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Title Fight

Michael Dvorak

Shortly after 3:00 p.m. on Martin Luther King Day, J Robinson arrives for wrestling practice. He strides to the center of Rod Wallace Field, an indoor sports facility on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. A bear of a man, he walks in a bow-legged gait, his tree-trunk legs leading up to a chest that seems to begin at the waist and end just below the chin. His ears, mangled by years of abuse on the wrestling mat, are puffed with cartilage--a classic physical characteristic as commonplace, and definitive, as a ballerina's tutu.

Two dozen members of Coach Robinson's Gopher wrestling team are running 50-yard wind sprints on the artificial grass. To shed weight, most of them are conspicuously cloaked from head to toe in sweats; the thick fabric conceals the perspiration that is already running like a stream down their lean, muscle-bound frames. As assistant coach Marty Morgan puts them through their paces, Robinson surveys the scene intently, hands on hips. It takes him just 30 seconds to sum up the situation. "Hold it!" the 54-year-old former Olympic wrestler screams. "Get the fuck back there! He said fucking sprint! That's a fucking jog you're doing there!"

Without dissent, the athletes hustle back to the wall. "Go!" Robinson commands. He then begins barking, admonishing his charges in a rapid staccato. And they run. Hard. "C'mon! Let's go now! C'mon! C'mon! C'mon! Push yourself! Push yourself! Get up there, Eric! C'mon, Casey! Don't save anything! Don't save anything! C'mon, Beck! You gotta put the heat on this week! You gotta put the heat on this week!"

To Robinson's way of thinking, anything worth saying once is worth repeating. This philosophy is reflected in his practices--monotonous, fever-pitched workouts that get shorter but more intense as the season progresses. The ultimate goal is to replicate the seven minutes of pure physical fury that is a college wrestling match. For the next 45 minutes there is little in the way of variety. The overall edict never changes:

Sprint. 50 yards. 100 yards. Once around the field, then twice, then three times--sometimes alone, sometimes with a 200-pound teammate literally riding on your back. All the while Robinson bears witness with a stopwatch, verbally chasing his wrestlers around the turf.

Breaks are just long enough for the wrestlers to contemplate the fire burning in their chests. There is no time for water. When the sprints conclude, they are bent over at the waist, faces pink with exhaustion, sucking for air like a pack of rabid dogs.

The grapplers adjourn to the weight room. Immediately. For the better part of an hour they incessantly pump iron: squats, clean and jerks, chest pull downs, bench presses. It is the second workout of the day. Just after breakfast, the team held a punishing 90-minute drill session on the mat. "These guys pay a price that, I guarantee you, 99.9 percent of the general population has never known for one day," says assistant coach Mark Schwab. "These guys are some powerful shit."

The toll Robinson's recruits pay in practice has resulted in high dividends. Under Robinson's tutelage, which began in 1984, the University of Minnesota's Division I wrestling team has emerged as one of the elite programs in the country. They captured a Big Ten Championship in 1999, breaking the University of Iowa's 25-year stranglehold on the title, and have finished their last four seasons among the nation's top three teams. Only the top prize has eluded the Golden Gophers: a national championship. This season the team is on a quest to reach that last milestone. And it's well within their reach. In January, Robinson's team won the National Duals, a mid-season dust-up between the top teams in the country. Since then, they've been ranked number one in the country. Minnesota boasts four returning All Americans, and two of the most highly touted freshmen in the country (one of whom, Garrett Lowney, was an Olympic bronze medalist in Sydney, Australia). The Gophers are ranked in the top ten nationally at every weight class but one, a distinction that no other team can claim.

While Robinson's career at Minnesota has been marked by unprecedented success, it has also stirred controversy. In 1990, the coach was accused of providing such things as transportation and meals to prospective recruits, which is against NCAA rules. Rick Bay, then the U of M's athletic director, put Robinson on probation and reduced the number of wrestling scholarships from 11 to nine. Robinson insisted that he had done nothing wrong. Last year, the coach again turned heads when his longstanding criticism of women's athletics became media fodder. "I don't say I'm controversial," Robinson clarifies. "I just say I tell the truth."

