The same idea kept popping into Duane Bobick's head: "Here it is, maybe three or four years from now, and this ring announcer is holding up my hand and he's saying, '...and the new heavyweight champion of the world,' and then the announcer pauses, looks down at the front row, where my family is sitting, and adds, 'Except in Bowlus, Minnesota.' " Bobick, who became the heavyweight boxing champion of the Pan-American Games last week, chuckled. "Can you imagine that?" he said. "Me, the heavyweight champion, and right now I've got a father and two brothers at home who can clean my clock. And I've got eight more younger brothers who are still growing. Heck, someday I might be the champ and not even ranked in the top 10 in my own home town."
This really tickled Bobick. Bowlus has a population of 270, a sizable percentage of them large, muscular male Bobicks who have spent a good deal of their lives belting each other in the mouth. "Now don't take that wrong," said Bobick. "We all love each other. I wouldn't trade any one of my brothers for all the money in the world. But we are, well, brothers, and I've seen some battles on the second floor when I thought the whole house was going to come down. Not when Ma is around, of course. When she's there, it takes her about five seconds to send us scattering. She may be little, but she swings a mean broom. Besides, if we don't mind her, she'll tell Dad, and there ain't none of us who are going to mess with him."
Dad is Mathew Bobick, a 6-foot, 210-pound plasterer of Polish-German extraction who learned early that you can't raise 11 sons without an occasional show of force—say, four or five times a day. The eldest son is Leroy, a 22-year-old ex-marine, 6'2", 255 pounds, and a promising heavyweight himself until an accident cut short his career. "He was big, but he was fast, with superfast hands," said Duane, at 20 the second oldest and an inch taller and 50 pounds lighter than Leroy. Then comes Rodney, 19, 6'3", 236 and still growing. "Those are the two I can't lick," said Duane. "And Dad, of course." From there the brothers range down to Bobby, who is only 4 and still working on his left hook.
"We have sort of a game we play," Duane said. "One brother is named the dummy, like the king of the hill, and all the other brothers jump on him. We've had our battles. But you learn to defend yourself. You've got to. I can remember days at home when I didn't know if I was conscious or unconscious. I'd wake up the next morning hurting all over and wondering what the heck happened. I guess when you grow up like that, facing some of those guys in the Pan-American Games doesn't seem all that tough."
Not counting combat at home, Bobick came to Cali, Colombia with 54 wins in 63 fights and 32 knockouts. He had won his last 20 and was AAU, Navy, Interservice and World Military Games heavyweight champion. They told him that Wisley Zuleta, the thickset Colombian he'd meet in his first fight, wasn't much, an easy three rounds. "To heck with that," said Bobick. "I knew when I climbed in that ring that there was no way I'd let that guy go all the way. Not with that danged crowd rooting for him."
Bobick planned to start slowly, but Zuleta came out throwing wild, wide bombs. Bobick went inside, both arms pumping, and with more than a minute left in the first round, Zuleta's corner tossed in the towel. "I was really beating the heck out of him," said Bobick with gusto.
The victory moved him to the semifinals, where his opponent was Teofilo Stevenson, a 6'5" Cuban with tremendous reach and a dazzling jab. "I've got to pressure him every second, never let him rest," said Bobick. "If I don't slow him down, I'm in trouble. And that crowd, man, it's pro-Cuban all the way. The way some of the decisions have been going against us, I'm beginning to think those officials are listening to the crowd more than they are watching the fights."
For the first round the Cuban was what Bobick expected, what the crowd wanted. His left hand was a snake, and Bobick had trouble getting inside. It didn't help when he fired a right that landed on the Cuban's collarbone. Bobick felt something go between the last two knuckles. "I figured something broke," he said, "but, heck, pain is irrelevant when I'm in there. I don't feel anything and I don't hear anything. I come to fight no matter what. If I knew I could beat a guy easily by just throwing one jab each round I wouldn't do it. I'd still blaze in with both hands working."
Which is what he did against the Cuban, broken hand or not. By the second round Stevenson began to slow, and he was telegraphing the jab. "He was tightening his fist just a little before he threw it," said Bobick. In the third round he twice came close to knocking the Cuban out. Each time, the referee ordered Bobick to move back. "He said I was butting, but I wasn't. I had my head down and I was working real good. He was ready to go. I don't blame the ref, it's hard to tell, and it came out all right, although I held my breath until they announced the decision."
The decision was 5-0, Bobick. The final, against Joaquin Rocha, a big, awkward Mexican who won the bronze medal in the 1968 Olympics, was a breeze. They stopped it in the third round with Rocha well-bloodied and out on his feet. "The hard part about that fight," Bobick said, "was trying to remember not to hit him with the right hand. Every time I did, I'd think, 'Darn it, Duane, cut that out. That hurts.' "