Performing in the spirit of those champion iconoclasts from Oakland—the Raiders and the Athletics—Iowa State's wrestlers set aside their injuries, complaints and personal squabbles last week long enough to dethrone their bitter intrastate rivals, the Iowa Hawkeyes, as the NCAA's kings of the mat. Still, the Cyclones were not exactly claiming exclusive bragging rights to the state, because until almost the last match of the competition it appeared that Iowa State would be the first school in the tournament's 47-year history to win the team title without having at least one individual champion.
Then Cuban-born Frank Santana, gamely wrestling despite a shoulder separation and a left knee that after five operations looks even worse than Bobby Orr's and Joe Namath's, gained Iowa State some much-relished respect. Cyclone teammates Joe Zuspann and Kelly Ward had already lost in the 150-and 158-pound finals, respectively, as the 190-pound Santana, the No. 3 seed, prepared to grapple with the No. 1 seed, Minnesota's Evan Johnson, in a replay of their 1976 NCAA title match at Tucson. Santana had clearly lost to Johnson then and, while he seemed to have a genuine excuse for his defeat—he was competing just 26 days after another of his knee operations and four stitches had come loose during the bout—Santana offered none. "I don't make excuses for losing," he said.
Nonetheless, Santana had an excuse available to him in the event he lost his rematch with Johnson Saturday night. Three days before the NCAAs began, Santana was dropped on his shoulder during an Iowa State practice, and when he came up it was a mess. Cyclone Coach Harold Nichols understandably declined to make any public announcements about Santana's injury, but at the same time he privately doubted that the shoulder would permit Santana to make it through the tournament.
"My dad says that if it weren't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all," said Santana.
Back in Cuba, Santana's father Fernando was a violent anti-Communist in the days when Fidel Castro was taking control of the country, and that stance led to the machine-gunning of the Santana home. As Frank remembers, "Everybody was crying and running, and we went to the basement and somebody threw me in the bathtub and told me to keep my head down." Frank and his mother Daysi emigrated to the U.S., settling with relatives in Miami. Later Frank's father and his older brother Nando tried to flee from Cuba by running across a beach to a boat waiting to take them to the U.S. His brother was killed, but his father made it.
"All that makes me appreciate life a lot more," Frank says. As Nichols says, "Maybe Frank doesn't have a lot of natural wrestling ability, but he has an awful lot of resolve."
So he does. Unmindful of the injured shoulder, Santana aggressively went after Johnson from the start and scored two takedowns in the first period while building a 4-2 lead. For the rest of the match he remained a quick step or slip ahead of the frustrated Johnson, and when it was over Santana had his revenge with a 12-7 victory—and Iowa State had an individual championship to go with its team title.
Curiously, there was no real favorite team when the wrestlers from 119 schools arrived on the University of Oklahoma campus at Norman for the three-day tournament. Iowa State, Iowa and Oklahoma State all were rated as contenders for the championship; indeed, the three schools had a near-monopoly on the title, having won 35 of the previous 46 national tournaments. Iowa had taken the NCAAs the last two seasons, but nothing seemed to be going right for rookie Coach Dan Gable's Hawkeyes.
For starters, Gable got stuck in an elevator for 90 minutes. Then Steve Hunte, the country's best 134-pound wrestler, was upset by Lehigh's Bob Sloand in overtime in the first round. To compound Iowa's problems, Sloand suffered a knee injury during his victory over Hunte and had to default a later match, thus preventing Hunte from competing in the consolation bracket. In his pretournament calculations, Gable no doubt figured that Hunte would score a minimum of 12� points, a maximum of 20, but, as it developed, Hunte came up with nothing. If he had gotten only 12� points, Iowa would have finished first. As it was, the Hawk-eyes placed third with 84 points. Iowa State won with 95.5, and Oklahoma State finished second with 88.75.
"It's terribly disappointing when you don't live up to what you're supposed to do," Gable said. Indeed, the only Iowa wrestler who did what he was supposed to do was 177-pound Chris Campbell. As a sophomore Campbell had a nervous breakdown, or so he thinks, because he kept dreaming that trains were running over him. As a junior he regularly complained that he was tired of wrestling, but still won the 177-pound NCAA title. As a senior, though, Campbell had wrestled in a positive mood. "When you get to the end of something," he said, "you increase your pace."