Hodge was born and raised just outside Perry, Okla., some 120 miles from Spavinaw, birthplace of Mickey Mantle. He came from the same sturdy stock as Mantle. Dan's father, William E. Hodge, has worked most of his life as an itinerant oilfield roughneck—a casing rigger who works at the top of 140-foot oil derricks. Dan, too, has worked in the oilfields in the summertime. Oklahoma, already taking proud bows for Mantle—as well as for Bud Wilkinson and the only team in college football with a 40-game winning streak—is about ready to admit Dan Hodge to the state pantheon.
The best way to learn about Dan, of course, is to visit Oklahoma. I caught up with him at Norman, a day or two before Oklahoma U.'s final dual match at Stillwater against Oklahoma A&M, currently the reigning national collegiate champions.
I met his coach, Port Robertson, first. We sat in his windowless office in the Oklahoma field house just across the street from the dominating bulk of the OU football stadium.
"Wrestling's a tough sport, you know," Robertson said. "The season lasts five and a half months. It's all work, work, work, and maybe you wrestle 12 matches counting tournaments. Five and a half months for 12 matches. That's a long season." He paused long enough to let the length of the season sink in.
"We start working October 15, and we begin with handball. It's the best game ever developed for conditioning. It sharpens reaction, develops agility and stamina. Then after a while we start calisthenics. I let them go at it easy at first and then work them up to 30 minutes of pure calisthenics gradually. Then by the middle of November I've got the kids ready to start wrestling a little.
"A wrestling match lasts nine minutes. I figure it takes 10 weeks of training to get a kid ready to wrestle a match. You figure to gain a minute of stamina in a week of training. So, for a nine-minute match, I train them 10 weeks. I like them to have that extra minute in reserve.
"This is a strong league and you have to have strong men, follow me?"
As if to demonstrate this thesis, Dan Hodge himself walked in. He had none of the caged-cat nervousness that was to be evident the next day in Stillwater. He seemed what he was: a big, strong country boy and, as it turned out, a hungry one under restraint. At lunch he passed up the chicken, potatoes and pie that were getting strong play with most of the others. He addressed himself mournfully to a couple of slices of lean roast beef, cold.
"That's all I get to eat until weigh-in tomorrow," he said. "I weigh about 195 when I'm not in training, so I can't eat much if I'm going to make 177."
Robertson does not believe in sweat-box weight control. He would rather see Hodge wrestle at 191 pounds in the NCAA tournament than have him starve and sweat down to 177. But Hodge likes the lower weight and will not be swayed.