Legendary University of Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable received one hell of a tribute Saturday night. It’s an experience I don’t think will be matched for a long time.
The night was filled with stories and serious reflection about Gable, and what made him such a successful wrestler, coach, friend, husband and father. Most of the stories took a light-hearted tone. The crowd of nearly 1,000 people roared when former wrestlers Mike DeAnna and Terry and Tom Brands shared stories. Minnesota Coach J Robinson, who was Gable’s assistant at Iowa from 1976-84, spoke for more than 23 minutes, entertaining the crowd with tales, jokes and sincere insight of his impression of Gable as a coach, opposing coach and competitor.
Bump Elliott talked about how Gary Kurdelmeier recognized the great potential in Gable and how making him Kurdelmeier’s successor was the easiest decision he ever made.
Sports Information Director Phil Haddy, who had been the longtime announcer at Iowa wrestling meets, was the host and he even chimed in with a few zings and thoughts. Ben Peterson, a former Iowa State and Olympic teammate of Gable, shared his memories of wrestling with the two-time NCAA champion, three-time finalist and 1972 Olympic gold medalist.
Here are some of the “Golden moments” to me from the Gable’s Gold ceremony (Sorry it’s so long, after I started I couldn’t stop):
Gable on how he’s all wrestling all the time: “I’m always ready to go. Just like Superman. I don’t need the phone booth.”
Gable’s daughters were in attendance and I believe one might be engaged. Gable pointed out to a young man, who I believed to be a future son-in-law, that he should heed the words of all those who testified to the rough experience of wrestling Gable. He wouldn’t hesitate to make sure he experienced it personally if he steps out of line.
Tom Brands shared his top three Gable quotes, including this gem: “You know why I carry this baseball bat around? So when I poop a wildcat I can hit him over the head.”
Tom Brands on Gable’s impact on society: “There are better people because of Dan Gable’s influence and I’m one of them,” Brands said. “We’re all one of them. I’m speaking for a lot of people.”
Tom Brands final statement: ‘You’re my coach. I’ll tell you the secret (of Gable). Wrestle to win…and dominate.” (followed by a loud thump from hitting the podium).
A punch for skipping
Tom Brands shared a story about performing well in a tournament and then walking into Gable’s office a couple days later. He was greeted with a punch to the jaw that “wasn’t a love tap” according to Brands. Gable had found out that Brands had skipped a sociology class. Although it didn’t feel good at the time, Brands has grown grateful for it.
“He held us accountable,” said Brands, adding the term “Top Notch” after many of his comments of Gable and his actions.
Terry Brands on wrestling Gable: “I think there might be something wrong with me, because I enjoyed the few times I wrestled him. Talk about a sticky stick. It was sticky stick. It was arm-bars, face in your own sweat, in your own snot and in your own blood. … Thank you!”
Terry Brands wrestling to Gable: (After listing a lot of training items and exercises) “Make my body a slave to discipline. Dominate and win. That’s what wrestling was to Gable.
“Bent fingers, broken noses, (inaudible), bent, twisted knees, stingers, hyper-extended elbows, ripped, ruptured cartilage, fingers in the eyes – to the second-knuckle – two cauliflower ears to boot. Thank you again!”
Terry Brands on the results of what he listed: “All the agony that shaped me. All the glory I give to God and Gable.”
Terry Brands on Gable’s influence: “He recruited people who needed his guidance. Student-athletes who would never make it at another program, they made it at Iowa. … He was there and he molded you. He made you.”
Terry Brands on Gable and parity:“Gable invited them to come up and compete with him. A lot of them took the challenge. Gable defined parity by not acknowledging it.”
1,ooo? Should have been 10-times that
Terry Brands gave a great speech. He mentioned how Gable’s legacy is the result of always pushing for more. He made the crowd erupt when he said, “He’s disappointed with 1,000. He wanted 10,000 here.”
