The Benevolent and Loyal Order of Pessimists makes its home in
Iowa City. Two hundred members strong, the organization holds
its annual meeting as close as possible to April 15--which has
the dual distinction of marking the income tax filing deadline
and the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The
Pessimists' glum creed: In front of every silver lining there's
a dark cloud.
Iowa City also harbors the Malevolent and Loyal Order of
Optimists. The membership of this club is more exclusive: Two.
One is 28-year-old Terry Brands, the 1993 and '95 world
freestyle wrestling champion at 125.5 pounds. The other is his
twin brother, Tom, the '93 king at 136.5. Both are expected to
make the U.S. Olympic team at the trials June 7-8. Becoming
Olympians would come as no surprise to the Brands brothers, who
since age 10 have believed they would someday compete in the
"In eighth grade a kid much bigger than me laughed when I told
him I planned to wrestle in the Olympics," says Tom. "Before he
knew it, I was on the ground fighting him."
"The Olympics were a dream we shared," says Terry. "You can't
stand around and let someone knock your dreams."
June 2, 1996
In street clothes the 5'7" Brands twins are genial roughs who
comport themselves with a certain burly panache. In singlets
they adopt alligator moves and Rottweiler dispositions. "If I
could, I'd tear limbs off to win," says Tom. "When I get on top
of an opponent, I want to rip out his arm and hand back a
bloody stump. That might sound demented, but I thrive on the
brutality of the sport. The object is to inflict intense legal
This is not just punk bravado. There's something unnerving about
the Brandses' bluster. "They've got a different aura to them,"
says Royce Alger, who was on the Iowa wrestling team with Tom
and Terry in the late 1980s. "It's in their nature to be
violent." brutal, savage, ruthless is how they described
themselves on T-shirts at Iowa, where they won 295 of 311
matches and five national titles. "I'm motivated by an absolute
hatred of losing," says Tom, his mouth tightening. It's a mouth
that even in repose suggests a knowledge of cruelty. On Super
Bowl Sunday in his senior year at Sheldon (Iowa) Community High,
Tom says, he and three buddies were involved in what was termed
sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old. "Some people thought it
was rape, but it wasn't," insists Tom, who until now has never
spoken publicly about the incident. "The girl was willing."
Willing or not, she did not return to school for several days
after the incident. At the end of the week Tom was summoned by
the principal, David Kapfer, and the athletic director, Jim
DeJong, and told he would be banned for the rest of the
wrestling season, including the state tournament. "For what?"
Tom says he screamed. "I didn't get caught smoking cigarettes or
drinking or doing dope! You can't make me ineligible. My life is
Though Tom was never charged with a crime--and the alleged
victim was also suspended from extracurricular activities--the
school board voted to uphold the decision. "It was a joke!" Tom
says, still indignant. "A kangaroo joke!" When Tom's parents
took the board to court, a federal district judge refused to
lift the ban. Tom missed the state finals. "The whole thing was
a mistake, a stupid, infantile mistake," says Tom. "I've made a
lot of mistakes over the years, but overall I've led a pretty
clean life. I'm married now." There's a coil of anger beneath
Perhaps because they spent their first nine months confined
together in a tight space, both Brandses are restless, fidgety.
They walk alike, talk alike, even spit alike. Asked if they tend
to do things in unison, they chorus, "Not really." They live by
the same motto: Never let anyone get the best of you in
anything. That goes double if he's your brother. "There's nobody
in this world I love more than Tom," says Terry, "but that
doesn't mean I'm going to go to his house for tea and cookies.
The truth is, we just don't get along." Which is why they live
at opposite ends of Iowa City.
They argue incessantly over subjects like who would win a duel
between John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
"I say John Wayne," says Tom.
"I say Clint Eastwood," says Terry. "Hands down!"
"Does that mean you're right 'cause you said, 'Hands down'?"
"That means I'm right, all right. I win!"
For Tom and Terry, winning is never enough. They have to
annihilate the opposition. As a college sophomore Terry had to
be restrained by teammates after a Wisconsin wrestler became ill
and forfeited a match to him. "I wanted to grab him by the
throat and strangle him," says Terry.
"We're pretty brash," says Tom.
"I wouldn't say brash. Brash is cocky, like Muhammad Ali. We're
more straightforward. You can't hee-haw around if you want to
get people's respect. That's something we learned from our dad."
