Thomas Wolfe notwithstanding, Iowa's wrestlers proved last week that you can go home again. The occasion was the NCAA championships in Ames, where Iowa won yet another national title in spite of the fact that Hawkeyes have a habit of straying from the flock.
Iowa seemed to have the title in the bag back on Feb. 26—when Barry Davis dropped the bag. Davis was actually trying to drop something else that day—6½ pounds. He had arisen at 3:30 a.m. and had gone to the Iowa gym to shed that amount so he could compete as a 118-pounder later that day at the Big Ten championships at Michigan. Alas, no matter how much he bundled up, jumped rope, ran or sat in the sweat box. Davis couldn't lose the weight.
Unable to reach his melting point, Davis arrived at his breaking point. Since the start of the season in November, he had struggled mightily with excess poundage. At 4:40 that morning he couldn't take it any longer. So he wrote a note to Iowa Coach Dan Gable: "I'm sorry I can't make weight. You can win the Big Ten and the nationals without me. Best of luck. You won't be able to find me, so don't try looking."
Then he left the gym and started walking. "I went all the way across town [Iowa City] to a Hy Vee grocery to get some food," Davis says. "I got there too early. It didn't open till seven. I decided to wait. I read a newspaper story that said ABC was going to televise the nationals. I thought, 'Boy, you really blew it.' "
At 5:20 that morning, the rest of the Hawkeyes assembled in the gym for a 6:30 flight to Ann Arbor, Mich. Dave Fitzgerald, Iowa's 167-pounder, found Davis' note stuck to his locker.
"Barry left the note with Fitzgerald because Dave once left the team and Davis figured he'd understand," Gable says. "The first thing Dave said was, 'I can't understand how anyone could do this.' I thought the note was a joke. But then we checked Barry's locker and saw that all his stuff was in there."
That's when Gable knew there was trouble. If Davis didn't compete in the Big Ten championships, he couldn't qualify for the NCAAs. And without Davis, the Hawkeyes' chances of winning the nationals would plummet. "I went to my office and told myself that if I was going to find Davis in a city of 50,000 people I'd have to use deductive reasoning," Gable says. "I learned that from being a Sherlock Holmes fan."
Gable called Davis' roommate, heavyweight Steve Wilbur, who wasn't making the trip to Michigan. Then he phoned Davis' parents in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. No clues. Then Gable had an idea. What, he reasoned, would a hungry man do first? Get some food. Gable sped off to a local grocery. No Davis. He went to a pancake house. No Davis.
While Gable drove alone, several wrestlers followed in another car. Next stop, the bus depot. No Davis. "Lord, I need your help," Gable prayed as he drove along. His prayer seemed to be answered almost instantly. "I saw somebody on a city bus who looked like Davis," Gable says. "I figured if it was him, I'd cut in front of the bus at the next red light and get him. But when I got a closer look I saw it wasn't Barry. By now, we were on the east end of Iowa City.
"We decided there was somebody he might have gone to, so we looked for a phone directory to call there. We pulled up to a Hy Vee and someone said, 'There's Barry.'
"Barry was at the cash register with a sack of doughnuts and some M & M's in his hand. When he saw me, he dropped everything on the floor and said, I haven't ate anything, Coach.'
"I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and said, 'How could you do this to me? I'm a human being, too. I don't mind if you can't make weight, but you can't run off on the team like this.' At 7:15 we were back at the gym."
Gable and Davis caught an 8:06 flight for Ann Arbor, and during a layover in Chicago, the two rushed to a nearby hotel for an 80-minute workout in a gym. That was more than sufficient to get Davis below 118 pounds. Then it was on to the Big Ten championships, where he finished first in his division.
"I had told him to lose the weight at Michigan, not to try to do it before we left home," Gable says. "When you're hungry and alone, it's hard to lose. It helps if you've got people around to motivate you."
Davis was strongly enough motivated thereafter to win six straight matches and top off his 46-1 sophomore season by beating Iowa State's Kevin Darkus 7-5 for the NCAA title Saturday night.
Like Davis, Fitzgerald has proved he could come home again. "I left the team two years ago and went to Austin, Texas, where I had a friend," he says. "I didn't think I liked wrestling that much anymore." After six months of selling insurance, Fitzgerald decided he liked wringing opponents' limbs more than ringing doorbells. "He's been easier to work with since he came back," Gable says of Fitzgerald, who was seeded eighth at the NCAAs and finished seventh, getting the Hawkeyes six points.
A few weeks after Fitzgerald left in 1980, Lou Banach took off. On the third day he returned. "I got on a bus and was going to see an old girl friend in Denton, Texas," Banach says. "By the time I got to Oklahoma City the next day, though, I was tired of the bus. I stayed one day and flew back to Iowa City the next."
Banach went on to become the 1981 NCAA heavyweight champ, and at last week's 490-match tournament he took part in three of the most talked-about bouts. The first was against North Carolina's 407-pound Tab Thacker, who outweighed Banach by 192 pounds. Thacker hoisted Banach off the mat in the first period of their quarterfinal match. But Thacker, who had Banach's right arm clamped tight, made the mistake of taking Banach down on his left side. That enabled Banach to brace himself for the impact with his free left arm and shoulder. The bull-strong Banach exerted tremendous power with his hips and rolled Thacker onto his back and, a second later, Banach pinned him.
On Friday night, however, Banach was a 7-4 loser to Oklahoma's Steve (Dr. Death) Williams. Dr. Death is an offensive guard for the Sooners and, off the field, a rather gentle 285-pound soul. Friday night, though, he was at his snarling best. Banach and Iowa State's unranked Wayne Cole then fought it out for third place Saturday afternoon, with Banach winning this punishing match 11-10.
Saturday night's crowd of 14,204 swelled the three-day attendance to a record 73,566. Aside from Davis, Iowa had two other titlists, Jim Zalesky at 158 pounds and Pete Bush at 190.
Four of the eight returning 1981 winners won again. Dan Cuestas of Cal State-Bakersfield beat Boise State's Scott Barrett 10-4 at 126 pounds. In a rematch of last year's 142-pound showdown, Andre Metzger of Oklahoma again defeated Lenny Zalesky of Iowa. After his 9-6 triumph, Metzger stepped up on the victory stand with his month-old son, Andre Jr. Iowa State's Nate Carr was the third repeat winner, getting past Oklahoma State's Kenny Monday 2-0 in their overtime battle at 150 pounds.
The most frenetic finale was at 177 pounds between Mark Schultz of Oklahoma, the victor at 167 pounds last year, and Iowa's Ed Banach, who was gunning for his third straight 177 title. Ed, Lou's twin, is known in the sport as an "animal," an almost reverent tribute to his impressive musculature and aggressive wrestling. But Schultz matched Banach muscle for muscle, hustle for hustle, beat him 16-8 and was named the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler.
As for Iowa's wayward wrestlers, they contributed mightily to the Hawkeyes' title quest. Together, Davis, Fitzgerald and Lou Banach earned 42½ points to pace Iowa to a 131.75-111 victory over second-place Iowa State.
That was the fifth consecutive NCAA championship for Gable's Hawkeyes, the most in a row any coach has ever had. It was fitting that Gable achieved this on the Iowa State campus, for it was there that he wrestled as a collegian and it was there last week that he proved that he, too, could come home again.