IOWA CITY, Iowa – Unless it was held in a cave, the first wrestling match pitting one human against another likely occurred outside and millions of years ago.
There probably weren’t 35,000 screaming fans on hand to watch like there will be on Saturday when the fourth-ranked Iowa wrestling team faces No. 1 Oklahoma State at Kinnick Stadium.
But to compete outside really shouldn’t be that big of a deal for a wrestler because that’s what the gladiators did. And wouldn’t you agree that wrestlers probably are the closest thing we have to gladiators in this day and age?
Wrestling outside in mid-November could be a problem, but Mother Nature seems willing to cooperate with this historic event. The forecast for Saturday calls for temperatures in the low 50s and mostly sunny. That’s not bad for late April, let alone two weeks before Thanksgiving.
“I think some people think too much about it and I don’t think too much about it,” said Iowa junior Thomas Gilman, who is ranked fourth at 125 pounds. “I just know where my mind has to be, where my body has to be and how I’ve got to feel. And that’s all I’m worried about, really.”
As for his teammates, the out-spoken Gilman said each is on his own. He doesn’t have time to worry about anything except the challenge in front of him at 125 pounds
“Take care of yourself, that’s how I look at it,” Gilman said. “If each individual takes care of himself, then the team will fall into place.”
That’s one of the beauties of wrestling besides cauliflower ear in that you can put yourself in front of team and not be considered selfish. What would be considered selfish in most other sports is standard operating procedure for wrestling.
“If we have ten individuals that are doing their job, we’re in good shape,” said Iowa coach Tom Brands. “Certainly, the team is what you’re looking at. You want a solid performance.
“But it comes down to those individual weight classes. We have to be ready to wrestle every match. When it’s your turn to step on the mat, you’ve got to be ready to wrestle. And that’s a timeless philosophy, a timeless principle.”
The goal of breaking Penn State’s attendance record already has been achieved and then some. At last count, ticket sales for Saturday’s match were creeping towards 40,000, which is nearly three times more than Penn State’s record of 15,966 that was set in 2013.
So the pieces to a spectacular event have come together nicely. History will be made on Saturday regardless of what happens on the heated mat.
Once you cut through all the hype and hysteria, there is an intriguing matchup on paper, a matchup that might not be decided until the very end because the teams are that close.
“The big thing is that it’s time to compete now,” Brands said Tuesday at a press conference promoting the event. “And all the fanfare, we’re going to let the fans take care of that from this point forward.”
Brands seemed ready to compete on Tuesday, as did the wrestlers who showed up to be interviewed that day.
So imagine how they must feel now with the match less than 24 hours away.
The fact that Oklahoma State coach John Smith is willing to put his team’s No. 1 ranking on the line right away in a hostile environment says something about him, but also about the mentality of a wrestler. The tougher the challenge, the more appealing it seems to a wrestler, especially at this level.
Saturday’s historic match will be the 50th all-time meeting between the two wrestling powers that have combined to win 57 NCAA championships (Oklahoma State 34, Iowa 23). Oklahoma State leads the all-time series 27-20-2, but Iowa has a slight edge in Iowa City with an 11-10 record.
This is the first time in 49 meetings that the two teams will face each other to begin the season.
What started as a vision and then a goal is now finally upon us, an unprecedented doubleheader featuring the Iowa wrestling team in the morning and the undefeated Iowa football team against Minnesota in the evening.
Kinnick Stadium hasn’t been the stage for anything like this before.
"This is great, it’s turned out to be bigger than I expected," Brands said.
Now it’s just a matter of winning. The day promises to be special either way, but a doubleheader sweep would make it a total success.
“The pressure is always there,” said junior Alex Meyer, who wrestles at 174 pounds for the Hawkeyes. “You never want to lose, especially at home. And you never want to lose to Oklahoma State. You never want to lose in front of all those people. And you never want to lose early.”
Grapple on the Gridiron
When: 11:03 a.m.
Where: Kinnick Stadium, south end zone
Talent pool: A total of 17 wrestlers in the probable lineups for both teams appear in at least one top-20 poll. Oklahoma State has 11 , while Iowa has seven.
Radio: KXIC AM-800
Did you know? The Grapple on the Gridiron marks the first time in NCAA history that two wrestling programs will compete outside at a Division I football stadium.