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Wild-eyed blokes take over Tropicana for U.S. Darts Masters

Updated July 14, 2017 - 7:00 pm

It was big-time darts, USA vs. England, and countries close to England, on Friday at Tropicana Las Vegas. It was the second darts match I witnessed this week.

This is what happens during the All-Star respite.

The appetizer was on dramatized TV. It was F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer of fine American novels and short stories, vs. his father-in-law on “Z: The Beginning of Everything.”

It was a grudge match set in the 1920s, which shows how long darts has been a sport, or at least a cool thing to do while one is quaffing beer with one’s mates. It has been only recently since darts has exploded out of public houses on the other side of the pond and into ballrooms and convention areas and onto TV, on Fox Sports 1, on this side.

Chris Myers was in the house Friday, and so were close to 1,000 people flashing “180” placards and wearing these “180” headband antenna things, 180 being the highest three-dart score. Some wore dartboard hats, or dressed as one.

“In Europe, they’re betting on it now — all the big tournaments are sponsored by betting companies — and the television ratings have gone through the roof,” said Houston Hartwell Reed, a local enthusiast who sometimes answers to “Ol’ Darts Coach” and authors a newsletter called “Toeing the Oche,” an expression for stepping up to the throwing line.

“Not necessarily just England. Ireland, Germany, France, Netherlands. It’s been tremendous. And with television coverage and ratings comes money, and there’s more money than there’s ever been.”

Throwing treble 20s

The format for the U.S. Masters was the best American amateurs against the best British touring pros, minus Phil “The Power” Taylor. Taylor, 56, from lyrical Burlslem, Stoke-on-Trent, England, used to make toilets before darts came spilling out of the public houses, and with all respect due Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in the movies, that’s as good as it gets.

Taylor is considered the Babe Ruth of darts. He’s the guy you’d least like to meet in a darkened public house if you were from this side of the pond and considered yourself a fine thrower, because The Power could hustle you like Van McCoy. You’d be halfway to Cheddleton, counting from 501 backward, before you knew what hit your wallet.

Alas, there was no Power to be felt at the Trop. Phil Taylor pulled out with an unspecified illness. Bummer.

The Trop’s temporary darts hall is in a distant upstairs corner known as Trinidad Pavilion. To get there, you followed the wild-eyed blokes who were singing “Oh, Gary, Gary — Gary, Gary, Gary, Gary Ander-son” — a paean to Gary Anderson, “The Flying Scotsman,” who makes his home in Burnham-on-Sea, England, enters the darts hall to “Jump Around” by House of Pain and is ranked No. 2 in the world.

That’s so good

By the time the beefy Yank DJ Sayre toed the oche with Daryl “Superchin” Gurney of Ireland, the ballroom looked eerily similar to those grainy newsreels from the Prohibition Era, where G-Men took axes to kegs of beer and sent it spilling down the street.

Pffft! Pffft! Pffft! went the darts as they pierced the board around the treble-20.

“One-hun-dred-ayyyyyyy-tee,” roared the British public address announcer, sounding like bad weather rolling in from the North Sea.

Clank! clank! clank! went beer bottles into yawning trash cans just as soon as the round was over.

Beefy Yank DJ Sayre won the first leg, but Daryl Gurney of Ireland won six of the next seven. The Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger” — aka the Chicago Blackhawks’ hockey anthem — was played as the darts throwers embraced. “That’s so good!” the British announcer roared, a reference to Gurney’s walk-up music, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

The prelude and denouement to big-time darts is raucous — if you’re a boxing fan and remember what the MGM sounded like just before Ricky Hatton fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Manny Pacquiao, that pretty much describes the scene.

En route to the press room to inquire of the whereabouts of Phil “The Power” Taylor, I heard the now familiar sound of Pfffft! Pffft! Pffft! from an adjoining cubicle. It was Gary Anderson. “The Flying Scotsman” was deftly flicking practice 180s in near solitude, just down the causeway from where rivers of beer were being spilled and wild-eyed blokes were singing his praises.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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