Monday, March 15, 2010

NCAA memories

“With that fall by Jeff McGinness, IOWA takes the lead.” That call by Sandy Stevens drew laughter from our section at the 1995 NCAA Championships. You see – the pin came in a pigtail match and scored the very first points in the tournament. Jeff would go on to win the first of his two NCAA titles.

Once again this year business obligations will keep me here in Cedar Rapids while the Championships play out in Omaha. I’ll catch what I can on the radio, the internet and television – but it just isn’t the same as being there. I’ve followed Nationals from afar many times, but my best memories are from the times when I attended.

I asked several people if they would be willing to share their favorite memories of the NCAA tournament.

Longtime Iowa Hawkeye fan, Roger Pilcher remembers 2000. “There are so many memories over the years, but one always stands out for me – Saint Louis in 2000. On that horrible Friday we had three #1 seeds go down. Jody Stritmatter and Doug Schwab lost in the morning and TJ Williams lost in the evening. The crowd was, of course, delirious as IOWA was pursuing its sixth consecutive national title. My brother and I were pretty low as we left the arena that night. It was a good thing the wrestlers didn’t hang their heads as much as we did, though. As low as we were that night, we were at least that high again the next morning as all three wrestled back to third place finishes. Doug Schwab was an absolute beast, punishing everybody he wrestled in consolations. For that performance alone, he will always remain one of my all-time favorite Hawkeyes.”

“Saturday night we watched Eric Juergens win a national title, acknowledging the Hawkeye fans in attendance, and IOWA got that sixth consecutive title”

Three-time NCAA champion, Olympic silver medallist and head coach at the University of Wisconsin, Barry Davis, remembers his first title as a competitor,”… as they announced your name to take the stand it was a FEELING that has never been matched. Also, as I went up to the stands to see my parents the Iowa fans had boxes of donuts and M & M’s waiting for me because that was the year I took off and Coach Gable found me at Hy-Vee”

As a coach, Barry has most enjoyed, “…watching Jeff Walters and Donny Pritzlaff winning their NCAA titles - just the look on their faces and knowing how much it meant to them."

Cedar Rapids Gazette writer and editor, J.R. Ogden has been covering the NCAA Wrestling Championships since 1985. Three of those events stand out in his mind.

“1985 – This I remember more for personal reasons than for anything at the tournament. This was my first NCAA tournament and my first year covering wrestling and the University of Iowa. The Hawkeyes were in the middle of their 9-title stretch and I was driving into Oklahoma City – aka ‘enemy territory’. Listening to the radio I heard about big, bad Iowa coming to town, etc. I was actually worried my company car with Iowa plates might get vandalized.”

“1993 – This is one of the excellent tournaments Iowa State hosted. ISU always was one of the better places. Again this has to do with the Hawkeyes – Troy Steiner, weeks earlier, moving down a weight to make room for ‘super freshman’, Lincoln McIlravy. What I remember most is McIlravy’s championship bout, his come-from-behind victory and, especially, the third period. It is one of the greatest matches I’ve ever seen.”

“1997 – Gable’s last as head coach. This is memorable for a lot of reasons – Iowa’s string of victories from Thursday night through most of Friday, its amazing performance with six finalists and five champs, seeing Oklahoma State coach John Smith, whose Cowboys were favored, at a local establishment that Friday night, hiding in the corner and obviously shell-shocked by Iowa’s performance. But the thing I remember most and hopefully always will is what happened AFTER the meet. Dan Gable took a chair in the middle of the UNI-Dome – possibly on some sort of makeshift stage, but that I can’t remember – and signed autographs long after the tournament was over. I remember finishing all my stories for the next day’s paper, at least an hour after the event and maybe two, and Gable was still signing autographs and a line remained.”

Almost every Hawkeye fan I’ve ever met who was in Cedar Falls in 1997 has that as their favorite National Tournament – for many of the reasons J.R. mentioned. I have two more that I hope I never forget. Jim Zalesky hugging Gable and Gable pointing his crutch at Jesse Whitmer and yelling, “Strongest man in the world!” after Whitmer’s Cinderella championship.

Finally, there was Sandy Stevens’ introduction of Bob Siddens as he presented the team championship trophy to Gable. That time Sandy made me cry.

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