabinetmaker from Cleveland who looked like America's favorite large, fun-loving Hungarian, comic Ernie Kovacs. Nagy was known for his exuberant bowling style: firing the ball down the lane, running out strikes, and sometimes pulling off his belt to whip his ball when it did not perform. He could also knock down pins. In 1952, he had been voted Bowler of the Year.
Nagy had never bowled at Faetz before (Kawolics spent so much time at the place he actually had mail delivered there!). But Nagy was not bothered. After rolling a few practice games on Lanes 5 and 6, he smiled at announcer Whispering Joe Wilson and said "This pair gives you your confidence back."
The match began. Kawolics shuffled out to an early lead; Nagy struggled. Kawolics won the first game, 244-200.
Nagy looked sharper coming out of the gate the second game. He matched Kawolics's opening double, and kept going when his opponent caught a couple of spares. In the fifth frame, Nagy's shot ran high and he almost stumbled over the ball return running his strike home. Number six followed: packed. Meanwhile, Kawolics was back; he tossed two strikes, then relinquished the pair to Nagy, who followed with numbers seven and eight.
Finally, the hundred-odd spectators broke into a faint buzz, realizing that Nagy had a significant string. Defying the ancient superstition of not mentioning a perfect game in progress, Whis-pering Joe reminded his viewers of the $1,000 awaiting Nagy if he could get the last four. Again Kawolics took the lanes; again he rolled two strikes. That brought it all back to Nagy.
Rolling on Lane 6, Nagy's ninth ball hit solid. The 10-pin stood... then toppled over backward as 100 voices shrieked. Now over to Lane 5, the tough side, for the finish. Nagy to the line - five quick steps, the ball lofted out onto the lane, a sharp left turn... and he had number 10! Nagy ran this shot out a full three lanes, stopping at the scorer's table to make sure the "X" was properly marked.
Whispering Joe was getting emotional. "Gosh all fishhooks!" he exclaimed. "This is the closest I've ever come to a perfect game. I've never seen a baseball no-hitter, nor a hole-in-one in golf..." Then Nagy rolled number 11.
Now the crowd exploded noisily. Whispering Joe, no longer whispering, started chanting "One more ball, one more ball, one more ball..."
Suddenly a voice barked "Quiet!" It was old Matty Faetz, the proprietor. Obediently, everyone shut up as Nagy stepped to the line for the 12th time.
Before anyone realized what was going on, Nagy galloped to the line, flinging the ball down the lane as if it were burning his hand. It hit the pocket solidly. The pins fell. Three hundred!
They stopped the match right there, even though Kawolics still had to roll his 10th frame. Whispering Joe was almost giddy as he congratulated Nagy on his accomplishment. Nagy asked if he could get a drink of water.
Nagy eventually defeated Kawolics, 749-715. But the big news was that a perfect game had been filmed. A few skeptics claimed the event had been staged and spoke darkly of the "fake 300 game." The producers responded that they had over 100 live witnesses.
Steve Nagy was again named Bowler of the Year in 1955. A few years later, he was elected to ABC's Hall of Fame. But when he died in 1966, he was probably most remembered as the man who had given millions of people their first look at a 300 game.