Two wrestling fans...well, actually one fan and his buddy...walk into an Irish pub looking for a beer between rounds of the NCAA Wrestling Championships. You never know who you'll meet.
Hold that thought while we do a quick Rutgers recap of the NCAA Wrestling tournament.
Two All Americans. And a little bit of Rutgers history is made.
Okay, this isn't earth shattering news in the general sports world. Several schools at the tournament had six AA. But while it isn't "earth shattering", it is creating some rumbles. I saw and heard them in New York on Friday and Saturday. And there in the record books for everyone to see.
Last year, Rutgers sent five wrestlers to the tourney in St.Louis. This year Rutgers sent all ten of its wrestlers to the tournament. Sean McCabe didn't automatically qualify but did get an at-large bid with a 14-14 record. Think that happens if the selection committee doesn't respect what RU has done?
Last year, Rutgers finished with 9.5 points - tied with Princeton for 31st place, and the 11th best showing by a Big Ten team. 2016 saw 30 points scored and a 15th place finish. Triple your points and jump 16 spots in the team score. And be the seventh highest scoring Big Ten team.
And those two All Americans.
If you're a Rutgers fan - any sport - you had to be happy. A great turnout by fans, lots of apparel with Rs on it around the city. It was fun. It was exciting. It was enough to bring tears to my eyes....yes, it did. This was great. Let me rephrase that.
It. Was. Great.
Take the four minutes to watch the video. Great stuff from great people. I love Goodale!
For more details and quotes, I'll point you to scarletknights.com and RU communications guy Anthony Hernandez who does a great job with the reporting at that end.
Is there a bar nearby?
Okay, back to the bar story.
There are three Irish pubs on 33rd Street - right next to each other - just east of the Garden and 7th Avenue. The Blarney Rock (which has a rooftop bar), Stout, and Feile. We pick Feile, which apparently is the NYC home of the Seattle Seahawks and UW Huskies. Who knew?
We walk in....Wait, did I say "we"? Well, uhh, maybe a guy who looks like me. We're between sessions on Friday and are just looking for a beer. There are a bunch of Princeton fans there and a few wearing red Cs on their shirts. Cornell is in the ho-o-o-use. Which leads to some woman wearing red gear - with the C - coming up to me and talking about Rutgers wrestling and Cornell. Turns out my new friend, Sarah, is the sister of the Cornell coach, Rob Koll. We'll get back to the Koll family in a minute.
Turns out Sarah is also there with her brother Dave....who lives in State College. He did not have on red clothing with a C. Yeah, you guessed it. So, Dave and his friend Eric (or maybe it's Evan) and their wives and are talking with us....or the two people in this story. We talked wrestling and Penn State and Big Ten and a bunch of stuff. At one point I say James Franklin has about two years of shelf life "before you guys figure him out". One of the women says, "Maybe less than that."
Then realizing that she has violated the Kool Aid oath by saying something negative about the
cult Nittany Lions, and fearing that her diploma would be revoked, she quickly added, "But he sure can recruit."
Actually, I felt better hearing that because I was almost beginning to believe that there might not be a
cult laser-focused fan base out there.
There were a few comments about being unrivaled. There were disparaging comments about Ohio State along with talk of how nice - almost disgustingly nice - Nebraska fans are. And of course the required defense of Jo Pa. Let's be clear: no one was defending Sandusky. But when you talk with someone who knows the parties involved, who has talked with them, and when it isn't just the media throwing out information, it at least tempers your views. But it was interesting hearing from people who lived there and lived through it.
Well, Sarah was talking about her father, Bill Koll. Who I kinda-sorta recalled his name but wasn't really sure. He coached wrestling at Penn State. And for PSU fans who think that Cael Sanderson invented wrestling in Happy Valley, I give you Bill Koll. Koll wrestled at what is now Northern Iowa, where he was 72-0 and won three NCAA titles. He was a two-time outstanding wrestler of the tourney and a 1948 Olympian. He coached the Lions for 14 years from 1965-1978 and had five undefeated teams. Koll is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. And just for good measure, son Rob has been head coach at Cornell for 22 years and with this year's addition of two champs, has coached 14 national champions. Good blood lines!
I didn't know those details during our conversation. It was more centered on how wonderful PSU is (their side of the talk), how everyone hates PSU (everyone agreeing), and how Rutgers is getting much better (mostly us, but grudgingly accepted by them). And the talk was pretty good. I think at one point there was actually some historical discussion of Winston Churchill.
At some point Eric disappeared and he returned with a beer for me and my friend (true confession: it was actually me in he bar). I thanked him and we continued to talk about wrestling mostly, but also about the "friendly" rivalry (our term) for whatever it is that goes on between Penn State and Rutgers. I'm pretty sure that I said I can respect The Nitts without liking them. Sarah, Dave, Eric, and the two wives (sorry, didn't catch their names) were okay with that.
Three beers later, it was time to move back to the Garden for the night session. We said our good byes, wished each other well, and headed out. The likelihood that we'd see each other again was pretty slim. But it was a good memory of the tournament. It was a reminder that wrestling fans make up a pretty nice community. They were good folks and we enjoyed spending some time together. Wrestling does that.
And that is unrivaled.
And if anyone knows Eric out there in State College, let him know I owe him a beer.