I think it’s time for a list; they’re always popular. This one isn’t that long, but for those I mention here are the most iconic wrestlers in the history of the sport.
This group of greats, are yes, at the very least, legends of the sport. But more than that, they were the most exciting, creative and spectacular wrestlers the sport has ever produced.
How do I judge this, well, if wrestling had a professional level, these athletes would have been, not only a first round draft choice, but the first athlete selected in the draft. They were, by all accounts, the kings of entertainment and the juggernauts of success.
Each one, had a way of making life long fans out of individuals who had never seen a match before. And for the fans the sport already had, like a magnet, every time one of these greats would walk onto a mat, people would leave their seats, just to get closer to the action. These individuals were wrestling’s ultimate fan attractors.
In chronological order:
Bill Koll; the father of slam. After 4-years of hand to hand combat against the Germans in WWII, he forced the rules committee to redefine tough.
Dan Hodge; was never defeated in college and pinned 95% of his opponents, an NCAA record that’s worthy of awe, and a hell yes.
Rick Sanders; the George Carlin of wrestling; the original master of funk, fun, and flexibility.
Dan Gable; not the most creative, but he was always magical; and recently, President Trump agreed.
Some guy from Clarion; enough said.
Randy Lewis; launched more competitors than Cape Kennedy did rockets.
Barry Davis; America’s energizer bunny who disguised himself as a Hawkeye.
Terry Brands; someone who was always on the attack; always. And on a personal note, the most intense match I ever had the pleasure of watching was the battle; no, check that, the war that occurred between he and Penn State’s Jeff Prescott at the Virginia Duals.
Tom Brands; the type of warrior that would be on all of our lists as the person we’d want next to us in a foxhole.
Lou Banach; he consistency scored in wild numbers against other heavyweights far bigger than he.
Ed Banach; Lou’s little brother, and Iowa’s career pin leader.
Cael Sanderson; simply a pure joy to watch.
Ben Askren; just when you knew you had him, or thought the opening he gave you was the way out of trouble; oops.
Zane Retherford; a whirling dervish, masquerading as a boy scout.
Bo Nichol; unpredictably electric, and the cause of many a skipped heartbeat.
Now I realize that I didn’t mention anyone before 1945, but given the technical nature of the sport then, versus now, there wasn’t a lot of oohs and awes back in the day.
If you have a name or two that you’d like to add to this list, please do so in the comments section below.
* * *
For this next segment, I thought I’d write something I’ve through about sharing with my readers for years. It’s what I did growing up, and I saw others do as well; that helped so many develop successful habits as athletes, and then in life.
These concepts are not mine alone. They are a culmination of my mother’s love, my father’s guidance, and the discipline I endured at the hands of attentive coaches.
-One of the quickest ways to get out of your own way and get re-inspired is to connect with people who are positive, supportive and understand how great you can be; and as an example, why people went to Iowa, and succeeded in spades during the Gable era.
-The strength and flexibility of your mind, and your sense of wellbeing is directly tied to your level of physical fitness. Exercise more and workout often. The more you do, the more endorphins you produce, which always works wonders with self-confidence.
-You need to know why you’re doing something, especially if you’re trying to figure out the how. Motivation and optimism are the children of why, even when it feels like everything you’re doing is heading south.
-Like it or not, failing is growing. Often it’s proportional to the pain one feels. But only if you spend the time to evaluate why you failed in the first place.
-Success in anything is matching your personality and skill sets with a like-minded coach, or mentor.
-The greatest mistake you can make is the fear that you’re going to make one.
The last one is my favorite.
* * *
Arguably the number one state in the country for scholastic wrestling is Pennsylvania. I only mention that to point out that what I’m about to write, if it can happen in PA, it can happen anywhere.
For this year, if the season will ever get started, the high school association voted to move the number of weight classes they offered from 14 to 13.
For many in the sport, that classifies as blasphemy on steroids.
However, I’m not too sure about that. I’m more of the mindset they should have gone to 10, or at the most 11.
I know, I can almost hear the howling now. “How could you write such a thing?”
Well, when I wrestled scholastically in the late 60’s, we had 12 weights; and the word forfeit wasn’t in the sports dictionary then. We always had enough athletes to fill a full varsity line-up, and two JV teams.