To become national champions, the Gophers must first survive a Big Ten season that culminates with a weekend road trip that begins in Madison and ends in the crucible of college wrestling, Iowa City. There they will wrestle the six-time defending national champion Iowa Hawkeyes, a dynasty Robinson helped build as an assistant coach in the late Seventies and early Eighties, then left abruptly, another controversy in his wake. When the two schools met earlier in the season at the National Duals, the outcome wasn't determined until the final match, when the Gophers eked out a victory. Looking for revenge, thousands of Iowa fans--more than a few of them aware of Robinson's history--will pack Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the rematch. "Iowa's got a real rowdy crowd," says Minnesota senior Brad Pike. "They'll be booing. It's gonna be loud. And that's what drives us. They were dead silent after we beat them [at the National Duals]. No one was talking. When Iowa's silent, that's what we like."  

 

Shortly after 10:00 a.m. on February 16, the Gopher wrestlers are en route to Madison via bus, equipped with a string of small TVs and a VCR. To pass the time, they are watching The Ladies Man, a B-grade comedy starring Tim Meadows. The film's plot revolves around a group of cuckolded men exacting revenge on a philandering DJ. Their ringleader is a man who spends all of his free time dressed in a singlet, lathering himself in oil, and "training" with his wrestling partner. Whenever the sexually ambiguous character appears on screen, a conspicuous silence falls over the bus.

In eight hours the Gopher wrestling team will don their own singlets (but no oil) for a Friday night fight against the University of Wisconsin Badgers. The dual meet is essentially a warm-up for the Sunday showdown with Iowa. Although the Badgers are ranked 24 in the country (there are currently 90 schools with Division I wrestling teams), they don't have the guns to compete with Minnesota. By way of comparison, the Gophers defeated Michigan State the previous weekend, then ranked 11, after losing just one of ten matches.

The Wisconsin dual match matters most for Brad Pike, who is slumped in his seat wearing a pair of headphones. The Gophers' 165-pound senior is ranked seventh nationally, with a record of 25-2. This evening he will face off against Wisconsin's Don Pritzlaff, the number one wrestler in Pike's weight class and a defending national champion. When the two met earlier this year, Pritzlaff won handily. Pike has never beaten him.

In the locker room, just four hours after arriving in Madison, the vibe is loose. Junior Leroy Vega, the Gophers' two-time All-American, is making self-deprecating cracks about his Mexican heritage. The 125-pounder pulls a T-shirt from his gym bag and smirks. "You know I'm Mexican when I'm wearing the same workout shirt I wore last week," he cracks. "It's not been washed either." Vega takes a deep whiff of the offending clothing article, then pulls it over his head. "It smells good."

Brandon Eggum, the team's strength coach and a former Gopher powerhouse, lectures the team with mock solemnity. "If you get on a move and it doesn't work, try and go to something else," he intones. "You'll probably win." Everyone laughs. Everyone except Pike, that is, whose face--rubbed raw in spots from unwelcome encounters with the mat--is an impenetrable mask. A few minutes before the match is set to begin, Coach Robinson addresses the team, beginning with an anecdote about a conversation he had with one of his past wrestlers--an uncelebrated walk-on, before a big match. "He said, 'Hey, you think I can beat that guy?'" Robinson recalls, his voice tense with purpose. "And I said, 'You put your head in the match and believe that you can wrestle, you can go out there and beat anybody you want to.' That night he beat the number one guy in the country because he believed he could. And I'm telling you right now, Pike, I believe you can beat him. You are not the same guy who wrestled him before." Then Robinson points to his heart. "Believe it here," he says, pounding his chest. "Be the guy you've been for the last month, a completely different guy. And get after his ass right away."

