Sep 1987: Meeting Gable

Iowa City

I got into town late the night of the 2nd and checked into a motel. The next day I went over by the arena and saw a sign that said "Lalla's Guest Rooms," with an arrow. So I knocked there and ended up renting a small motel-type room for $160 for the month of September.

It's not perfect, but what the hell, I figured I might as well cross "housing" off my list.

I told Coach Johnson I had all this stuff taken care of, but of course that was just a lie. I have no apartment. I have no job. I have $400 to my name. I didn't want to give him any reason to say no.

In the afternoon I went to the wrestling office and was checked out a locker in the team locker room and workout gear with free laundry service. I met Gable, who said, "Hmmmmrrrrppphhh" and didn't smile. Actually, he sort of said, "Oh, yeah, I remember him..." or something like that, apparently referring to the summer of '83 when I was here training for 8 weeks.

As a matter of fact, when I first walked up to Coach Johnson (the assistant coach), he said, "Oh, you must be Todd." I get the impression that Iowa must be a pretty exciting place. (Sarcasm.)

I wrestled okay that afternoon against a couple of guys who I later found out were just a couple of freshman/sophomore walk-ons.

I wrestled with Steve Martin today. He's a 118-pounder from Virginia, will probably be Iowa's starter next season. His nickname is "Rat." He kicked the s--- out of me. 25-some-odd takedowns to zero. I wasn't penetrating enough. I kept getting my head pushed down, and he kept getting in on me.

It's 3am. I'm jobless. My money will last for another 15 days or so.

I lifted weights and ran on Saturday and Sunday, then wrestled with a 150-pounder today and f----ed up my right knee a little bit. I probably won't wrestle on it tomorrow. I'm still apprehensive about this place. I have so much to prove.

My knee is still stiff, so I just lifted weights again today. I may not wrestle tomorrow. I'll see how it feels. Maybe with a brace. It's my own fault for wrestling with a much bigger guy.

I couldn't really do any job hunting over Labor Day weekend, but yesterday--no, wait, it was Sunday--I stopped by a Mexican restaurant about a mile from my place called Jimi-Changas. The guy was impressed with the fact that I gave up working for Dick Cavett to become a wrestler, so he said come in Wednesday night (tomorrow) and he'd see what he could do about training me as a waiter.

I wrestled John Regan today. He was Iowa's starting 118-pounder last year, but he's naturally a 126-pounder and says he may not try to cut down again. A very nice guy. He beat me, about 10 takedowns to 3. My 3 TDs were all shoulder throws. Maybe I got one more--a throw-by. I don't quite remember.

Today was the first day of official practice. I romped on a freshman 118-pounder named Terry Brands for about 15 minutes, then he romped on me. I got tired and he just kept coming. That was the difference.

I've got to be the aggressor instead of the reactor. And I've got to drive in, penetrate on my shots, bulldoze my way in.

Tomorrow I'm going to work on shooting singles and doubles. One shot after another.

Tonight was also my first night training as a waiter at Jimi-Changas. I may also be able to get a job mopping the mats for $4 an hour before practice every day. Hey, I'm gonna be here anyway.

I'm running out of money. I've got about $190. I've got to pay $160 for rent in 14 days.

Gable talked to the team at the beginning of practice today. He said that the only reason we should be here is to be a national champion. That should be our only goal.

That's not my goal. My goal is to place in the top 8 at freestyle nationals. Does that mean I don't belong here, or does that mean I ought to re-assess my goals, or does that not mean anything?

I don't know why I chose placing at nationals as my goal. I guess because it seems more credible than national champion.

Would I work harder if my goal were to be a national champion instead of All-American? I'm not sure. Maybe there's something there. On the other hand, I'm not close to being either yet, so for me the difference is moot.

I had to leave practice today at 4:55 in order to get to work--it was my final training night at Jimi-Changas--and Gable asked me why I was leaving early. That is not a great way to start that relationship.

By the way, I suck as a waiter. I'm too hairbrained. I suck as a wrestler and I suck as a waiter. It's going to be a long year.

The wrestling room consists of 3 full mats, laid end to end. On one side of the mats is the weight room, and on the other side are small pull-out bleachers. Practice starts with everyone sitting on the bleachers, then Gable or Johnson says a few words, tells us what we're going to do. We then do about a 15-minute warm-up...stretching, laps around the mats, followed by drilling, followed by live wrestling.

A practice takes about 2 hours, and is exhausting.

I'm used to wrestling in a round-robin style with 2 or 3 other wrestlers at a time, so that you go for a minute, then you have a couple minutes of rest. Here you pair up with one person for the entire practice, so if you pair up with someone like Barry Davis or Brad Penrith (both 126-pound national champs), you're pretty much gonna get killed for 120 minutes straight, with a few short water breaks.

But you don't want to constantly partner with guys who are worse than you, because you won't get any better.

The other thing is that if you're one of the worst wrestlers, no one wants to wrestle you because you can't really help them, and so you just get paired with other walk-ons, and it becomes self-segregating. I'm on the cusp of that now, and I have to battle my way in. I have to wrestle with guys that can kick my ass, but I have to give them a battle.

It's a weird dynamic. But it seems to separate the men from the boys. No one wants to be a boy.

I wrestled Rat Martin again today. He kills me on singles. He has a low, compact stance, he's quick, and he finishes his shots well. He also defends against shots well, at least when I'm shooting straight in.

His hips are made of f-ing concrete. I think 90% of his body weight is in his ass.

I did score with a headlock, but he rolled through. I need to use my strength against him; he is not a brawler. Going singles and doubles and trying to out-finesse him is a losing proposition...playing to his strength. I need to look for trips, headlocks, throws. Start closer, crowd in, try tying him up more.

By the way, he spits on the mats during practice, and he doesn't say hello in the hallways. I think he's an asshole.

I f--d up my left knee in practice. I just got pulled forward and it snapped. Maybe I'd better get some health insurance soon. I doubt I'll be able to wrestle on it tomorrow--I've been limping on it all weekend.

This morning I ate breakfast at Marc's Big Boy in Coralville, then I stopped off at a little park in a residential area. It was one of those middle-class neighborhoods with decaying post-War ranch houses.

At the house across the street the husband came out and got into a '79 baby blue Toyota station wagon and went to the store. The other car in the driveway was a late-'70s sedan, which his wife had to move for him so he could get out of the driveway. Then the wife--50-ish, with fat arms--proceeded to mow the lawn. She was wearing a polyester jogging suit.

This whole thing has nothing to do with anything. I was just thinking as I watched the scene unfold, how much I would hate being that guy. I know that sounds shallow, but God...I was thinking, I wouldn't come back. I would drive away in my Toyota station wagon, and I just wouldn't come back.

It just makes me wonder that there aren't more shooting sprees at McDonalds.

My locker number is 67. Barry Davis is #69. I don't know if he chose that on purpose. He is a good guy, in addition to being the best wrestler I've ever wrestled.

He is just solid, and quick, and strong as an ox, and never tires. I've wrestled him a couple times now, and I have never come remotely close to scoring on him. With Rat Martin at least there is hope--I can see how a person COULD score on him. With the Brands brothers (Terry 118, Tom 126--twin freshmen), they make mistakes and I can score on them. Same with John Regan. But Barry is like a brick wall.

If I am going to place at freestyle nationals at 125.5 there are 3 guys in the Iowa wrestling room--Barry Davis, Brad Penrith, and Joe Melchiore--who are arguably 1-2-3 right now. That only leaves 5 open spots. I am a LOOOONG ways off. But I would rather be in the room with the guys who are 1-2-3 instead of in a room with someobody who is, like, #18.

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