Taking out the wash at an Edinboro laundrymat
Brett Mangold, who was associated with the Iowa wrestling program, got into an argument with someone over a dryer at a laundromat, according to Tom Brands. He shared this item as a result:
“(Gable’s) sitting off to the side trying to get the kinks out of his back so he could go into action if need be,” said Brands, demonstrating the motions to a roar of laughter from the crowd. “If he got the kinks out of his back, I tell you what, it’s a good thing for that dude it never went down.
“Gable wasn’t a fighter. He was a fighter at the right places. He fought for his team. He fought for his boys.”
Mike DeAnna on Gable being the superstar of wrestling: “If Dan Gable was just a wrestling coach than John Wayne was just a cowboy.”
DeAnna on Gable when he coached the four-time Hawkeye All-American: “He laughed with us. He shared in our disappointments. He celebrated with us. He trained us,” DeAnna said. “He was one of us.”
S.I.D. Phil Haddy on guests: “I have a couple pieces of bad news … Hayden Fry could not make it and Royce Alger is here tonight.”
DeAnna shortly after Haddy said he was the luckiest S.I.D. around: “Did you say the luckiest S.I.D. or S.O.B.?”
DeAnna on wrestling Gable: I’m paraphrasing here, but DeAnna talked about all kinds of gruelling runs and workouts with Gable. He shared a time wrestling Gable where he had a goal of taking Gable down, then it changed to getting an escape, then his goal changed to getting off his belly before wanting to get off his back. Finally, it came to just wanting Gable off him when DeAnna said, “No, really. Get off me!”
Former UI Athletics Director Bump Elliott on naming Gable successor to Gary Kurdelmeier: “That was the easiest decision I ever made as athletics director, who was going to be the next coach. I knew who it was going to be.”
Ja, Ja Spitz!
J Robinson shared a story about being with Gable during the 1972 Olymnpics in Munich, where Gable won the gold medal without surrendering a single point. Robinson said he resembled U.S. Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals that year.
They approached a crowd that included a certain husky German woman. Gable pointed at Robinson and said, “Spitz. Spitz.” The German lady then glanced at Robinson and refuted the claim saying, “Nein Spitz. Nein Spitz.”
When the woman turned away, Gable pulled his Olympic gold medal out of his pocket, laying it over Robinson’s shoulder. When the woman looked back at them, Gable pointed to the gold medal draped over Robinson’s shoulder and said, “Ja, ja, Spitz. Ja Spitz.” The crowd members were sold that Robinson was indeed Spitz, so Robinson said there are 20 Germans who own Mark Spitz autographs penned by Robinson.
Robinson talked about early years when Gable and him were in Iowa City and how Gable used to drive back and forth between Iowa City and his hometown of Waterloo. One day during training, Robinson, who was a couple weight classes bigger than Gable, scored a couple duck-unders on Gable in practice. Another wrestler rode with Gable back to Waterloo that day, but Gable didn’t say a word until they got to Waterloo when he said “How’d he do that?” referring to Robinson’s moves. Robinson said he never scored another on Gable, because that was an example of his uninterrupted focus.
After the ceremony, when Gable addressed media, he still remembered the practice and explained that his arms were in too deep on Robinson. Amazing…
Recruiting the Brands Bros.
Robinson joked about being asked to come speak to a room full of Iowa fans and said that he couldn’t turn down a chance to speak to Iowa fans, where they had to stay in the room, couldn’t boo him and that Tom and Terry Brands couldn’t stand up and yell and point at him for 10 minutes.
Robinson joked about recruiting the Brands Brothers and how he sent them a questionnaire asking them to spell “Mississippi.” He said they wrote back asking, “The river or the state?”
He then said that they are so competitive that Terry wanted a tougher word to spell so Robinson wanted him to spell “April” and that Terry asked, “The month or the girl?” Robinson said after that he knew they were meant to go to Iowa.
Ben Peterson of joining Dan Gable at Iowa State: “He showed us what needed to be successful and proved that Iowa State wrestling meant business. Practice was not play time.”
Peterson on wrestling with Gable: “If you wanted to learn and get better you’d get real close to Dan. If you wanted to avoid work and take it a little easier you’d avoid Dan.”
More Peterson on Gable: “You’ve shown balance to the world of wrestling as a coach, as a friend and as a family man.”