Iowa State honored the school’s 1987 national championship wrestling team during the Iowa meet Sunday. It was a big day at Hilton Coliseum, especially for the Hawkeyes, who won as easily as expected.
The score was 27-9, with the young and winless Cyclones still feeling the effects of a bad Cael Sanderson hangover. When Penn State offered Sanderson the world in 2009, he took it. And Iowa State wrestling hasn’t been quite the same since.
A slice of Iowa State’s recruiting class went with Sanderson and that’s not all. How many other prospects took the Cyclones off their list then and signed with other schools?
Sanderson must have figured he had a better shot at winning a string of national titles in Happy Valley. If so, he was probably right. Not only is the entire state a wrestling hotbed, but the big state university sits on a large pile of cash.
In theory, the Nittany Lions should have been right there with Iowa, Oklahoma State and Minnesota in the NCAA point standings before he arrived. And now it looks like they’re right there in practice.
Hardly anyone in the Iowa State family blames Sanderson, at least publicly, for trying to better himself, but he might have been the last coach they wanted or expected to leave. He won four NCAA titles as an athlete, and you can’t win any more than that.
He carried the Iowa State brand to the top of the Olympic medal stand, and you don’t disown someone like that.
But they’d be wrong to blame his successor, fellow Olympic champion Kevin Jackson, for what happened next. Imagine Dan Gable leaving Iowa just as he was getting the Hawkeyes rolling.
Sanderson’s decision was devastating and the ramifications were on display again Sunday.
Jackson was a member of that ’87 group – the last Cyclone wrestling team to win an NCAA championship. Individually, he was a runner-up.
When Jackson transferred to Iowa State after LSU dropped the sport, Jim Gibbons, the young Cyclone coach, thought so much of his new athlete, he made him team captain.
It must have worked. On Sunday, the four national champions from ‘87 were among those introduced: Bill Kelly at 126, Tim Krieger at 150, Stewart Carter at 158, Eric Voelker at 190 pounds.
Back in ’87, Iowa State beat Iowa in Ames and lost the rematch in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes were going for their 10th straight national title.
Jackson and Royce Alger were starting to get to know each another. Alger beat Jackson in the NCAA meet that year, but Jackson beat Alger to make the Olympic team and win the gold medal.
That was a long time ago. At the moment, Jackson is the right guy in Ames at the wrong time.