CBC Sports

Not so ordinary people

Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 | 01:02 PM

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Call me crazy, but for a purist, the advent of Capitol One’s “Million Dollar Draw to the Button,” seems like a gimmick.

One might even say it’s an unnecessary distraction from what’s going on in some of the best men’s curling you’ll ever see on the face of the earth. The Grand Slam has enough skill and strategy to keep most fans intrigued. The consistent size of the TV audience is ample proof of that.

So why clutter it up with a sideshow?

Well, even a hardened disbeliever can be misled. After witnessing the first draw to button over the weekend, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s yet another reason for the average person to fall in love with the mystical sport of curling.

Imagine this.

Your name is Sheri Smeltzer and you are a 24-year-old member of the Fergus Curling Club in Ontario. You work in accounts receivable for an electrical installation company and in the midst of one of the most prestigious curling championships in the world, someone says you can go to the ice, take one shot to try and hit the very centre of a target which is light years away.

And by the way, a sizable crowd, including the 2007 world champion Glenn Howard, is there to witness it all. Add to that you are out there on your own. Nobody is allowed to hold the broom for you to aim at and there are no sweepers who can pave the way for your rock.

Let’s just say you have to be perfect and do it without any practice. This is what is known as a cold draw.

“Are you kidding me? It’s impossible,” Glenn Howard laughed.

Then he turned his attention as Sheri Smeltzer stepped up and slid gracefully out of the hack and released her rock before the line sending the stone on its way to the rings.

In fact, all of the competitors who were engaged in a fierce and tactical battle for the Masters Championship in Waterloo, Ont., suddenly took notice. You know, one of the great things about the sport of curling is that everyone pays polite attention to everyone else’s effort. Sheri Smeltzer had become one of them.

All I can say is, that rock spun its way lazily to the house at the distant end of the arena and the crowd rose up. The delivery was straight and true and it was as nearly perfect as you could possibly hope for. There were cries of joy and gasps of amazement as Sheri Smeltzer’s stone came to rest in the very heart of the little, white, circle at the centre.

She didn’t say much about it when I asked her. “I think it’s pretty good,” she smiled. And then she waited and watched as the rest of the six competitors, each trying to qualify for a trip to Winnipeg in January and the one shot draw for a million dollars, tried to get closer.

It wasn’t going to be done.

After the measure it was found that Sheri Smeltzer’s rock finished its fantastic voyage two and one quarter inches from the perfect position. It didn’t cover the pin but it was pretty darn close.

If she does the same thing in Winnipeg, she’ll cash in on $100,000 - blanketing the pin will be required to get the full million dollar first prize.

“You put me out there with no practice and no sweeping and it’s 50-50 as to whether or not I hit the rings,” Howard remarked in wide-eyed wonder.

Howard is only the best in the business. A wondrous shot maker and team leader, he has taken his foursome, not only to Brier and world championship titles but also to favoured status as the rink to beat at the trials for the Olympics in Vancouver in 2010.

I like to refer to him as “The Wizard of Winter.”

But to put it all in perspective, Glenn Howard is a beer store manager from Penetanguishene, Ont He’s just a regular guy. Which is why this whole “Million Dollar Draw to the Button” thing is capable of working a little strange magic in the curling world.

You see Glenn Howard is more like Sheri Smeltzer than we could ever imagine. And his success is reflected in her accomplishment.

Both Howard and Smeltzer, each in their own right, are ordinary people capable of extraordinary things. They embody our affection for the sport of curling and its endless possibilities.

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