Get after his ass right away. It could serve as the Gopher wrestling team's mantra. (Assistant coach Joe Russell repeats the admonition to Pike as they head out of the locker room.) It's also a directive that can almost be taken literally. Collegiate wrestling is an intensely physical sport that pits one man against another for seven minutes of grueling confrontation. It is one of the only sports where motion is constant and every muscle in the body is under stress. "You're naked in the storm," as Mike Chapman, an Iowa sportswriter who has penned 13 books on wrestling, puts it. "There's just something primeval about it."  

Unlike boxing, which basically involves pounding an opponent into submission, wrestling can often look like little more than a mass of flailing limbs. But there is a method to what happens on the mat. Matches are divided into three periods, the first lasting three minutes, and the latter two for two minutes apiece. At any point a match is halted if one opponent is pinned, meaning that both shoulder blades are forced to the mat. A match is also cut short if one wrestler accumulates a 15-point lead--known as a technical fall.

In the initial period, both wrestlers begin on their feet. The objective is to score a takedown, which is worth two points, by bringing your opponent to the mat while maintaining control. In the second and third periods, each wrestler alternately gets his choice of starting on the mat, wrapped around the top of his opponent, or at the bottom position. The wrestler can also choose to begin standing. This is known as the neutral position. In addition to takedowns, points are accumulated by escaping from the bottom to the neutral position (one point), or for exposing an opponent's back to the mat (two or three points, depending on the length of the exposure). A reversal, in which a wrestler moves directly from the bottom to the top position, is also worth two points. Additionally, if one wrestler is on the top, or offensive position, for a minute or more longer than his opponent, he is awarded a point for "riding time." Accumulating riding time is a particularly Byzantine exercise because a wrestler must control an opponent's entire body without locking his hands. (Imagine a bull rider up against an animal that has fingers to clutch, grab, and twist while he tries to hold on.) Although wrestling is an individual sport, during dual meets points are also accumulated by each team. For a simple decision, a team receives three points. If the wrestler wins by eight or more points (a major decision), four points are allotted. A technical fall is worth five points; a pin is worth six. There are ten weight classes, ranging from 125 to 285 pounds. In tournaments, where many teams compete against each other, an entirely different scoring system is utilized.

Tonight the Wisconsin Field House is dark except for a spotlight on the 50-foot square mat in the center of the arena. Bleachers have been placed mat-side to get the small but boisterous crowd of about 1,000 closer to the action. The dual meet begins at 149 pounds, as determined by a drawing prior to the match. The Gophers' Jared Lawrence wins by forfeit, giving Minnesota a 6-0 lead. Then Luke Becker, the Gophers' 157-pounder, dismantles his opponent. Minnesota has an early 11-0 lead when the night's marquee matchup arrives: Pike versus Pritzlaff.

Things start badly for Pike. After giving up an early takedown, he falls behind 2-0. Just before the end of the first period, though, he manages an escape. Shouts of encouragement come from the Gopher bench. But Pritzlaff continues to dominate. An escape and another takedown give him a commanding 5-1 lead midway through the second period. As he takes in the action, Coach Robinson is noticeably quiet, his head cocked, resting in the palm of his right hand.

Near the close of the period, Pike finally scores a takedown. With one period to go, he trails by just 6-4. As the seconds tick away, Pike stays within two points of his nemesis. Most of the Gopher bench is standing, the athletes' voices blending into an unintelligible blur. Pike repeatedly dives in at Pritzlaff's legs, driving him backward but never off balance. The buzzer sounds and the crowd leaps up to praise its hero. Pritzlaff has held on for an 8-6 victory. Assistant coach Marty Morgan smacks Pike on the butt as he slinks off the mat.

