What did Iowa State's Jim Gibbons say? Granted he uttered the words after his brothers, the two who wrestle for him, had each executed a single-leg hoist and paraded him around Hilton Coliseum before 8,915 bellowing hometown fans and after he had hugged the university president. Still, it's hard to believe that Gibbons, only 26 and in his rookie year of coaching, really said, "Iowa's got a great program. I think they're going to be back in it."
Iowa's going to be back in it? At his most outrageous, even Rowdy Roddy Piper never dared to deliver such an insult. The last time Iowa failed to win the NCAA championship was in 1977, back when farmers were still making money. Even in this wrestling-mad state, rooting for the Hawkeyes, coached by resident legend Dan Gable, seems as chancy as rooting for mom and apple pie.
Then came Sunday, when the Cyclones, with a 18-1 record and ranked second in the nation, stopped No. 1 Iowa's two-year, 36-meet winning streak 19-16 before the astounded fans in Ames and a statewide TV audience. The upset recalled for the faithful the early 1970s, when it was Iowa State, behind the late heavyweight Chris Taylor and a feisty 137-pounder named Gable, that controlled collegiate wrestling. Following Sunday's match, it was left to that same Gable to say, "On the way home I'll try to put things together in my head. I'm not going to panic."
Gable's point is that nothing really matters until the NCAAs, which will be held in two weeks at Iowa's own Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Gibbons agrees with Gable, though the Iowa State coach and his team did pause Sunday evening for a party with about 500 well-wishers at the Starlite Village hotel in celebration of the Cyclones' first win over its bitter cross-state rival in five seasons. One of the Iowa State winners on that historic day in 1981 was Jim Gibbons, who later became the national champion at 134 pounds. This time around Iowa State would score its upset without getting points from any Gibbons. Both Jeff, a 134-pound freshman, and Joe, the defending national champion at 142 pounds, were beaten.
Eyebrows went skyward last spring when Jim Gibbons, an Iowa State assistant since his graduation in 1982, replaced Harold Nichols, who retired after 32 years and six national titles. "I thought Jim should apply for the job for the experience of...well, self-evaluation," says Iowa State athletic director Max Urick. "But he did a helluva job in the interview. Some people have it, and some don't. Dammit, he's got it."
The opportunities that youth affords Gibbons and assistant Ed Banach, 25, a 1984 Olympic 198-pound gold medalist and three-time NCAA champion at Iowa, are many. Not only are the two coaches still physically capable of getting on the mat and teaching by example, they're mentally young. "Jim remembers what it's like," says his brother Tim, a first-year med student at Iowa—and the recent winner of the outstanding wrestler award at the Hawkeye intramural meet. "He still has the sense of what it's like to win and train with all the pressure of school, girls, having a good time and cutting weight."
"I am surprised at how much effect I have on the wrestlers," Coach Gibbons says. "I've tried being an older brother to them, since I've been one all my life. I can't come off as a father figure. I don't look like one."
Indeed, after one victory this year, Gibbons led the entire team to the Top of the Town pub in Ames, where he joined the guys in dancing the night away. But for the most part, he tries to keep that coach-athlete barrier up. "I don't like to spend too much time with one wrestler," he says. "I've got 30 to worry about."
At the beginning of the season, Gibbons plotted a 30-week program of powerlifting, drills and conditioning to bring his wrestlers into the NCAAs in top condition. It's a technique at which Gable excels, and it paid off with Gablelike results. That is until the Cyclones went to Iowa City in January to meet the master himself before 15,210 Hawkeye fans. Iowa State managed only one win and two draws, and were trounced 25-9, their only defeat of the season.
The Cyclones showed Iowa early that things would be different in the rematch. Perry Summitt, a 118-pound sophomore, pinned Iowa senior Matt Egeland, who may have left his moves in the sauna after spending more than two hours making weight. Summitt's teammates took that early momentum and ran, building a 16-5 lead through six matches. It was then that Gable roared off the bench, screaming at 177-pound Rico Chiapparelli and 190-pound Duane Goldman, his undefeated senior and three-time national runner-up, to let their opponents escape so they could take them down again and pile up points.
The strategy worked, and the Hawk-eyes squared it at 16 going into the heavyweight match. Iowa State senior John Heropoulos, who, after a year of working mostly with Banach, had improved his record from 29-18-3 to 25-5, never gave Hawkeye starting football center Mark Sindlinger a chance. With Gibbons and Banach demonstrating moves on each other during timeouts, Heropoulos scored a meet-clinching 10-3 victory.
Each team will repair to its conference tournament this week, then it's the nationals. If the Hawkeyes win, they will tie the NCAA mark for most consecutive championships, nine, held by the Yale golf teams of 1905-13 and the USC track teams of 1935-43.
"When I got the job," Jim Gibbons says, "Johnny Orr [the Iowa State basketball coach] said, 'I'll tell you, Gibby. All you've got to do is beat those damn Hawkeyes. It doesn't matter what you do in nationals.' Well, if we beat them, we will be national champs."