By GARRETT DALE
A few weeks ago, during the dead time between the end of the fall season and the beginning of the winter, I was home watching TV in the middle of the night.
And while clicking through the channels I found something that kick-started something I hadnâ€™t felt in years. On the Big Ten Network (I know, who even knew such a thing existed?), there was an early-season college wrestling match.
And not just any match. It was Iowa hosting Iowa State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. I realize most of you donâ€™t know how big this match is in the world of wrestling. Take my word for it, itâ€™s huge. They set a record for attendance at a college wrestling match, and it was with good reason.
Iowa is the defending national champion. Now, over the last 30 years or so you could have said that almost any year (21 NCAA titles since 1975), but this is a resurgent year for the Hawkeyes, who won the 2008 national title for their first crown since 2004. Iowa is also famous for its legendary coach, Dan Gable, who retired in the late 1990â€™s. By the way, Gable was one of the commentators for the match.
But the other real reason to be excited was the coaching matchup. Iowa is now led by Tom Brands, a former Hawkeye wrestler who won a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics and took over the Iowa program and took them back to their national title.
On the other side was modern wrestling legend Cael Sanderson, who is now the Iowa State coach after winning a goal medal of his own in 2004. He was also, by the way, the only college wrestler to ever go unbeaten in four years, finishing his career 159-0 with four national titles. And in his first year with Iowa State the Cyclones were the runner-up to the Hawkeyes for the national title.
Itâ€™s been a long time since I was excited about wrestling, since I stopped coaching in 2002. But here was a huge spectacle for the sport, but it was limited to such a small television audience. At least I got to watch it, and hopefully some high school wrestlers got a chance to see it. Because while no one from these parts will probably ever get a chance to compete in a match at that level, it represented everything that is great about the sport.
Wrestling is, without a doubt, the best sport, and it is also one of the least understood. People ooh and ahh over basketball and live and die over football, but nothing compares to wrestling. Those kids work harder than anyone and get almost no recognition.
But just about everyone who has ever been involved in the sport knows that the recognition doesnâ€™t matter. No one wrestles because itâ€™s the popular sport. And maybe thatâ€™s the way it should be.
But if you get a chance to go to a high school match in the area, you should check it out.
It wonâ€™t be Iowa-Iowa State, but what youâ€™ll see are a lot of hard-working kids working their butts off doing something they love. And what more could you ask?