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Drama-filled home wins cause fan eruptions
By Bryan Van Kley
Editor’s Note: This column first appeared in WIN, Volume 19, Issue 4, and printed Jan. 9, 2013.
When Iowa’s Mike Evans bodylocked Ohio State’s Nick Heflin to his back for the win in overtime at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 4, the 8,687 fans came unglued. It was one of those moments where it’s so loud you can’t hear yourself think, even for those in the media trying to take it in so the story can be retold.
Evans held Heflin on his back for several seconds right in front of the corner with the Iowa coaching staff. And all this while Tom Brands and staff were going crazy, waiting for the official to call the fall.
“The ingredients with the drama is what makes the crowd go into a frenzy,” Brands told me on the phone a couple days after the dual.
I called the Iowa head coach to get his perspective on the win, but more importantly on the significance of such dramatic moments that happen occasionally on home mats. Brands pointed out that Iowa’s fans are extremely knowledgeable and were “hot about (an injured Logan) Stieber not showing up,” and were aware the Buckeyes defeated Iowa, 21-9, last year in Columbus.
The stage was set for some “drama” as fans were grumbling about not getting to see the No. 1 Stieber vs. No. 2 Tony Ramos match-up.
Evans said it was definitely the biggest moment of his wrestling career.
“It’s a pretty electrifying feeling. You’ve got to love going out there and doing what you know you can do,” he said. “It’s pretty movie-like. That’s the best way to describe it.”
I tried to think of other sports moments, which would rival the intensity of some of wrestling’s most dramatic wins. The only scenario I could think of, which could rival a moment like this in wrestling, would be the “walk-off” home run in baseball and a remarkable “last-second” shot in basketball. For most athletes, those moments are once-in-a-lifetime moments that drive you on in your career.
The adrenaline and feeling of the moment has to be addicting be to that “that guy” who causes the thunderous eruption from the home crowd. I would imagine Evans headed to the practice room chomping at the bit to experience a moment like that again.
“It’s definitely addicting, but something you have to put behind you. You still have work to do the rest of the season. This feeling doesn’t matter, it’s what happens in March that matters,” Evans said.
An electrifying win in wrestling happens occasionally in a home dual or tournament, but the magnitude is taken to another level at tradition-rich programs like Oklahoma State, Iowa, Penn State and Minnesota.
A couple of the most memorable Oklahoma State moments came in the late 1970s, early 1980s.
OSU’s Daryl Monasmith got a win that caused such an eruption among Cowboy fans, the noise broke light bulbs at historic Gallagher-Iba Arena. Monasmith upset Iowa State’s national champion Frank Santana 7-4 for the Big Eight conference title. It also gave OSU the team title.
According to the late wrestling historian Bob Dellinger, the win triggered the “loudest, wildest, most enthusiastic celebration in the history of Oklahoma State’s athletic program,” he wrote. “The roar was deafening. It pounded your ears, your head, and your whole body. You felt it through the soles of your feet. It seemed the whole building was shaking. It was painful. If it hadn’t been jubilation, it would have been frightening.”
According to Dellinger, the eruption of the Cowboy faithful blew out six light fixtures on the ceiling of the arena, knocked the radio broadcast off air for several minutes and caused the tournament to be delayed for 15 minutes.
And then there was the heavyweight win in the dual in 1982. OSU heavyweight Mitch Shelton won a home dual against highly-favored Steve “Dr. Death” Willams of Bedlam-rival Oklahoma. The win was one for the ages.
With the Sooners up 17-14, the 400+-pound Shelton plowed through Williams when he got out of position and got the pin to win the dual. Hundreds of Cowboy fans mobbed the mat in celebration.
One of Minnesota’s most memorable crowd eruptions came from their 17-16 win over rival Iowa during their 2003-2004 season. After Iowa ran out to a 16-6 lead, Minnesota came storming back to win the last three matches and four of the last five.
Still down 16-12 going into the last match, the Gophers needed No. 7 Cole Konrad to get a pin at heavyweight. He did with only 15 seconds to go to give 13th-ranked Minnesota the win over No. 8 Iowa.
And back to Brands’ point, there were a number of factors at play in all of these duals and tournaments, which led to the eruption. Most of the time, the dual or match involved two teams who don’t care for each other very much.
Iowa’s more recent top couple wins came from eventual Hodge Trophy winner Mark Ironside in his 9-8 win over Cary Kolat in 1996. The win came in the All-Star meet in Iowa City that year. Kolat was ranked No. 1, was 11-0 with 11 pins, Ironside was 21-0 and ranked No. 2.
Brands said next to Ironside’s faith and his family, it was one of the greatest moments of his life and that those matches can “rocket you to better places.”
Brands’ teammate, Travis Fiser, also provided Hawkeye fans with a memorable moment in 1991. With Oklahoma State visiting Iowa City as the No. 1 in the country, Fiser’s win at 190 pounds over eventual MMA star Randy Couture sealed the win for Iowa. The nearly capacity Carver Hawkeye crowd went crazy after the final whistle blew.
“I have never heard the arena louder than that match. That stuck with me and that was 21 years ago,” Brands said.
Penn State’s most recent memorable home win came at the hands of freshman Morgan McIntosh. The Nittany Lion 197-pounder got a 5-3 overtime win over Grant Gambrall for coach Cael Sanderson’s first dual win against rival Iowa. And that too became one of those moments Nittany Lion faithful who were in attendance that night will remember for years.
Brands said those moments are why top Division I coaches work so hard to get fans in the seats. The potential then is there for that kind of drama.
But in each of these moments you can be sure of a couple undeniable facts…the fans won’t forget it, and neither will the athlete. And for wrestling fans in general, another reminder why we love the sport so much.