116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — For those who hear 42,287 fans were at Saturday's Grapple on the Gridiron at Kinnick Stadium and think that number can't be correct, you may be right.
There may have been more people than that in attendance.
The stands behind both sidelines were almost full, and there was standing room only in the south end zone for the Hawkeyes' 18-16 victory over top-ranked Oklahoma State.
It was, without using a bit of hyperbole, remarkable.
'My goal was 52,000, to be honest with you,' said Luke Eustice, Iowa wrestling's director of operations and the mastermind behind holding this event in the stadium. 'But you can't take your hat off enough to the fans for showing up. Forty-two thousand for a wrestling meet is pretty special.'
It was a convergence of two top teams, the same day as an unbeaten Iowa football team playing at home, and mid-November weather that was a lot more similar to November in Anaheim than Amana.
'Everything went right, right?' Hawkeyes Coach Tom Brands said.
Brands was his usual post-match self in that he discussed frustrations and missed opportunities about his team. It isn't easy for him to focus on anything but his team in the hour after a dual. But he said he was able to step back for a moment and say this to himself:
'Hey, this is pretty cool,' he said.
But then he added 'This wasn't just being part of something, but it was part of something ending with a triumph.'
Eustice is a former Hawkeye wrestler. As much as he was concerned about a stadium-full of details being right for the dual, he was still all-wrestling when it was wrestling time.
'For me, the ultimate thing was winning as a team. That's the number one thing that puts the event over the top. Even though it wasn't pretty, I don't think there was a match that was boring. Those were battles.'
'Grapple' was announced in August, but it was three years in the making. The time spent on attention to those details showed. There was a lot of congestion in the stadium's west concourse before the dual and even after it got started, but the image of all those people cheering loudly and lustily for wrestling inside the stadium had to make for great footage for ESPN and Fox Sports 1. If they didn't find time to show clips from this, they missed out on news.
Don't look for this to be an annual thing. 'Maybe every five years,' Eustice said, 'for every recruiting class coming through.
'But I don't know if we could ever duplicate this again. The fans, the match, the weather ... (trying to match Saturday's meet) would almost be a little bit of a letdown.'
But something else could be on the horizon. Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has told the wrestling staff that he would like to have a wrestling match held in the stadium during halftime of a football game, a Hawkeye Wrestling Club Olympic hopeful against a top foe from somewhere else.
'That might take a few more years of planning,' Eustice said.
The rest of Saturday was for basking in a job well done. The crowd roared at the end of Iowa heavyweight Sam Stoll's 6-1 loss to Austin Marsden because Stoll didn't surrender any bonus points toward the team score, securing the Hawkeyes' dual win.
Then, 'In Heaven There is No Beer' was played at 1:02 p.m. Perhaps it would be heard in the stadium again in nine hours or so. The wrestling team had done its job. You're up, Iowa football.