If you think about it, why is that? What are we doing wrong, or not doing, that’s caused this decline in participation? More on that in a future blog.
Back to topic; Rob Sherrill, one of the best men, and sports writers we have today, recently did a study of wrestling in the Keystone state. He was trying to evaluate the number of weight classes that were offered, relative to the number of forfeits each program experienced.
What he found was, out of the 425 dual meets he evaluated, there were 1954 forfeits. That boils down to more than 1 forfeit for every 3 bouts wrestled. And, out of the 425 dual meets he looked at, only 42 of them went the distance with full line-ups.
And yet we only dropped one weight class? If Rob’s stats are correct; and I have no reason to doubt them, with 1 forfeit for every 3 bouts wrestled, they should have gone a lot further.
It’s critical that we make what few sports writers we have, and school administrations feel, that the time they carved out of their schedules to be in attendance, was worth it.
Having multiple forfeits that most dual meets have these days, doesn’t bode well for the sport, or endear us to those who paid to see a full lineup. It basically tells anyone who are in positions of power; if you have a budgetary or administrative concern, you could always drop wrestling and not worry about politically fallout; because less and lees people have a stake in the sport.
So, who’s at fault here? The athletes who are no longer coming out, or the way the sport is being handled by those whose opinions matter?
I realize what I’m writing may not be popular, but neither are these statistics very positive with anyone who’s associated with the sport. When was the last time a basketball team played with 4 athletes or football took the field without a middle linebacker? And if either one of those happened, what would you think?
The feeling out there is, not with those of you who are reading these words, but with those whose opinions count; that wrestling can’t even get out of their own way. From a non-existent fan base, to the very interest students have in being part of the sport.
Will the number of forfeits mean the demise of wrestling, oh heck no. But the point of this story is to say once again, who the hell is minding the store?
Every challenge we seem to have; we have an equal number of leaders who have their heads in the sand.
* * *
For those who aren’t familiar with many of the sports rules from generations ago, there was a time when there were no points awarded for a takedown, a reversal, an escape or back points. The matches were 15 minutes long and riding time clocks were used. At the end of the bout, the person who had the most riding time, had his hand raised.
And if someone got a pin in say 2:54, then the head table would put 2:54 back on the clock and the match would continue. If the pinned wrestler could reverse the situation in less time, then he would be declared the winner.
We’ve come a long way baby . . . but the point is, if we can change that much over the years, there shouldn’t be any of our naysayers stomping their feet when change is being mentioned and claiming, “but we’ve always done it that way.”
No we haven’t.
* * *
Regarding Stanford, and their herculean effort to have wrestling reinstated, I have a question? Is it better to have non-revenue sports than not have them? I think that’s a daa. Of course have them.
Now, given that the administration said quite vociferously, that their decision to drop those non-revenue sports was based on finances, given all the pushback they’ve received about that, if the decision was financial, wouldn’t it have been better to discontinue all non-revenue scholarships and as a result, be able to keep every sport?
Wouldn’t handling it that way saved the institution the same amount of money, and in the process, keep all the opportunities they have currently in place?
If that makes any sense, I wonder if finances was the reason for dropping the sports they did, or was it something else; which they’re not saying?
Remember, although scholarships are a wonderful thing, if you would take a poll of the athletes and coaches, would they rather lose their sports, or give up scholarships? Remember, if they drop the sport, all future scholarships go away anyhow.
Would the administration catch flack over that, you bet. But it is the best of two bad options; maybe? So, the question still remains, was their decision to drop the sports they did, a financial one? If it’s not, then the effort the wrestlers are putting forth, may be for not.
Seldom are the reasons why programs are dropped factual. And if I’m right, you can’t possibly win a war by attacking straight on when the enemy is standing behind you.
Not that this is any consolation, but D-III has lived without scholarships for decades and the world hasn’t stopped spinning.
However, if anyone can make headway in this fight, it will be Stanford. The university is tangling with a professional team of heavy hitters, and non-quitters.
* * *
Stay tuned, I have something special in mind for the next 3 blogs.
What I’ve done, is gone back over all the philosophies, marketing ideas, and rule changes I’ve written about over the last several years, and listed My Top 10 in priority order, complete with extensive reasoning behind each one.
You won’t want to miss this, but the sports leaders may; and I’m sure you can guess why?