Dave and Dale Traber amble around the nation's bowling alleys with their hands jammed in their pants pockets, as if for ballast. The Traber Boys have been floating on air since the Professional Bowlers Association Championship on March 5 in Toledo, where they became the first brothers in league history to bowl against each other in a tournament final. It was a match of biblical dimensions, with Dave playing Cain to Dale's Abel. "I love my brother, but I'll be damned if I'm going to lose to him," says Dave, who smote his older sibling 196-187. "If he had beaten me, I'd have had to kill him."
He's kidding, of course. Dave, who is 31, is the excitable Traber. A tour regular since 1987, he has a flat, wide face, a trim frame and a full head of hair that's cut and blown in the indigenous PBA style.
"Dave was Hell Beast of the family," says his wife, Melissa. If he wasn't sawing bowling balls in half or trying to melt them in the oven, he was punching out classmates and windows. Once, in a fit of pique at a tournament in Sawgrass, Fla., Dave heaved his ball into a lake. "It's probably still there," he says gleefully.
"Well, now, Dave," Melissa says with a look of incredulity. "I hardly think they've dredged the lake looking for bowling balls."
Brother Dale is an unassuming 36-year-old with aviator glasses and a belly that could easily accommodate a pair of 16-pound Mineralites. He's not much of a conversationalist—in fact, he's almost painfully shy. "Not only did Dale refuse to be the best man at my wedding," says Dave, "he wouldn't even give the toast at the reception."
Dale, who bowls mostly at regional events, lives in the Milwaukee suburbs with his parents. During the finals they sat in the audience, wondering which son they should cheer for. "I honestly hoped that both boys would win," says Jeanette, their mother. "But I suppose, in the back of my mind, I wanted Dave to beat Dale. Dave hadn't won on the tour in nine years, and here he was bowling for a major against someone who wasn't even a full-timer. That would have been a tough one to bounce back from, brother or no brother."
Jeanette's first choice that day was her thirdborn. Dale came first, followed by Darryl, Dave and Dean. "Every three years Mom had another D," says Dave. "We're all in alphabetical order."
And if Dean had been a girl?
"Mom always said she liked the name Denise."
Every Traber boy learned to bowl in junior leagues and practiced in the family rec room, a basement grotto now lined with shelf upon shelf of empty vintage beer cans. The cans are alphabetized too. "I've got 3,000 on the walls," says Bob, the boys' father. "And I've got another 8,000 traders boxed in storage." He leads a visitor on a tour of his cans—pull tabs, punch tops and cone tops. He passes rows of Paul Bunyan beer, G.I. Joe beer, Bean & Bacon Days beer, lingering briefly to read the fine print on several of his favorites. A retired bricklayer, Bob handles the cans with much care and intimate knowledge. "No, I didn't drink all the contents of this collection," he says, dusting off a rare Blatz army pilsner. "In fact, I wasn't even the one who started it. I took the project over from Dave."
Bob climbs the dozen steps to the living room and starts fiddling with the VCR. He wants to replay a videotape of the PBA Championship final, but the machine has already been programmed to tape a stock car race for Dale, who is at a bowling tournament in Alabama.
"Dale used to sponsor Darryl's racing team at Hale's Corner Speedway in Franklin [Wis.]," says Bob.
"David raced there for a year or so himself," Jeanette pipes in, "but he didn't do anything spectacular."
"But he was good at it!" Bob says.
"Yeah, he was good at it. Then he got into bowling."
"But he still likes it."
"Yeah, he does. But he only sees it when he's here. He's always on the road."
Dave's caravan—a 40-foot motor home with a Dodge Dart in tow—is roughly the length of a bowling lane. He parks it with other recreational vehicles that are stationed outside the bowling alleys at which he competes. "It's a lifestyle choice," says Melissa. "We got tired of driving from one dirty hotel room to the next. At least now if I see hair in the bathtub, I know it's mine."
