Thomas Wolfe notwithstanding, Iowa's wrestlers proved last week that you can go home again. The occasion was the NCAA championships in Ames, where Iowa won yet another national title in spite of the fact that Hawkeyes have a habit of straying from the flock.
Iowa seemed to have the title in the bag back on Feb. 26—when Barry Davis dropped the bag. Davis was actually trying to drop something else that day—6� pounds. He had arisen at 3:30 a.m. and had gone to the Iowa gym to shed that amount so he could compete as a 118-pounder later that day at the Big Ten championships at Michigan. Alas, no matter how much he bundled up, jumped rope, ran or sat in the sweat box. Davis couldn't lose the weight.
Unable to reach his melting point, Davis arrived at his breaking point. Since the start of the season in November, he had struggled mightily with excess poundage. At 4:40 that morning he couldn't take it any longer. So he wrote a note to Iowa Coach Dan Gable: "I'm sorry I can't make weight. You can win the Big Ten and the nationals without me. Best of luck. You won't be able to find me, so don't try looking."
Then he left the gym and started walking. "I went all the way across town [ Iowa City] to a Hy Vee grocery to get some food," Davis says. "I got there too early. It didn't open till seven. I decided to wait. I read a newspaper story that said ABC was going to televise the nationals. I thought, 'Boy, you really blew it.' "
At 5:20 that morning, the rest of the Hawkeyes assembled in the gym for a 6:30 flight to Ann Arbor, Mich. Dave Fitzgerald, Iowa's 167-pounder, found Davis' note stuck to his locker.
"Barry left the note with Fitzgerald because Dave once left the team and Davis figured he'd understand," Gable says. "The first thing Dave said was, 'I can't understand how anyone could do this.' I thought the note was a joke. But then we checked Barry's locker and saw that all his stuff was in there."
That's when Gable knew there was trouble. If Davis didn't compete in the Big Ten championships, he couldn't qualify for the NCAAs. And without Davis, the Hawkeyes' chances of winning the nationals would plummet. "I went to my office and told myself that if I was going to find Davis in a city of 50,000 people I'd have to use deductive reasoning," Gable says. "I learned that from being a Sherlock Holmes fan."
Gable called Davis' roommate, heavyweight Steve Wilbur, who wasn't making the trip to Michigan. Then he phoned Davis' parents in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. No clues. Then Gable had an idea. What, he reasoned, would a hungry man do first? Get some food. Gable sped off to a local grocery. No Davis. He went to a pancake house. No Davis.
While Gable drove alone, several wrestlers followed in another car. Next stop, the bus depot. No Davis. "Lord, I need your help," Gable prayed as he drove along. His prayer seemed to be answered almost instantly. "I saw somebody on a city bus who looked like Davis," Gable says. "I figured if it was him, I'd cut in front of the bus at the next red light and get him. But when I got a closer look I saw it wasn't Barry. By now, we were on the east end of Iowa City.
"We decided there was somebody he might have gone to, so we looked for a phone directory to call there. We pulled up to a Hy Vee and someone said, 'There's Barry.'