By intermission the Gophers have run up a 20-3 lead, but the focus remains on Pike. He will likely face Pritzlaff again at the Big Ten Championships March 3 and 4, and possibly at the NCAA championships two weeks later. In the locker room, between bites of fruit and pasta, Robinson counsels him quietly. "He was more tired than you at the end," Robinson contends. "He was afraid. He was backing up." Then, wiping some sauce from his chin, Coach turns his attention to the team and their final five matches: "Let's finish this the right way." The final score is 33-6, Minnesota. As the Gophers file back onto the bus, Robinson declares his film preference for the late-night, two-lane ride to Iowa City. "Kill 'em, cut 'em up type is what I want to see," he mutters.  

Gladiator, which the team was watching earlier in the day, is popped back into the VCR. Maximus is doing battle in the Coliseum. He plants a hatchet in his foe's foot. Blood spurts from his boot. Robinson props his feet up and settles in for the drive.

 

"Right now there's this war against boys in the United States. There's this war against boys and nobody will say it."

As he talks, J Robinson is seated in his office at the U of M, just across the hall from the women's athletics department in the Bierman Field Athletic Building. He is surrounded by mementos from his life on and off the mat. Color photos of wrestling and whitewater rafting vie for space with black and white prints from Robinson's time as an infantry officer in Vietnam. The screen saver on his computer continually displays the Gopher wrestling team's goals for the end of the 2000-2001 season: ten All-Americans, a Big Ten title, a national championship. His politically incorrect outburst--inspired by the book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men--is prompted by the mere mention of Title IX, an act passed by Congress in 1972 that explicitly prohibits gender discrimination in education. Although it was not designed with sports in mind, Title IX has revolutionized athletics. There are now more than 128,000 women competing in collegiate sports, compared to just 31,000 in 1972.

What infuriates Robinson and other critics of Title IX is not the statute itself, but the way it has been implemented. In 1979, in an attempt to clarify the anti-discrimination measure, the Department of Education came up with three different tests for schools to show that they are in compliance with Title IX. One way for an athletic department to prove that it's not discriminating against women is to show that the breakdown of male and female athletes is "substantially proportionate" to the school's overall gender ratio. In other words, if women make up 60 percent of the student body then they should also account for approximately 60 percent of the university's athletes. Although this is just one way to comply with Title IX, it is a clear-cut approach that has been embraced by many schools as a way to stay out of court.

"The implementation has gone against the original intent of the law," argues Eric LeSher, a wrestling official and president of Iowans Against Quotas, a nonprofit advocacy organization. "It's a gender quota in disguise." Like many of his peers in the tight-knit world of collegiate wrestling, Robinson claims that Title IX has had an unintended yet disastrous impact on their sport. In the last two decades, the number of four-year college wrestling programs has dropped from 374 to 235, often in the name of equalizing athletic opportunities for women. Wrestling programs are often easy to eliminate because there is no corresponding women's team, and because they do not generate as much revenue as high-profile sports such as basketball.

"Is my situation bad here?" Robinson asks. "No, it's not. But is wrestling around the country, are men getting screwed everywhere? You betcha they are. Who will talk out about it? Nobody. Because everybody's afraid." Last year, during a home meet against Iowa, Robinson wanted to insert an editorial about Title IX into the match's program. University administrators refused, and the issue became fodder for the media. Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow posited that Robinson needed to spend a little more time outside the wrestling room. Calls were made on- and off-campus for the coach's head. But rather than slink back into the gym, Robinson responded by having his wrestlers hand out a tract, featuring his editorial, outside of Williams Arena.

"One of the most important things in life that people are afraid of is the truth. They don't want me talking because I'm gonna ask questions that they don't want to answer," Robinson observes.

Supporters of gender equality in college sports contend that Robinson and other critics of Title IX have set up a false bogeyman. "I don't know of any proponent of Title IX who thinks that the way to get to gender equity is to drop minor men's sports," says Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. "The issue is football."

Kane points out that schools like the University of Minnesota have football rosters of more than 100 players while professional teams make do with less than half that number. She argues that this, and other excesses such as football and basketball players being put up in hotel rooms before home games, eats up revenue that could be better utilized by supporting women's athletics and minor men's sports. "There is not a manager in this country who could look around and say that the ideal corporation has a workforce of 47, but we need to have a workforce of 117."  