She and Dave met nine years ago at a speedway in Illinois. At the time, Melissa didn't know a tenpin from a knitting needle. When Dave told her what he did for a living, she said, "What do you write under job on your income tax form? Bowler?"
Dale has never had to suffer such an indignity. By day he works at a J.C. Penney catalog warehouse. At night he runs the pro shop at Lakeside Lanes in Port Washington, Wis. Though moonlighting limits his practice sessions to one evening a week, Dale found time last year to enter five PBA tour events and all 28 Midwest regionals. He was the top bowler in the Midwest, winning five tournaments, including three in a row. His take was $27,000.
Dave, too, had his best season ever in '93, pocketing $80,000 in earnings, including endorsements. The money that didn't go toward his expenses ($30,000) was tunneled into his new motor home.
You need a sense of humor to spend 10 months a year confined to a mobile home with your spouse. Melissa is a big, spunky woman with a sharp sense of humor. "Regardless of how much I love Dave," Melissa says, "after the fourth month I don't necessarily love him that much anymore."
That goes double for brothers. "Dave and Dale clash when you put them together for an extended period," says Melissa. "Put them in the same trailer for a week, and one would probably murder the other, then hang himself on the shower rod. You'd see the story on Hard Copy: 'Pro Bowler Snaps.' "
For all their differences, Dave and Dale bowl pretty much alike. Neither one is a cranker, shimmying balls across 10 boards. "We're both straight shooters," says Dale, "and we're a dying breed. It's hard for us to survive in the game. Since we don't create as much angle with our shots, our margin of error is not as great as it is with guys who have huge hooks. If we're off, we're in trouble. We can do all right, but we're not going to dominate."
Before last month Dave and Dale had bowled against each other only once in a tournament final—and that was for a regional title in 1989. Dale won the match 184-182. "I wasn't happy to lose," says Dave, "but at least I got beaten by a quality player." He said much the same thing in Fresno, Calif., last year after becoming only one of a few people to bowl a losing game of 299. His opponent, Wayne Webb, rolled a perfect game. A stubborn tenpin put Dave in the record books.
His luck has been just as lousy in televised finals—before Toledo he reached nine and won none of them. But this time he was on a roll—his 238.5 average was only eight pins short of the mark for high 56-game pin-fall. Dave entered the championship round seeded No. 1 for the first time in his career.
Dale, whose previous best finish on the PBA tour had been 11th at the same event in 1988, was the second seed. He wasn't caught unprepared, at least not sartorially. Around midnight on the eve of the final, he showed up at Dave's motor home holding a pair of trousers and looking sheepish. Melissa answered the door. "Can I ask a favor?" Dale said. "I don't have any clean pants left for tomorrow. Could you wash these for me?"
Melissa shot her brother-in-law a now-I've-seen-everything look. "Do I have a choice?" she asked.
Dale smiled gratefully and handed Melissa the pants. "Aren't I nice, doing the opposition's laundry?" she asked him. "I should have loosened up the stitches in the seat," she says in retrospect. "Just enough so that when he was up at the line, his pants would split."
At Ducat's Imperial Lanes in Toledo, Dale still ran into more splits than a blue-chip stock. He couldn't convert a 4-6-10 split in the fifth frame or a 4-6-7-10 in the eighth. Dave was like a prizefighter who staggers his foe with an early blow and then coasts to a decision. Entering the ninth frame, he held a commanding 19-pin lead. A strike would have put Dale away. Instead Dave left the 4-pin and the 7-pin, with the 6 falling at the very last instant. Dave made the spare and forced Dale to strike all the way out. Amazingly, Dale did, which forced Dave to mark.
"I knew if I struck in the first frame, I'd lock Dale out," says Dave. He struck, he locked, and then he met Dale on the approach with a crushing hug. Dave's eyes filled with tears; his pockets, eventually, with $27,000. Dale's cut came to $14,000.
Though it was the biggest payday of Dale's career, he left the lanes a tad miffed. "Heck," he said, "by being here today, I missed a regional."