The excesses of college wrestling tend to stagger us mortals. If there were such a creature as a wrestling minstrel, he surely would be singing The Ballad of Wade Schalles.
In the early '70s, Clarion State's Schalles was the Reggie Jackson of wrestling, not the best of all time but a powerful figure of 150 pounds nonetheless whose lasting impact on his sport will be flamboyance.
Only exceptional wrestlers win 100 matches in their college careers; against relatively weak competition, Schalles scored 100 pins - and took special care to see that his century fall would be memorable. He did not say when the pin would come; he did say where.
Just before the match Schalles told the Clarion team manager to stick a small piece of tape somewhere on the mat. Not long into the match Schalles was working on the pin, but nowhere near the tape. So he dragged his poor opponent several feet and dropped him on the appointed spot.
A two-time NCAA champion, Schalles now coaches at Clemson. As inspiration, he made each of his wrestlers stick tape over the Tiger emblem on their uniforms. The tape was not allowed to be removed until the man won a match.
During meets, Schalles can be heard screaming at his pupils: "Win one for the Tiger. Win one for the Tiger."
In the finals of the 1957 NCAA tournament, the current Navy Coach, Ed Peery, was under even more pressure than usual. It was not self-imposed, for Peery would have gone all-out even if perhaps the most historic feat in the sport were not on the line.
Peery's father, Rex, had been a three-time NCAA champion at Oklahoma State; Peery's brother, Hugh, had been a three-time NCAA champion at Pitt. And Ed was one victory from also being a three-time NCAA champion at Pitt.
Except that with precious few seconds left in the match Peery found himself a point behind. What to do? Let his man escape for one point and hope for the two-point takedown that would send the match into overtime.
Peery did exactly that - and won on a referee's decision.
In his sophomore year in high school, Iowa freshman Randy Lewis won all 29 matches at 98 pounds and pinned every opponent. He scored pins his first 16 matches as a junior for a 45-falls-in-a-row streak that no one in the history of high-school wrestling ever accomplished.
"I thought I'd pinned the 46th guy, too," Lewis said, "but the referee never called it. So I won by 22-5. But I couldn't pin the next guy, either."
His last three years of high school in Rapid City, S.D., Lewis was 93-0, with 83 pins. He scored three pins and a 15-1 decision in gaining the finals of his first NCAA tournament yesterday.
Even the heroes speak reverently of Dan Gable. Said Ed Peery: "He gave us a guy to point to - a walk-on-water type who did everything right, who showed everyone the sort of intensity necessary to win."
Gable was 181-1 through high school and college - the type one defeat coming in his final NCAA match - and 149.5-pound free-style champion in the Munich Olympics. At Iowa, he is trying to muster similar numbers as a coach.
"A lot of the great wrestlers don't make coaches," Peery said, "because of their temperment and ego. They can't give of themselves enough. They can't make the transition, to give their knowledge to the kids and then let them do the best they can with it. So many take each defeat personally.
"But Gable has handled it well, beautifully as a matter of fact."
Even in retirement from competition Gable remains in extraordinary condition, "better than anyone on the team maybe because he works out more often," said Iowa 142-pounder Scott Trizzino.
At times, wrestling recruiting can be as intense as any sport - and a pitch from Gable at the moment holds the same impact as a pitch from John Wooden once had for high-school basketball players.
"All the big schools had pretty much the same thing, good programs, good facilities, solid support," said Lewis. "But Iowa had Gable. "And I've learned so many holds I'd never seen before."
"He stills gets on the mat," said Trizzino, but none of us wants to go against him. I won't unless he comes over and grabs and and says, 'Let's go.'
"Then I can't last more than two minutes without someone having to come and help me off the mat. He just beats on you and beats on you."
Gable brought a relatively young team to Field House for the NCAAs, though it was a slight favorite to win the championship. One finalist, Lewis at 126 pounds, is a freshman: the other, 150-pounder Bruce Kinseth, is a junior. Quarterfinalists Trizzino and Mike DeAnna are sophomores.
In his second year as head coach, Gable shows uncommon maturity. In the quarterfinals Friday, Iowa had two wrestlers in action at the same time, with Gable in the coaches chair for DeAnna's match and an assistant in charge of Greg Stevens.
DeAnna won, with a come-from-behind pin. The overwhelming instinct would be for the head man to push the assistant aside and assume control, especially for a coach of Gable's stature.
Gable remained in the background. Stevens lost, but but both Iowa and Gable might have benefited in the long run.