Top BASS rookie meets Bills' star

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — When Buffalo Bills star running back Marshawn Lynch expressed a desire to get one of the jerseys worn by Bassmaster Elite Series pros Bobby Lane and Billy Brewer last Saturday, neither hesitated.

Brewer wore an undershirt beneath his jersey, which the BASS pros wear during competition. (Sometimes it's difficult to find the pro's name on these tournament shirts, amid the various sponsor logos.)

Lane handed Lynch the only shirt on his back, so the former University of California star, drafted No. 12 in the first round in 2007, jogged back to the Bills' training camp locker room and returned to present Lane with one of Lynch's "Beast Mode" T-shirts.

That's "Beast Mode," as in possessing brute force and superhuman capabilities. Lynch's motto is also spelled out in blue diamonds in his grill — 12 gold-capped teeth in the front of his mouth, six uppers and six lowers.

Just 30 minutes later, as Lane and Brewer got ready to jog through a sudden thunderstorm on the way to their vehicles and the trip back to Buffalo, Lane was asked if he had another tournament jersey.

"That's the only one I've got with me," Lane said.

And Brewer quickly pointed out to him that Lane had just put his BASS Advance Auto Parts Rookie of the Year Award in jeopardy. Although the 34-year-old Lakeland, Fla., resident had built a big lead in the Rookie of the Year race, Lane still needed to catch at least one bass the following Thursday, on the opening day of Oneida Lake's Empire Chase, to officially seal the deal.

And you can't officially compete in a BASS tournament without wearing your jersey.

Lane just laughed. After fishing 10 tournaments on the Elite Series this year, he wasn't about to let a tournament shirt get in the way of the $25,000 check and the trophy he had all but wrapped up.

"I got another one, and this doesn't say 'Beast Mode' on it," Lane said Thursday at Oneida Lake, after weighing in a five-bass limit of 12 pounds, 4 ounces — and being awarded the Advance Auto Parts Rookie of the Year trophy by Tom Ricks, vice president and general manager of BASS.

It's been a long, but highly successful rookie season on the Elite Series for Lane. After three solid seasons on the FLW Tour, Bobby decided to join his brother, Chris Lane, on the Elite Series after earning a qualifying spot in the BASS Opens in 2007.

That qualifying process also put him in the field for February's Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell. Lane instantly become a force on the tour by winning a $30,000 fourth-place check in the Classic.

When the 2008 Elite Series season opened a month later on Florida's Harris Chain of Lakes — Lane's home waters — Lane came to the weigh-in stage on Day One with a limit weighing around 7 pounds, which left him in 82nd place.

"I'm wondering if I'd made the right decision," Lane said of leaving the FLW Tour. "That was definitely an eye-opener."

But he came back with a 27-pound bag on Day Two at Harris, and Lane essentially kept the No. 1 spot among 11 Elite Series rookies all season long.

Brewer, a Bruceville, Texas, resident, had an eight-year Major League Baseball career as a middle relief pitcher before joining the Elite Series as a rookie this season. He made a mid-season run at Lane for the Rookie of the Year points lead, but dropped to fourth before the Oneida event.

Especially since Brewer played briefly for the 1996 New York Yankees, who went on win the World Series that year, it was interesting to see that both Lane and Brewer were as excited as any of the autograph seekers hanging around at the end of that Aug. 1 Bills practice on the campus of St.John Fisher College.

Practice hadn't ended more than 10 minutes before both Brewer and Lane were running pass patterns and attempting to catch footballs thrown by Buffalo's fourth-string quarterback, Matt Baker. On their third attempts, both Brewer and Lane hauled one in.

"Now I can say I caught a pass from an NFL quarterback," said Brewer, a wide grin spread across his face.

"Where's the Gatorade?" said a huffing-and-puffing Lane.

Under the idea of bringing together some fishing pros with some football pros, two former Buffalo Bills media interns, now working for BASS and ESPN, arranged this meeting. With the Bassmaster Elite Series making its 10th stop of the season at Lake Erie for the Empire Chase, it was just 80 miles from Buffalo to the Rochester suburb of Pickford and the Bills training camp, making the get-together feasible.

It was rumored that Lynch, the Bills' star rookie last season, enjoyed fishing. So a special attempt was made to bring the three fishermen together. When Lynch finally came out of the Bills training room after receiving some physical therapy, the first thing that caught his eye was the BASS pros' jerseys.

And the shirt exchange took place.

Lynch is a "beast." At 5-foot-11, 215 pounds with rare athletic skills, the Oakland native left Cal after three seasons and didn't last long in the 2007 draft. Buffalo wasn't disappointed in its rookie running back last season, as Lynch rushed for 1,115 yards and seven touchdowns on 280 carries.

As Lane and Brewer started chatting with him, it quickly became apparent that Lynch's idea of fishing and theirs were two different things, kind of like the NFL's idea of pass receivers and the BASS pros' performance on the practice field a few minutes earlier.

"My uncle just got me into fishing," Lynch said.

Then he smiled his expensive golden smile and said, "I'm going to go on out there with my fishing shirt on next time. He's going to think I am a fisherman. I'm big-time now."

Lynch admitted that on this last fishing trip with his uncle, Lee, he'd laid his fishing rod down to do something else and then "it just started moving," resulting in Lynch's reeling in a catfish.

The three men talked for about 15 minutes as Lynch autographed Buffalo Bills caps for Lane and Brewer.

Friday, after Lane received his Rookie of the Year trophy, he mentioned how that trip to the Bills' training camp was another memorable chapter in an already memorable year. And Lynch's willingness to take a few minutes with them left an impression on him.

"That was exciting," Lane said. "Now I know how kids feel when they come up to get an autograph from us. That made my day.

"I realize the position he's in, and the position we're in now. It's kind of similar in the long run. I will never think twice about giving an autograph."

Lane will likely be asked to do that often, if he can continue to build on the success he's had during his rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series.

Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Champion's Choice with weigh-in host Keith Alan, Aug. 3-10, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 5:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 4:15 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET. Live JWC weigh-in video starts at 5 p.m. ET with the final weigh-in and real-time leaderboard of the season starting at 7:30 p.m. ET.