- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
One day last week, before a preliminary round in the NCAA championships, Iowa coach Dan Gable was in Room 403 at the Ramada Inn in Calverton, Md. He had just finished a tense meeting with his team by asking, "Any questions?" At which time Royce Alger, his 167-pound Designated Mouth, said, "Yes. What is the capital of Alaska?"
" Anchorage," said Gable without missing a beat or changing expression or getting it right. "Any other questions?"
It has been that kind of year for Gable—bizarre, distracting, off-the-wall and trying. Yet, despite all their problems, the Hawkeyes seemed to be slipping and sliding toward a 10th straight national title, a feat no college team in any sport had ever accomplished. Moments after the team meeting, one of Gable's three daughters, Jennifer, 9, asked, "Daddy, can we really win?" Said Gable softly, "Right now the chances are against it." This was a question Gable got dead right.
By late Saturday afternoon Iowa had lost in the NCAAs for the first time since 1977. Its conqueror was Iowa State, Gable's alma mater, the team that won back in '77. The Cyclones wrestled brilliantly, winning 4 of 10 weight classes, while the Hawkeyes won only 2. When Iowa State coach Jim Gibbons was asked whether he felt bad about denying Gable his history-making 10th title, Gibbons said, "Yeah, I do."
Indeed, all attention at the tournament was focused on whether Iowa would break the record shared by the Yale golf teams of 1905-13 and the USC track teams of 1935-43; those teams had won nine consecutive national championships. Unfortunately, all the Iowa-this, Iowa-that stuff, day in and day out, obscured a lights-out performance by the Cyclones. Nobody gave Iowa State much chance of upsetting the Hawkeyes, which just goes to show that nobody really knew what lay in the hearts of the Cyclones, who had been chafing for a decade as the Hawks basked in the warm glow of success and celebrity.
Understand, it was not as if Iowa State didn't know the difference between a takedown and a reversal. The Cyclones had won six NCAA titles themselves but had struggled during the waning years of their legendary coach, Harold Nichols. He was in Ames for 32 years and stayed too long at the dance. During Nichols's last four years, from 1982 through '85, the Cyclones were 0-8 against Iowa in dual meets. Iowa State fans had become discouraged, and Iowa fans had become bored. A rivalry requires two.
Then along came Gibbons, 27, a positive-thinking dynamo (and NCAA champ for the Cyclones at 134 pounds in 1981) who roared onto the scene with new words and new ways. Since he took over as coach, Iowa State has split four dual meets with Iowa. He said that one of the secrets of his squad's success last week was that from the Big Eight championships on, "we didn't say a negative word to our wrestlers. We told them they were good and that they could do no wrong, and that's what happened. We had to wrestle a perfect tournament to win, and we did."
Just the way Iowa usually does. But on Saturday the Cyclones had placed five wrestlers in the finals to four for the Hawkeyes. Moreover, for Iowa to retain the title it had to win all its matches, get bonus points in at least one of those victories and pray that Iowa State lost all of its matches. A tall order, but when you're talking about Iowa, anything is possible.
To accommodate ABC, which wanted to highlight the Iowa—Iowa State confrontation, the NCAA began Saturday's program with the 167-pound match between Alger and the Cyclones' Kevin Jackson, a remarkable physical specimen even among wrestlers. Alger is not blessed with great talent, but he is an ornery competitor. This season he was 35-0, but that was easy because he only took on one guy at a time. This is a man who needs more challenges. He routed Jackson 10-4 by pounding him into oblivion.
One win and three to go. You don't suppose...? Alger was ecstatic. Overlooking the task that lay ahead for his team, he said, "I can hardly wait for next year. I am ready to knock some people down."