Competitions always have the potential to turn rancorous, and when you’re talking about two major competitors, such as ATI and Nvidia, it is almost impossible for them to remain civil. And so, on a dark and rainy Thursday night, the two met to do battle. Yet this was no ordinary battle. It was for something more important than contracts with Apple, board speeds, or who could jam the most capital letters into a corporate name: bowling.
ATI and Nvidia were both competitors in Macworld’s Mac Bowl 2001, a charity event to raise money for technology in local schools. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was on hand, and it was billed as a feel-good event.
But a hush came over the crowd when it was announced that ATI and Nvidia would face each other in head-to-head competition. And suddenly, the mood turned ugly. Or my mood did, at least, because my cup was empty.
Fortunately, a waiter brought out a few more pitchers of beer, which immediately turned the mood back to cheerful, gregarious, and slurry. The mood would change again to one of calling all of my old college buddies, but that wasn’t until 3 a.m., and is another story entirely.
Both teams started off strong, rolling bowling balls down the mirrorball-illuminated floors where they met pins and knocked them over, as bowling balls are wont to do. By the end of the fourth frame, it looked like a real battle was brewing, with ATI at 113 points to Nvidia’s 121. But that was just the beginning.
I sided up to ATI’s Matt Snyder, and encouraged him to say something nasty about his competitors, who mocked him from across the lane (or at least that’s how I interpreted it) with their cruel eyes and 12-lb. balls.
Snyder, obviously in denial, was having none of it. “It’s for charity. It’s for fun,” he said to my repeated entreaties. I tried to point out to him that it was not for fun; it was bowling. I thought of pointing out to him again how Nvidia was mocking him, but by that point, he was gone. And my empty beer had begun to mock me. So I moved on.
Upon my return, I found the two teams wrapping up the 6th frame, with Nvidia leading ATI 224 to 180. But then, in the 7th frame, tragedy stuck, as ATI couldn’t pick up two spares.
“Would you,” I asked Jim Black of Nvidia, “consider dropping your line of products if ATI did the same and confine your competitions to this hall? This hall where heroes sweat and the pin monkeys valiantly do whatever it is that the pin monkeys do?”
“We’re too bad at bowling to dream of competing at that,” he replied in complete disregard for the story I was trying to write.
As the 9th frame progressed, ATI smashed down two strikes, as if to say “By God! We’ve come to bowl, or something.” It looked as if their troubles were over. I began flipping through my Rolodex looking for Steve Jobs’ number. But then I remembered the restraining order, and put my phone away.
Yet it was all for naught. Despite ATI’s heroic efforts, and a wicked spare that Snyder picked up in the 10th, they went down 297 to 385. Time stood still. Agamemnon wept. My cup ran dry.
Perhaps if ATI had only bowled 30 percent faster, things would have been different. Perhaps, had they taken bowling as their P.E. in college, like me, they could have succeeded. Perhaps, if they had only brought their own balls, like Macworld Editor-in-Chief Andy Gore, ATI would never have had to know the bitter, bitter pill of sub-par bowling.
Now, there are those who might say that even 385 is not a good combined score for four people, and that perhaps in such a case both teams should have lost. And I am one of those people. But more importantly, the beer was cold and free. And free beer is the ultimate cure-all.