Marshall Holman is but a few years older than the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, and it's not a stretch to say they grew up together.

Marshall Holman is but a few years older than the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, and it's not a stretch to say they grew up together.

At age 12, Holman watched its stars on television, the likes of Don Carter, Carmen Salvino, Harry Smith, and asked his dad to take him to the bowling alley because it looked like fun.

"Those were the guys who inspired me," he says.

So much so that he got good enough to join their tour.

Then they watched him.

Salvino, 75 and living near Chicago, has an early remembrance of Holman. It was in the New Jersey Open in 1974. Salvino won the event, one of his 17 titles, but it was the third-place finisher, a teenager from Medford making his first-ever show, who piqued interest.

"I told a gentleman, 'I know I won this tournament, but I'll tell you something, keep an eye on that kid,'" recalls Salvino, "'because that kid is going to win a lot of tournaments.'"

True enough, Salvino was as much the prophet as he was the bowler.

A year later, Holman won his first two titles, beating, of all people, Salvino both times — in a season when the veteran was inducted into the PBA Hall of Fame.

It wasn't until 1979 that Salvino returned the favor and defeated Holman for the crown in an Anaheim, Calif., tournament.

"He was, without a doubt, one of the most colorful and exciting bowlers you'd ever want to see on a pair of lanes," says Salvino.

That has been reinforced this season as the Lumber Liquidators PBA Tour celebrates its 50th anniversary, and Holman and other stars of yesteryear have been nudged under the spotlight, sharing it with stars of just yesterday.

A committee selected the top 50 bowlers of all time, and their rank on that list has been revealed on telecasts throughout the season.

Holman, whose 22 career titles are 11th best in history, was voted ninth, testimony to his impact on the game. Only the top three — Earl Anthony, Dick Weber and Walter Ray Williams, Jr. — have yet to be slotted.

"It says a lot about my body of work and what I was able to do during my career," says Holman, 54 and owner of a Medford tax preparation business. "People thought highly enough of me and my work to put me in a very elite crowd."

He expected to fall anywhere from seven to 13 and is "happy to be in the top 10."

Holman is one of five of the top 50 to gain a commissioner's exemption for a tournament this season and will compete again in the Bayer Earl Anthony Medford Classic this week at Lava Lanes. He did so each season until last year, when the practice of offering such exemptions was shelved.

This figures to be the last hurrah for the Medford Meteor in a tour event.

Later this month, he'll attend a gala celebration in Las Vegas that will bring together most of the 50 greats during the Tournament of Champions.

"There'll be a lot of guys, it'll be fun to see," says Holman.

One in particular he hopes makes it there is Carter, who lives in Florida. Holman considers him "the living icon of the sport "¦ there's no one in my mind that even comes close."

Carter was a charter member of the PBA, won seven titles and became the first professional athlete to sign a $1 million endorsement deal.

"He transcended bowling," says Holman. "I look at him as being bowling royalty."

Holman carved out his own place, his antics on the lanes attracting as much attention as his achievements. And there were a lot of the latter.

He captured four majors, including, at 21, becoming the youngest to win the Tournament of Champions. He won that twice and the U.S. Open twice.

He earned more than $1.7 million in his career and was the first to hit $1.5 million.

He was player of the year in 1987, a bittersweet award because he didn't win any events but consistently was in the hunt. That year, he won the high average award for the third time.

From 1977 to '87, he finished among the top four money leaders eight times, including second five times: twice to Anthony, twice to Mark Roth and once to Williams.

He was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1990, then shocked everyone six years later when he emerged from the ESPN broadcast booth and his duties as an analyst to claim his final title.

Holman did it all with an uncommon flair, starting out on tour as a smallish, wiry youngster unafraid to bear his emotions. His technique was hell-bent, rushing the approach as if his pants were on fire, his right arm a pendulum able to keep pace and deliver a smooth, powerful shot that obliterated pins.

"He had one of the strongest releases in all of bowling," says Salvino. "His power came from his arm and his hand. Don't let that size deceive you. He had plenty of strength. I think his adrenaline was pumping so much he got a lot of strength from that, too."

The fun was just beginning once the pins scattered — or not enough of them did. There are YouTube videos of highlights from his career, including when he kicked a foul light and broke it during a nationally televised doubles event.

Kirk von Krueger, vice president and tournament director for the PBA, competed for several years as Holman's career wound down.

"He was as much a fiery competitor the last years of his career as he was when I watched him on TV," says von Krueger. "He was a completely different person when he put his bowling shoes on than he was off the lanes. It was like he put on his war mask or his game face. That served him well throughout his career."

It showed in a variety of ways. Yelling and screaming. Fist pumping. Roaming to and fro, waiting to see a shot's result or reacting to one.

Holman likened himself to one of those he used to watch, Smith.

"Harry was a little like I was, a little bit cuckoo, a little crazy, unpredictable, call it what you like," says Holman. "He was fun to watch. You knew he was going to do something but you didn't have a clue what it would be. That's pretty much the way I was. I always knew I'd do something off the wall, but it was never something that was scripted. It just sort of happened."

Fans either loved him or hated him. Some players were the same way.

"He never did anything deliberately," says Salvino. "Marshall was Marshall. If whatever he was doing bothered you, that was your problem. He did it because that was his personality."

Holman got so worked up, he wonders now if it didn't keep him from winning more. He was runner-up an astounding 32 times.

Sometimes he got so worked up so early in telecasts, he didn't have the mental energy to finish, he says. Other times, it worked in his favor.

"I think if I had the modern sports psychologist helping me in the '70s and '80s, I could have won a lot more tournaments," he says.

As he matured, Holman began to care about the perception others had of him.

"It was fun when the fans got behind me and wanted to see me do well," he says.

Salvino, who once told an interviewer the two bowlers he'd most like to go to dinner with were Holman and another firebrand, Pete Weber, because they were the most exciting players in the game, remembers when Holman took his foot off the throttle.

"I wish he would have stayed like he was," says Salvino. "I thought near the end of his career he took a lot of the competitive edge from himself when he tried to be more likable. Some guys, like in wrestling, have to wear the black hat. Marshall was like Hulk Hogan. He could wear the black hat and people loved him anyway."

The hat he wears these days has nothing to do with bowling, but it still exudes flair. He can be seen around town in an Uncle Sam outfit, promoting his business during tax season.

He'll take it off long enough to bowl this week.

"My bowling is more ceremonial these days, rather than being any real competition to these people who are living, breathing, eating it every week," says Holman, who no longer is a league bowler, either. "My only asset is, if I did get myself into contention, I don't think that competitive edge to achieve is anything you ever lose."

And when he's not bowling, he says, he'll take time to watch and marvel at the talents of the younger set. Maybe he'll see a kid who's going to win a lot of tournaments.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail