Monday, September 27, 2010


My grandfather Craig was pretty cool. He could play almost any stringed instrument, but the banjo was his specialty. When I was little he would play and sing silly kids songs to me and I would sit rapt in front of him. He had been a championship roller skater and my mother said that on Friday nights when they would go skating everyone would clear the floor and watch him skate.

As he got older he developed some health issues and was put on a very strict diet. He took great joy in waiting until my grandmother was asleep and then getting up and sneaking forbidden foods. If I was staying overnight he would wake me so I could be his partner in crime.

And – man – could he tell stories. He was born in the South Dakota Badlands and worked as a ranch hand in his younger years. He loved telling about the time he was baling hay and had to kill two rattle snakes with his knife. He later moved to Detroit and worked in the Ford plant. Grandpa became a Tigers fan and liked to talk about what a mean SOB Ty Cobb was. Then came the depression and like millions of others he lost his job and hit the road looking for work. Somehow he ended up in Muscatine, Iowa, met my grandmother and – well – here I am.

When I was little I just couldn’t get enough time with him. It was all so fun – sitting up late at night watching Jack Paar and eating peanut butter stuffed celery or sitting on his lap in his rocking chair watching the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese (and then listening to him sing along when Dizzy would break into The Wabash Cannonball).

Then I became a know-it-all teenager and suddenly Grandpa Craig was a boring old man. He’d start one of those marvelous tales and I would think to myself, “please, not that one again.” He died when I was 18.

So now I’m 60 and a grandfather and my grandkids think I’m pretty cool – and I love to tell stories. I know, however, that someday soon I will become just another boring old man.

I spend way too much time on the internet reading other people’s thoughts about wrestling and there is a noticeable lack of respect among many young posters for those who have preceded them. I suspect that a lot of that is “know-it-allitis”. Three or four times a year someone will post a “Gable couldn’t beat (insert young phenom’s name here)” thread or make comments like, “With that stance (insert the name of a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame here) couldn’t beat anyone today.” It’s all part of the natural scheme of things.

I like to read wrestling books. Anything by Mike Chapman or Jay Hammond is well worth your time. Last winter I was fascinated by Jamie Moffatt’s, Wrestlers at the Trials”. Arno Niemand’s much anticipated book about the 1947 Cornell College national championship team is to be released soon and I will definitely read it. I’m sure I will like it – but it won’t be anywhere near as fun as listening to Bob Majors tell stories about the great Cornell College teams of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. You see – he was on those teams and – man – can he tell a story.

Karma is a funny thing. Last year I attended the USA vs Russia freestyle dual at Cornell and Bob and his wife came up and sat by me. We introduced ourselves to each other and began talking about wrestling and Cornell history. I soaked up every word. Since then we’ve had occasion to run into each other a couple of more times and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.

It was my distinct honor to be chosen as a marshal for the 2010 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. The highlight of the experience was spending time with another of the marshals, Lloyd Corwin – a teammate of Bob Majors at Cornell. Lloyd was a two-time All-American in the ‘50s and beat future Olympic gold medallist, Doug Blubaugh, in the NCAA tournament. He’s a wonderfully charming man and I was riveted by his stories.

Paul King is a wrestling fan from Colorado. I met him a couple of years ago at the Iowa/Iowa State dual meet. Paul has a fascinating concept – a video library of great wrestlers sharing their stories. Think how marvelous that would be. In today’s world it could be housed online so that once we get beyond our “know-it-all” stage we could listen to the history of wrestling in America.

I hope someone makes it happen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who pays Tom Brands?

Who pays Tom Brands salary? No, that’s not a trick question. We all know that he is paid by the University of Iowa.

What is he paid to do? Nope – I’m still not trying to fool you. He is paid to teach young men, make them better wrestlers and win championships for the Hawkeyes. So far he’s been pretty successful at those tasks.

I’ve not seen his contract, but I’m reasonably certain that there is no clause in there that says anything like, “You must always do what’s best for the future of wrestling.” In fact, I’m willing to bet that his boss, Iowa athletic director, Gary Barta, mandates that Brands put his athletes’ best interests first.

Never one to care much about anyone else’s reactions, Coach Brands brought an avalanche of criticism down on himself last week when it was released that the Iowa Hawkeyes will not be competing in this season’s National Dual Championships. As was his wrestling style, he has faced the controversy head on.

You and I may not like his decision – AND I DON’T – but it is his prerogative to decline an invitation to the National Duals. But – make no mistake – this decision has the potential to seriously damage one of the sport’s top events AND this year’s host, the University of Northern Iowa.

The National Duals have evolved into the most unique format in all of wrestling. In one venue you can watch the best teams and athletes from all 3 NCAA divisions, the NAIA, the NJCAA and from women’s intercollegiate wrestling. Hardcore wrestling fans, like me, wander around the UNI Dome and enjoy a variety of competition that you just can’t experience anywhere else.

With all of that diversity, it’s still undeniable that the NCAA Division I teams are the star attractions and that no one brings more fans than the Hawkeyes. The NWCA reports that over 16,000 tickets have been sold for National Duals each of the last two years. It’s hard to know just how many of them are dressed in black and gold – but it’s a major chunk. Tom Brands’ decision throws a daunting challenge out there for Mike Moyer, Pat Tocci and Tammy Tedesco of the NWCA and Troy Dannen, the UNI athletic director.

The wrestling community is already stepping up to help meet the challenge. Last week fans from Coe, Cornell College, Luther and Iowa State all made Tickets for Kids pledges specifically for the National Duals. A Waterloo business man with wrestling ties is working to involve the Cedar Valley business community. Scott Casber from Takedown TV has already done several interviews (including me) about the issue. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame Dan Gable Museum is also getting involved.

You, too, can lend your support in a couple of different ways. You can help fill the UNI Dome with youngsters by donating to Tickets for Kids. Either email your pledge to me at or send your check to

Tickets for Kids
c/o Jim Brown
130 24th St NE
Cedar Rapids, IA 52402-4936.

If you want your contribution to be specific to the National Duals, please make note of that fact.

And, hey you Hawkeye fans – the Hawks are idle those two days (January 8 & 9,2011) after wrestling SIU-Edwardsville on Friday night. Come on up to Cedar Falls and root for your favorite Division III team.