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When he stripped off his robe just before taking the mat, a hum of anticipation buzzed through the crowd, rather as if Mickey Mantle were walking toward the plate at Yankee Stadium. Then his opponent, Jimmy Harding, was introduced—a well-muscled youngster, but the crowd sound shifted, just perceptibly, to a tone of pitying sympathy. Then, as Dan stepped from his corner to shake hands with Harding, the characteristic crowd sound of wrestling began: a low, throaty, increasing roar. By the time Dan made his first lunge at Harding the sound was boiling.
Dan went for an arm first. He grabbed just above the elbow, but with wrestler instinct Harding pulled away from the danger. Again Hodge went for the arm and again Harding started to pull back, but he had made his mistake. He had allowed his leg to get in too far and Dan snagged it below the knee. Harding's backward momentum tripped him and he went down, Dan on top and in control. Harding scrambled frantically to get belly-down, to keep shoulders as far from the mat as possible. But Hodge was too strong. As Harding twisted, Dan moved with him, gained a clasping double grapevine with his legs, and began to apply constrictor pressure.
Now Harding was powerless from the waist down, and on his back. The double bar arm was easy: both of Harding's arms were forced up over his head in agonizing parallel, squeezed and held viselike—not the "punishment" hold of pro wrestling but a preliminary in Dan's book to the pin. Then Dan increased the grapevine pressure. The muscles where shoulders make a V at the base of the neck bunched. His legs stiffened and he pushed down, down, down. All his strength was focused against the man beneath him, striving for the moment when a wordless surrender passes to him from his opponent—when resistance is gone and muscles relax.
Now the sequence of motion on the white square was very nearly complete. Harding's eyes bulged and he gasped for air like a man drowning. He resisted for only a second or so.
Then it was over and Dan Hodge stood in the middle of the white square, his arm raised in victory. It had taken 50 seconds.
Then came the congratulations.
His wife Delores hugged him and beamed.
Two high school officials offered him coaching jobs which he refused.
"You're the greatest wrestler I ever saw," one of them said.
The small fry were solemn, awed. "Mr. Hodge, I'd just like to shake your hand," they said.