FAIRLAWN: After the Professional Bowlers Association announced it was coming back to Riviera Lanes for the Tournament of Champions, bowling legend Johnny Petraglia decided this would be a good time to bowl in his last one.

Petraglia has accomplished a lot in a career that spans six decades, bowling all over the United States as member of the PBA since 1965, but nothing ever compared to coming to Riviera Lanes for the Tournament of Champions.

“It’s the only reason I came back here. I wasn’t planning on bowling anymore until I heard it was coming back to Riviera,” said Petraglia, a PBA and U.S. Bowling Congress hall of famer.

A 70-year-old left-hander from Jackson, N.J., Petraglia has won 14 titles on the PBA Tour as well as eight more titles on the Senior Tour. His first win came in 1966 in Fort Smith, Ark., when he was just 19. A week later, Petraglia left for the Army where he served in Vietnam from 1967-68. After returning, Petraglia was ready to get back out on the lanes as he was entering his prime as a professional bowler.

He had his best season in 1971, winning five times, including his only Tournament of Champions title. His win at Riviera still stands in the record books as it was his third consecutive win on TV, which no other bowler has yet to achieve.

“Coming into that week of the TOC, I was really sharp,” he said. “So when I made the TV show, I was thinking to myself that not only could I win three straight tournaments on TV but I could win the Tournament of Champions.”

During the stepladder finals, Petraglia, then 24, waited patiently for his chance while watching another PBA legend Don Johnson win his first two matches with fairly low scores. The final match was set with Petraglia and Johnson going for the title.

“I started the match with a double, a spare and a strike and he [Johnson] knew it was going to take more then 190-200 to win,” Petraglia said. “Johnson jumped from fourth arrow to the gutter, taking a big gamble. He was a magician on the lanes and I thought if he makes this work, he’ll shoot 230.”

Johnson struggled the entire match with a couple of splits and shot just 169. Petraglia went on to shoot 245 and collect the $25,000 top prize at that time.

Not only did Petraglia’s biggest moment as a professional happen at Riviera but so did one of his most disappointing just three years later.

Petraglia led the field by more than 300 pins after qualifying and entered the finals with plenty of momentum. The only obstacle that stood in his way that day was No. 5 qualifier Earl Anthony.

“Anthony won his first three matches and now faced me for the title,” Petraglia said. “I was 600 pins better than Anthony in that tournament and I would end up losing to him 215-213. That one hurt a lot. It really did.”

There were so many memories at Riviera in those days and anyone who was part of it one way or another would tell you how special it was and that it was better than any other tournament.

Petraglia and the other 79 bowlers will start their quest to win this year’s first major at 11 a.m. Wednesday with the first six games of qualifying, then come back later in the day and bowl six more at 6 p.m.

“This week was always different from any other week,” Petraglia said. “We’d start with the Firestone banquet, then the introduction of the hall of famers and of course only 48 bowlers, who were all champions.

“One way you knew it was different than all the other tournaments was all the wives would bring an outfit for every day of the week and no one wore jeans.”