It wasn't exactly overwhelming. After all, it was the first time in the history of the NCAA wrestling tournament that a team won the championship without having an individual champion. This distinction, however, hardly mattered to the University of Iowa, which had to survive all sorts of problems, close matches and one of the most dramatic final rounds ever to regain the championship it lost a year ago to its biggest rival, Iowa State.
The problems began for Iowa last week even before the first of the 605 bouts at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House. The trouble started innocently enough on Tuesday when 134-pounder Steve Hunte and 177-pounder Greg Stevens went for a short run to shed some weight. As they loped along the streets in College Park, they became separated and lost.
Hunte staggered back to the team's motel after a circuitous 10 miles. Stevens, bundled in three sweat suits, became so pooped that he sat down on the roadside. When he spotted a police car he figured aid was at hand, so he waved for help. The policeman responded with a friendly wave—and kept on going. At long last another police car came by. This time Stevens took no chances. He frantically flagged down the car, pleaded his story and got a ride to the motel.
At the end of the first day Iowa held a tenuous 26-20¾ lead over Iowa State. That night Hawkeye Coach Dan Gable and 126-pounder Randy Lewis were locked out of their motel rooms. When Gable's wife Kathy returned with a key at 2 a.m., the Gables invited Lewis to bunk in their room.
March 27, 1978
"There was a big party at the motel, though, and I couldn't sleep until 3:30," Gable says. "Then I got up at 5:45 to take two kids for weigh-ins. They hadn't weighed in the night before because they were overweight. Hunte was five pounds over. Bruce Kinseth was 10½ over."
Millions of people who have tried to lose weight would have been awed by what Hunte and Kinseth, who wrestles at 150 pounds, accomplished in a matter of minutes. A session in a sauna and a run in sweat suits enabled Hunte to make weight in 35 minutes, Kinseth in 75. As for Gable, he was sweating, too. "This tournament is so close it'll come right down to the end," he said.
During Saturday's consolations Iowa's 142-pounder, Scott Trizzino, and 118-pounder, Dan Glenn, had third-place finishes, heavyweight John Bowlsby came in fifth and 167-pounder Mike DeAnna was sixth. With only that night's finals left, Iowa led Iowa State 94½-89½. The Hawkeyes had two finalists, both underdogs. Iowa State had three wrestlers in the finals, including defending 190-pound titlist Frank Santana. In order to win, the Cyclones needed two victories, each worth four points, and Iowa had to lose both its bouts.
In the 126-pound final it was Iowa State's Mike Land, 47-0 this season, against Lewis, who also is accustomed to winning. While in high school in Rapid City, S. Dak., Lewis had a three-year record of 93-0 with 83 pins, a record 45 of them in a row. Land took the match 13-5. And because he won by eight points, his "major decision" added another half point to State's total. That cut Iowa's lead to 94½-94.
When Kinseth was pinned by defending champion Mark Churella of Michigan in the 150-pound finale, it meant State could retain the team title if either of its two remaining wrestlers won. Kelly Ward nearly got that triumph in the 158-pound class when he rallied from an 8-0 deficit before losing 10-8 to Wisconsin's Lee Kemp. For Kemp it was his third title, making him the 24th in NCAA history to accomplish the feat.
Santana was Iowa State's last hope. Throughout the tournament he had been hampered by a sore right elbow. That was a mild problem considering his tragic past. When he was six, his father and oldest brother attempted to escape from Cuba. Soldiers spotted them. They opened fire. His brother was killed on the beach. His father made it to the U.S., and later Frank did.
Santana's opponent was Ron Jeidy of Wisconsin, who led 3-1 with slightly more than two minutes to go in the second period. At that point Jeidy tried a takedown. Santana fought him off. In the process, however, Santana severely wrenched his right knee. Time was called while his trainer and coach examined him. When action resumed, Santana stumbled to keep his balance. So Iowa State Coach Dr. Harold Nichols stepped on the mat and signaled that he would not allow Santana to continue. Thus, Iowa won by half a point and earned Gable, a 1972 Olympic gold medalist, his first title in two years as coach.
In the final bout of the evening Oklahoma State heavyweight Jimmy Jackson joined Kemp as a three-time titlist by pinning Princeton's John Sefter. Jackson, who had dropped from about 350 pounds to about 330, finished the season 29-0. He also scored a victory of sorts last December. That was when someone picked his pocket at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Jackson took off after the man and actually ran him down. Mercifully, Jackson did not try to pin him. "I just wanted my wallet back," he said.
Saturday's crowd of 12,338 swelled the total attendance to 60,665, a record for the tournament. The fans particularly cheered Ohio University's Andy Daniels. He was unranked at 118 pounds but went on to defeat the Nos. 6 and 2 seeds and then beat No. 1 John Azevedo of Cal State—Bakersfield for the title. Azevedo had his victory string ended at 37 when Daniels pinned him after just 30 seconds.
But Iowa did win the biggest of all the awards and now the Hawkeye wrestlers can look forward to doing what they have not been able to do for months—eat.