"There's a thing that's missing in America today and it's this: We've earned the right to be where we are," Robinson retorts. "Some of the women haven't earned it yet. Now that will make some of them mad, but they haven't earned it. They'll say, 'Well, football has its excesses.' I've been fighting football for 30 years. Where does it go that they step in front of me? They haven't paid their dues yet."

Robinson often waxes on about paying dues. After graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1969, where he wrestled and was in the ROTC, Robinson entered the army as an infantry officer. It was the height of the Vietnam War. He did several tours of duty, but grew frustrated at his lack of combat action. According to Robinson, he pleaded with the army brass to put him in command of an infantry battalion, but they refused because his rank was too high for such duty.

Throughout his tenure in the army, Robinson continued to wrestle competitively. His shot at immortality came at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, where he competed in the 180-pound weight class. His roommate was Dan Gable, who would go on to win a gold medal and later become Iowa's head wrestling coach. As Robinson recalls it, about 1:00 a.m. the night before they were scheduled to compete, he heard a series of booms. "It sounds like gunshots," Robinson recalls saying to his roommate. When he awoke the next morning, he learned that Palestinian terrorists had taken the Israeli Olympic team hostage. The Olympics were put on hold because of the crisis, and the imbroglio ended catastrophically with an airport firefight that left most of the Israelis and their kidnappers dead. "It was a cluster fuck," Robinson concludes. When he finally got to wrestle, Robinson finished well out of medal contention.

Unsatisfied with his Olympic performance, and hoping to continue wrestling, Robinson resigned his army commission and enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Iowa, where Gable was now an assistant coach. When Gable took over the top job in 1976, Robinson became his assistant. For eight years, the two of them built a powerhouse that has yet to be equaled. The team won its first national championship under Gable in 1978 and held onto the title for nine years. During Gable's 21-year tenure, the team never surrendered the Big Ten Championship.

In 1984 Robinson had a contentious falling-out with the university. According to Star Tribune reporter Nolan Zavoral's book A Season on the Mat: Dan Gable and the Pursuit of Perfection, the administrators at Iowa wanted to take over financial control of the summer wrestling camps Robinson ran at the school. He resisted. When Gable failed to back him, Robinson quit.

Robinson says the dispute "didn't have anything to do with Gable." But their relationship has never been the same. "We had been together for quite a few years--our families, socializing, winning together. And then all of a sudden there's this split," Gable allows. "It's never been the same, because all of sudden we became competitors."

The interlocking relationships don't end there. Two years later, Robinson became head coach at the University of Minnesota. And in 1987 he hired Jim Zalesky to work as an assistant for three years. Now Zalesky is the head coach at the University of Iowa.

Robinson downplays the role his personal history plays in the Minnesota/Iowa rivalry, but concedes that traveling to Carver-Hawkeye Arena is an emotional experience: "I helped build the place. I mean, how can you devoid yourself of 12 years of memories? It's not possible to do. You're going down there to do what you gotta do, but you're going down there also knowing that you're wrestling against the best. So it's a great place to measure where you are and who you are."

 

Ten thousand hostile Iowa fans await the arrival of the Gopher wrestling team. The brass-heavy pep band is mat-side. Iowa Public Television has its cameras rolling. Columns of NCAA championship banners hang from the rafters, bearing daunting testimony to Iowa's wrestling supremacy.

In the Minnesota locker room Robinson stokes the fire, using articles printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen as kindling. One of the items examined in a sports column is the matchup between Iowa's second-ranked, 125-pound Jody Strittmatter and the Gophers' third-ranked Leroy Vega. The newspaper noted that "Victory Vega" had not beaten Strittmatter in five tries, most recently losing 4-0: "While Vega will try to avoid getting saddled with the nickname Leroy Loss when it comes to wrestling Strittmatter, the second-ranked Hawkeye senior will be looking for team bonus points."  

