Monday, December 1, 2008

The rivalry

It’s on ESPN’s list of “101 Things All Sports Fans Should Do Before They Die”. It doesn’t have a catchy name like “Bedlam” or “Civil War”. It’s simply the Iowa vs. Iowa State dual wrestling meet – one of the most exciting events in all of the Olympic sports.

In a sport where an attendance figure of 3,000 is considered good, the Hawkeye/Cyclone dual has topped 12,000 twenty-one times and three times has gone over 15,000. Another 30 – 40,000 will watch the live broadcast on Iowa Public Television’s College Wrestling Series.

Why all the excitement over an event that anywhere else in America wouldn’t draw flies? It’s hard to understand – and I’m not sure that I really do. First and foremost – the state of Iowa loves wrestling. Yes – there are other states that can claim to be “wrestling states” – but the numbers don’t lie. Our high school state championships sell out within a few days of ticket availability and the finals are broadcast live on television.

In 1972, when Gary Kurdelmeier took over as Iowa head coach, among his first acts were to hire Dan Gable and to schedule the Cyclones for the first time since the 1937-38 season. Before the first wrestler stepped on the mat the rivalry was off to a heated start. Imagine – at the time, arguably the greatest sports icon in Cyclone history – taking a job in Iowa City. When asked by an interviewer from the Des Moines Register, why he chose Iowa, Gable said, “I wanted to stay in this state. I had lunch with Kurdelmeier one day in Ames and he told me what he had in mind. It took Iowa State months to do anything. I was disappointed in the procedures they used.”

Dan Gable’s first season as head coach turned up the heat considerably. Both schools agreed to a “home and home” arrangement for the first time. Iowa State won the first meet of the 1976-77 season when Cyclone heavyweight Bob Fouts reversed John Bowlsby with 11 seconds left in the final match. Later that season the Hawks, trailing 17-11 going into heavyweight, tied the meet when Fouts was disqualified for stalling.

The series has been filled with dramatic moments. If you’re a Cyclone fan, Dave Osenbaugh pinning Lou Banach probably tops your list. Hawkeye fans lean toward Brooks Simpson’s pin of Eric Voelker. Both were major upsets and both decided the outcome of the meet.

There have been many great individual rivalries. Lincoln McIlravy and Chris Bono fought each other tooth and nail. It’s probably my imagination, but Terry Steiner vs. Torrae Jackson always seemed to generate a lot of excitement. My favorite of the individual match-ups has always been Kevin Darkus and Barry Davis. Darkus would go on to win a World Freestyle silver medal and Davis would win silver in the 1984 Olympics.

This Saturday we do it all over again. By anyone’s estimate it will be one heck of a meet matching the two best teams in the country. The message boards will be abuzz. There are still some questions – Is Mitch Mueller completely healthy? Who will go at 133 for the Hawks. Who will pull off this year’s individual upset? One thing is sure – it will be exciting.

The University of Iowa is trying to set the dual meet attendance record Saturday. It would be more than fitting to have the Iowa/Iowa State meet top the attendance list. As of this writing tickets are still available. There would be no greater time to introduce someone to wrestling. This is also an event that every wrestling coach and athletic director in the country should attend – to know what wrestling can be. You can order tickets online at wrestling tickets or by calling 1-800-IAHAWKS.

Iowa Public Television uses this broadcast for fundraising. If you can’t attend the meet and are in the IPTV broadcast area, please watch – and when Gable pulls out his checkbook and makes his donation – please join him. Better yet – send a donation to IPTV today at

Friends of IPTV
PO Box 6400
Johnston, IA 50131


Order your tickets for the meet.

I’ll see you there.