Four years ago Troy and Terry Steiner celebrated the end of their first wrestling season at the University of Iowa by going on a bit of a bender. The identical twins from Bismarck, N.Dak., decided to do some drugs.
So they hit the town and ordered colas, heedless of how all that sugar and caffeine would ravage their bodies. It was not their first such lapse. "When they were in junior high," recalls their father, Tim, "they'd drink a pop once in a while."
Having since banished soft drinks and junk food from their diets, the Steiners have become the mainstays of the Hawkeye wrestling program, and at last weekend's NCAA wrestling championships in Ames, Iowa, the brothers, now seniors, made a major contribution to their team's 123.75 points as the Hawkeyes won their third straight NCAA title. Penn State and Nebraska finished far behind, 36.25 and 44.25 points back, respectively.
Which is not to say that the finals lacked drama. In the 150-pound class Terry waited until the final second of his match with Penn State's Troy Sunderland to score the winning takedown. The Nittany Lions cried robbery; the Steiners cried, period. "He finally got the job done," Tim blubbered happily.
Despite the twins' similarities—"when one got sick, so did the other," says Tim—Terry was always a step behind Troy in wrestling. "It's like Troy's got an extra spark plug," says Hawkeye coach Dan Gable. Troy won three state championships, Terry two. Before last weekend Troy had won a national title at Iowa and Terry hadn't.
That last score is now one-all. Troy was eliminated in the semifinals of the 134-pound class by precocious Penn State freshman Gary Kolat and had to settle for third place. So why, when it was all over, were the Hawkeyes saying they owed their title to Troy?
"He gave up a sure thing to help us win the championship," says Gable. "Simple as that."
In February, Gable had asked Troy to go down a weight class, from 142 pounds to 134. Troy would not only have to, in wrestling parlance, "cut his ass off" to make the weight, but he would also be forsaking the class that he had towered over (figuratively—the Steiners are 5'8") in winning the NCAA title last year. But the Hawkeyes were getting beaten up at 134, so Troy agreed to drop down.
Thanks in part to that decision, Iowa didn't have to wait until the finals to clinch the team title. That was done in Saturday afternoon's consolation round, where three Hawkeyes—Troy, 177-pounder Ray Brinzer and heavyweight John Oostendorp—placed third in their weight classes. In the final bout of his Iowa career, Troy cruised past Cornell's Mark Fergeson 8-4, then jogged off the floor to a standing ovation.
He was anything but consoled. Once under the bleachers, Troy wept. "It's been great wrestling for Iowa," he said, "but it's not the way to go out."
Faced with the equally daunting tasks of winning his first national title and cheering up his brother, Terry got off to a rotten start. Twenty seconds into the second period he trailed Sunderland 7-3. He clawed back to 7-6 and, with 16 seconds left in the bout, took Sunderland to the mat with a lateral drop. Then, chaos. Time ran out, and Terry got a takedown—in which order no one was certain, including the referee. After consulting with the mat judge, the ref held up two fingers: a takedown. Steiner had won. Gable shouted to Terry, "Shake [Sunderland's] hand before they change their minds!"
While Terry was named the meet's outstanding wrestler, his brother already seemed to be fading into history. So it was a nice touch when, in his congratulatory speech to the team, Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby singled out Troy Steiner. "You didn't end up where you wanted to be," said Bowlsby, "but God bless you anyway. You got us here."