National Champion

by Dave Hanks

His name was Bob Norman and he was a man! Six foot four and 260 pounds of pure sinew and muscle - I felt like a boy beside him. At six foot two and 215 pounds, I was in superb physical condition and hadn't felt inadequate until then. In fact I had enjoyed a very successful senior year, going through the season to that point without being scored upon. The conference championship gold medal was home on my dresser.

But it was the last weekend in March and the NCAA Wrestling Tournament. I had survived the previous two sessions, working my way through to reach the semi-finals. But now the dubious honor of facing the returning NCAA champion from Illinois was mine.

Everybody was in awe of him and I think he sensed that feeling in me because he playfully kidded me as we were on our way to the locker room - then laughing gleefully when observing my reaction. Strange things started happening in the pit of my stomach. In a large room on the side of the gym were mats. These were used for warming-up and to sit on to wait your turn in the tournament. How tedious the waiting was - counting the minutes ticking by! The adrenalin level in my body was so high that I felt it almost oozing out my eyes. And the quiet of the room - so quiet that an ominous mood pervaded everywhere. Never had I gone into a match so mentally ill-prepared. There wasn't a shadow of hope for a win anywhere in my brain - just a feeling of hopelessness and utter dejection.

Finally the loud speaker blared out the mat number we were to wrestle on and "ballyhoo-ed" each of our won/loss records. Although the introductions were gratifying, it was with a hollow feeling that I made the walk around the indoor track to that area of the fieldhouse floor that I was called to. At mat side he made me wait while he painstakingly removed his sweat clothes.

At last the match started. First of all, he ripped the head gear off from my head. The only one I had used for two years - my good luck piece was now broken and useless. Then he wrapped an arm around my neck and grabbed my chin. He was choking me. Breaking free, I complained to the referee. He denied doing it. My juices were flowing and my reactions were like lightning. I managed to prevent him from taking me down. His sweat smelled and at close quarters his whiskers scratched my head. He hadn't shaved for the day. Those two facts flooded my senses. The first round ended scoreless and my supporters were yelling wildly. They thought I was doing great - if only they had known what I knew.

The coin toss was in my favor and I was to be on top for the second round. That fact made me feel somewhat better. Riding an opponent from the top position was always my strongest asset, so maybe I could control him enough to get through the round. What a laugh, it might just as well have been an African Cape Buffalo there underneath me in that ring. I rode him hard but got overextended. As he stood he jerked me under him and onto my back - a 6 point maneuver. What a situation to have let myself wind up in! Rationalization filled my thoughts: "Should I just let him pin me and conserve my energy for my next match?" No! My pride wouldn't allow it so I "fought like a Tomcat" to my feet and broke loose - one point for an escape. The score was now 6 to 1 and the round finally ended.

In the last round it was my turn to start underneath - not a happy thought. I couldn't afford to stay underneath for long or it might have been "curtains". Tensely crouching on hands, knees, and toes I resolved to move as quickly as possible on the sound of the whistle. It sounded and I exploded forward and quickly gained my feet. One point for another escape - the score was now 6 to 2. We were both on our feet now and I prevented him from scoring anymore - but neither did I.

The match ended 6 to 2 and the official raised his arm in victory. Now in retrospect, a 6 to 2 loss to a two time National Champion seems very respectable. However, in reality, it wasn't even close.