Robinson begins his pep talk at full throttle: "The things that they said in the paper today would simply infuriate me if I were some of you guys. There's a lot of things that can be said about this dual meet and what's riding on it here, but you guys are the number one team in the country, and we need to go out there in this place one month before we come here for another reason and show 'em who we are."

Tim Hartung, a former two-time national champion for the Gophers, who now serves as the team's marketing director, addresses the issue of fear. "There's always gonna be some fear," Hartung begins, invoking his own matches in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "It's okay to feel the fear. But there's a great quote: 'In order for there to be courage, there's gotta be fear first.' So let's go out there and be courageous today. Use that fear." Then sophomore 149-pounder Jared Lawrence leads the team in prayer, a ritual that proceeds every match. "God, I pray today that you'll watch over us, keep us safe from injury and harm. I pray that you will be in our corner as we make our way out to battle, giving us strength, courage, and heart." Amen.

The match begins at 184 pounds, with Minnesota freshman Damion Hahn, ranked fifth in the country, taking on ninth-ranked Jessman Smith. When the two met at the National Duals, Hahn hammered out a 16-7 major decision. But it's impossible to gauge what impact the presence of 10,000 animated spectators will have on the match. "This isn't like basketball or football," Iowa coach Jim Zalesky stated earlier in the day. "You're out there by yourself. When we get a big crowd you never know how a guy's gonna react--my guys or their guys."

The audience makes its presence felt from the first whistle. Before either wrestler has broken a sweat, the Hawkeye faithful are imploring the referee to hit Hahn with a stalling call. The two bulky wrestlers circle the mat. Hahn bobs back and forth on his toes, occasionally diving in toward his opponent's legs. Hahn's baggy eyes and sleepy demeanor belie extraordinary quickness on the mat, but Smith cagily fends off his advances, punishing the Gopher wrestler's arms and head each time he charges forward for a takedown. With less than a minute left in a scoreless first period, Hahn misfires on a shot and his Hawkeye opponent seizes the opportunity. As Smith drives Hahn to the mat for a takedown, the audience announces the score in unison: "Two!" By the end of the second period Hahn is trailing by three--and the Gophers are in danger of swallowing a loss that could swing the match in Iowa's favor. But Hahn claws back. He earns an escape at the start of the final period, closing the gap to two. Then, with just 10 seconds remaining, he secures a takedown. The boos cascade down from the stands as the two wrestlers brace for overtime. Within five seconds of the extra period, Hahn has fended off Smith for another takedown. The match is over. The Gophers have a 3-0 lead.

Minnesota continues to build on its advantage in the next two matches. When Strittmatter and "Victory Vega" face off, the score is 11-0 in favor of Minnesota. The rival 125-pounders are a study in physical contrasts. Vega, who has an elaborate V tattooed on his upper right arm, is just over five feet tall and ripped with muscles. Strittmatter, lean as a ballet dancer, stands at 5'7". Early in the match Vega lifts Strittmatter straight up in the air. But as he attempts to bring Strittmatter to the mat for a takedown, the lanky Hawkeye locks his arms around Vega's thigh and squeezes until the referee declares a stalemate. The pair begin their dance again: Vega constantly lowering his body and attacking his opponent's legs; Strittmatter tying up the shorter man's hands and attempting to spear an ankle.

With 15 seconds left Vega fights off an advance by Strittmatter, ducks behind his opponent, and drags him to the mat for a takedown. The Gopher bench erupts with its own chorus of "Two!" But the lead is short-lived: Just as the period is expiring, Strittmatter answers back with a reversal. In the second period, Vega secures another takedown, but the offensive maneuver is sandwiched by two Strittmatter escapes. Going into the final period the match is deadlocked at four. They start the period on their feet. For two minutes they tangle and clutch and grab and squeeze, but neither can secure a takedown, sending the match into overtime.  

