You would think that after Oklahoma State won last year's NCAA wrestling title and Iowa plummeted to a humiliating sixth-place finish. Cowboy coach Joe Seay might at last bury the hatchet with Hawkeye coach Dan Gable. You would be wrong. Though Arizona State entered this year's championships as the favorite, for Seay only one opponent truly mattered. "We have outrecruited Iowa for the last three or four years," Seay boasted before the hostilities commenced last week at Maryland's Cole Field House. "That's because there no longer is a single reason to go to Iowa instead of Oklahoma State. Wrestlers look at us and say, 'Somebody there must be doing something right.' "
Until last year, Gable had the upper hand in this rivalry, which began in 1972. Back then, as an Iowa State 149½-pounder, he defeated Seay in the finals of the Olympic trials. As a coach, Seay has continued to resent playing second fiddle to Gable, in the recruiting wars and in the politics of the sport. Says Gable, who coached Iowa to nine consecutive NCAA titles, beginning in 1978, "He lives his life, I live mine."
On balance, Seay's life was the better one to be living last week. This year, Oklahoma State beat Iowa twice in dual meets, and last Saturday night Seay's Cowboys won the NCAAs for the second time, with a score of 117.75. It was the first time any team other than Iowa had won back-to-back titles since Iowa State won in 1972 and '73. Arizona State was second, with 104.75, as 167-pounder Dan St. John (SI, Feb. 19) won the Sun Devils' only individual title. Iowa finished a delicious third—at least from the Cowboy's viewpoint—with 102.75 points. Northwestern was a surprising fourth, and Nebraska came in fifth.
The Seay-Gable issue aside, Oklahoma State's victory was noteworthy for a blazing performance by 158-pound Pat Smith, who won his class with an 11-7 decision over Navy's Scott Schleicher. Seay had intended to redshirt Smith this year, but the freshman was whipping the incumbent starter, senior Jeff McAllister, so thoroughly during practices that Seay decided to throw Smith into the lineup on Jan. 5. Of course, Pat is not just another guy named Smith: His brother John won two NCAA titles for the Cowboys and the 136½-pound Olympic title in Seoul; his brother Lee Roy won the NCAAs for State in 1980. After Pat's victory on Saturday, he said, "My goal is to win four straight national titles." Nobody has ever done that. What's more, his two older brothers tell everybody that Pat is a lot better wrestler than they were.
Against Schleicher, Smith showed glimpses of greatness as he made good use of his powerful hips and catlike quickness. Says Smith, "I have found what satisfies me is being the best. I felt like, If I was good enough to be in the finals, I was good enough to win." Never before in NCAA history have three brothers won national titles. And word is that brother Mark, an eighth-grader, could be even better than his siblings.
Oklahoma State also got a big boost from senior Chris Barnes, who battered Minnesota's Marty Morgan 10-2 in the 177-pound championship bout to win his second straight NCAA crown. Unlike Smith, Barnes didn't get off to a good start in Stillwater. He enrolled at Oklahoma State in 1985, then withdrew a month later. "I hated it," he says. He returned to school and to wrestling the following season, and "was miserable again." Barnes was 12-16-1, but he hung in and things started getting better. Much better. This year he finished 36-1, while taking down his opponents 205 times; he was not taken down once.
"I wonder why I can beat all these guys?" asks Barnes, who was voted the tournament's Outstanding Wrestler. "They're bigger, stronger, better. I guess I'm just used to winning." The Cowboys also got third-place finishes from Kendall Cross (126 pounds), Chris Owens (134) and Chuck Barbee (142).
While the tide seems to have turned for the moment in the Great Feud, there were signs that beating Gable may not become an annual event for Seay. Edging Nebraska's Jason Kelber 3-2, the Hawkeyes' Terry Brands won the 126-pound class, and Brands's twin brother, Tom, won the 134-pound class, defeating Minnesota's Dave Zuniga 9-7. The twins are only sophomores. But Gable and Seay's mutual disaffection is nothing compared to the Brands brothers' animosity toward one another. Leave these squabbling siblings alone for 30 seconds and you'll have to call 911. Every disagreement—and there are many—ends in a brawl. As kids in Sheldon, Iowa, Terry and Tom played chess; their games ended in brawls. They played Monopoly; their games ended in brawls. And while the details are in dispute, one day at practice in 1988 Tom received a gash under his right eye that required four stitches. It was caused by a straight right hand from Terry. "It was a cheap shot," says Tom. "I didn't feel bad at all about it," says Terry.
Last year, the twins tried living together in an apartment. "Pure hell," says Tom. "Terrible," agrees Terry. "I broke a bamboo stick over his back, then hit him with a popcorn popper, then threw the phone at him." Neither can remember ever saying, "I'm sorry." Neither can imagine doing so. Tom concedes, "We're a bit demented."
But talented. Their style is, well, brawling, and it lends itself to excitement. Assuming the Brands boys don't maim each other or worse, they will anchor the Hawkeyes for two more years. Gable knows that next year the tournament will be held at Iowa, and that he will have a strong team. "They get a little crazy," Gable says of the twins. And, for a moment, he smiles.