October 01, 1990 12:00 PM

Once in a great while there is a moment in sports when the anticipation of athletic artistry confers an almost religious aura on the proceedings. A hush descends on the crowd, and time seems to stop. It happens when a Ben Hogan tees off or a Muhammad Ali squares off. It happens when Nolan Ryan winds up or Martina Navratilova serves. Someday, maybe, it will happen when Derrick Johnson picks up a frozen turkey.

At the moment, Johnson weaves his spell mostly at charity events, although he has assembled a clandestine coterie from among his former colleagues—the stock boys, checkout clerks and produce managers who work late in California’s finer supermarkets. Johnson, 31, is one of America’s pioneer generation of turkey bowlers, and he has big plans for the new sport.

Turkey bowling, for those who may have missed it, is based on traditional bowling but requires important variations in equipment and setting. The projectile of choice is a 12-lb. frozen turkey, which is flung along a shiny waxed supermarket aisle, straight (or reasonably straight) toward a formation of 10 large, unopened plastic soda bottles, which serve as pins.

Johnson claims to have invented turkey bowling two years ago when he saw a manager at a Newport Beach Lucky’s branch, where he worked as a grocery clerk, slide a frozen gobbler across the floor and accidentally knock over a bottle of soda. “Boom!” he says. “The basic idea was born.”

Johnson promptly appointed himself commissioner of the Poultry Bowlers Association (current membership around 2,000, according to Johnson—most of them on the West Coast) and, like such notable forebears as the Marquess of Queensberry, Abner Doubleday and James Naismith, codified the rules and terminology of his chosen sport, including the fowl line, the gobbler (three strikes in a row) and the wishbone (a 7-10 split).

Who knows, one day turkey bowling may acquire Olympic status.

For now, a roll of the drumsticks, please.

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