"Vega, right here," the Gophers' assistant coach Joe Russell shouts before the final showdown, pounding on his heart. "Right here, Vega." Thirty seconds into OT, Vega wraps up Strittmatter's long legs and drives him to the mat. By the time the referee can blow his whistle to declare the match over, Vega is airborne. He pumps his fist in the air once, then again. "Yeah!" he screams. On the bench, assistant coach Marty Morgan is nearly speechless. "Wow," he musters, grinning. Despite the best efforts of the pep band, the place feels like a funeral home.

At halftime the Gophers hold a 14-4 lead. Vega's intensity is singled out for inspiration in the Gopher locker room. "It was unbelievable," Robinson barks, his voice hoarse with emotion. "It's like he forgot about everything else except keeping the heat on what he had to do. They'll crack. They'll crack easy. They're wrestling scared." The Gophers head out of the locker room clapping and repeating a new mantra: "Five more." But the war is far from over. The Hawkeyes knock off three narrow victories in a row. After his overtime loss at 149 pounds, Gopher Jared Lawrence storms off the mat and immediately begins drilling with his brother and teammate, Brett, on the warm-up mat. Then he drops down and starts banging out pushups.

After nine matches Minnesota holds a precarious 17-13 lead, setting up a final showdown between Gopher freshman Jacob Volkmann and Iowa senior Gabe McMahan. The last time the 174-pounders met, McMahan earned a 15-6 major decision, garnering four team points for Iowa. If McMahan can duplicate that feat, the dual meet will end in a 17-17 draw.

Volkmann secures an early takedown for a 2-0 lead. McMahan comes storming back with two takedowns of his own, and holds a 5-4 lead at the end of the first period. The Hawkeye fans are stomping their feet and clapping in unison as the second period gets underway. Oblivious to the commotion, Volkmann pulls his opponent's arms behind his back, buries McMahan's face in the mat, and rides him for the entire two minutes. In the final period McMahan racks up two more takedowns, and the match ends in a 9-6 Iowa triumph. But it is not enough. Minnesota holds on for a 17-16 victory. As the final whistle blows, Marty Morgan salutes his charges. "You guys beat the shit out of them," he declares.

The Iowa fans disagree. As the referee exits the arena, he is accosted by a pink-faced, gray-haired woman clad in a black and yellow Hawkeye scarf. "You are a piece of crap," she shouts, shoving a finger in the referee's face. Back in the Minnesota locker room Robinson is exuberant: "This is a great way to end our dual meet season. Great. Especially in this place, in front of all these people, stuffing it down their fucking throats."

 

There is not much time to relish the victory. After facing down a phalanx of reporters, the Gopher wrestling team is back on the bus for the five-hour ride back to Minneapolis. Everyone chows down at a dinner stop at Chili's, where the Iowa-Minnesota wrestling match is being replayed on television. Another stop is made at a convenience store for Mountain Dews, M&Ms, and other items outside the major food groups. It is a brief respite from the rigors of training and cutting weight. As the bus makes its way north, The Silence of the Lambs begins playing on the television screens. Foul odors fill the close quarter of the bus, digestive systems reacting with shock to an infusion of rich food. It stinks.

In two weeks the Gophers will travel to Evanston, Illinois, to win the Big 10 Championships. There the team will once again defeat its archrival Iowa, along with nine other teams. Sophomore 149-pounder Jared Lawrence and freshman heavyweight Garrett Lowney capture individual titles, while three other Minnesota wrestlers finish as runner-ups, and three capture third place. All 10 members of the team place in the top five, qualifying them for nationals. Lawrence will be named the tournament's outstanding wrestler.

Iowa's Strittmatter will avenge his loss against Vega, blanking the Gopher wrestler 6-0 in the finals. But despite claiming four individual titles, the Hawkeyes finish third, one team point behind the University of Illinois--their worst showing in more than a quarter century.

The Gophers' success in Evanston means that the entire squad will once again be traveling to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on March 15 to face some 310 wrestlers from colleges across the country and another house of hostile Iowa fans trying to will the Gophers' demise.


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