Tom Brands Sr. owned a body shop in Sheldon, a northern Iowa
farming community. He drank heavily when the twins were young
and was given to black-cloud silences and sudden lashings of
anger. "The old man used to tear the house down when he was
drunk," says Tom, whose parents divorced when he and Terry were
11. "Basically, we're clones of him." Now, Tom Sr. is a
recovering alcoholic, and his sons say they've never touched
liquor. "If we drank," explains Terry, "we really would become
The twins were introduced to wrestling by a Sheldon hog farmer
named Randy Feekes. Coolly appraising the runty 12-year-olds, he
said, "You're going to be too small for basketball, so I'll show
you a couple of wrestling moves. Work on them, and I'll be back
next week." By the time Feekes reappeared, the brothers had the
moves down cold.
Their off-mat excesses became the stuff of Sheldon folklore. At
eight they hurled a fire extinguisher through the windshield of
a garbage truck. When they were in high school, reported
Olympian magazine two years ago, one of their fights "...
resulted in a shampoo bottle being imbedded in a wall." Terry
scoffs at the tale. "That reporter misunderstood us," he says.
"Actually I chucked Tom into a wall of our bedroom. When I
pulled him out, all that was left was a huge hole in the shape
of his head and shoulders. I guess that's where the 'shampoo'
On one of the rare occasions the twins practiced against each
other at Iowa, Terry slugged Tom in the face, opening a gash
that required four stitches. Another time Tom reported to
practice with a pronounced limp. "His excuse was that he and
Terry had been in a scuffle," says coach Dan Gable, "and that
Terry had thrown him off a cliff."
A 1972 Olympic gold medalist whose 182-1 high school and
collegiate record is as close to perfection as any wrestler's
has ever come, Gable saw something of himself in the Brands
brothers. He still recalls Terry's reaction after being defeated
in the state finals as a senior in high school. "When Terry
walked by me, he muttered something," Gable says.
Tom, of course, had been barred from the tournament. The
allegations troubled Gable, whose older sister was raped and
murdered when he was a teenager. "I looked into the matter,"
Gable says. "There were no charges against him, so obviously it
was all something to try to hurt the kid." Meaning Tom.
Desire is what impressed Gable about Terry and Tom. Asked to
describe his practice ethic, Tom says, "To work hard is what's
expected. To train like a madman is to exceed all limitations."
For three years the Brandses trained on and off at the
Pennsylvania estate of John du Pont, the delusional millionaire
accused of killing Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz on Jan.
26. The brothers joined du Pont's Team Foxcatcher in 1993 and
became fast friends with Schultz, their childhood hero. Perhaps
only the Brandses could say they noticed nothing unusual about
du Pont's behavior. Like du Pont, Tom and Terry have a soft spot
for firearms. Between them they have about four dozen shotguns,
rifles and revolvers. "I liked John," says Terry. "He was an all
right guy. He wasn't crazy or weird, maybe just a little
eccentric. And by eccentric I mean he had more money than anyone
I'd ever met. In my worst nightmare, I never thought he would
"On the other hand," says Tom, "if it turns out du Pont did kill
Schultz, they should string him up from a tree, like in the Old
Tom and Terry's High Noon approach to wrestling--they never back
down and they challenge an opponent to the point of
humiliation--draws complaints from rivals and their coaches.
"They've got to understand," Terry says, "we're just breaking
the other guy mentally."
Mentally, neither Brands was much of a student. "Our college
classes were 50 minutes long," says Tom, with a heavy sigh.
"We'd go crazy at minute 35."
"Unless the subject was interesting," says Terry, "like
Which class was that?
"There wasn't one. That was the problem."
Technique, the twins can study endlessly. "They don't have a lot
of overall skills," says Gable, for whom both work as
assistants. "They do know a lot of wrestling." Tom likens their
sharp, low-level attacking style to an alligator's. "A gator's
got some pretty sharp jaws," he says. "When it's hungry, it
spins and crashes and detaches body parts. That may not sound
pretty, but its only goal is to kill, survive and eat. I wrestle
that way. Basically, I throw a guy down, beat on his head and
rub his face in the mat."
Losing is something else. At last summer's world championships
in Atlanta, Tom lost to wrestlers from Korea and Belarus and had
to settle for the bronze medal. "I was so angry that I bolted
out the back door of the arena," he says. "I didn't want to deal
with anybody. I sat in my hotel room awhile, couldn't sleep, and
went out at 2 a.m. for something to eat. Couldn't eat, either. I
finally got to bed at three. Tired as I was, all I could do was
stare at the ceiling. I don't know what a hangover is, but when
I woke up, I felt like I had one."
Gable scoffs at all this. "Some people handle losing better than
Tom and Terry," he says with considerable understatement. "When
you start accepting losses graciously, when it doesn't tear your
guts out to lose, there's no meaning." He gives a dry smile.
"And without meaning, where's the incentive to win?"