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Iowa Wrestling: Story time with Terry Brands

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Terry reflects on his time with Team Foxcatcher

FloWrestling

So here we are:

We’re over a week into a three-week bye for Hawkeye wrestling and I’m bored out of my mind. This is similar to the awful downtime before the bowls in college football. But for me, this is worse because I’m a wrestling homer and regardless of what many believe, we’re actually really good this year.

Anywho, I’m off work today and relaxing. None of my buddies are home yet, so there’s no reason to boot up the ol’ Xbox (though I do need to jump into Red Dead Redemption 2). Since I’m not in the gaming mood quite yet I’m midway through watching “True Romance” for the first time in years. BTW- is there anyone that plays a greater villain than Gary Oldman and Christopher Walken? Possibly only Alan Rickman. RIP Hans Gruber…

There I am knee deep into the interrogation scene between Walken and Dennis Hopper and I suddenly get that itch that only wrestling can scratch so I boot up Flowrestling and they deliver one of the greatest Tom and Terry Brands interviews I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, it’s locked behind their pro account. Tom looks back fondly on the multiple sports him and his brother used to play. Surprisingly, they also played basketball and…liked it?!

But what I’m going to focus on is Terry’s story as he specifically goes into an in-depth look at the now infamous Foxcatcher team and his experience there.

Quick history lesson:

John du Pont developed a 440-acre Olympic training ground for multiple sports, though none were nearly as big as his wrestling team, “Team Foxcatcher.” He brought in 1984 Olympic champs and brothers, Dave and Mark Shultz to help run the program, while Dave served as head coach. Dave and Mark lived and worked on the training grounds for years, all the while du Pont’s mental health gradually declined. Eventually the unthinkable happened and du Pont shot and killed Dave Shultz on January 26, 1996.

Up until the point of Dave’s death, du Pont had invested nearly $3 million into USA Wrestling. Even by today’s standards that’s a lot of money, let alone 25 years ago.

The Reflections of Terry:

He starts off with him and Tom visiting on Dec. 26 in 1992. They went there for an interview and after a couple days of hanging out on the training grounds they were officially named part of the team.

In an abridged version he goes on to say,

“Looking back on it you can say it was a little weird, but when you’re there it wasn’t, I mean people walked around and it was a normal place to be… he was a little bit different. This is hard because lives have been affected, but not one person there feared for their lives up until the point where the guy’s pulling firearms out. Otherwise, why would they stay there? That was a really, really tough situation. [Dave] Shultz was kind of the glue that held everybody together. Because when he was gone it was fractured and there were camps or cliques. They would draw the line in the sand…anybody who had taken money from Foxcatcher, it was blood money. So you know, you had real life hard, hard feelings, that are probably still present today.”

“Shultz was loyal. I don’t know what it was he liked about me and Tom, but we gravitated toward him. I knew about him going back to 80 when I first started wrestling and then 84 [he was] an Olympic Champion. Then he was at Wisconsin as a coach, which is right up the road from us. Five hours away. It’s closer to get to Madison than it is Iowa City. He was like a sub-Gable. He was that iconic in my world.

Dan Gable is obviously our wrestling deity. For Terry to compare Shultz to Gable it truly emphasizes how impactful he was on the Brands Brothers.

He continued on

“Him and his brother, when they had that Sports Illustrated article when Mark said, ‘I’m only interested in winning, pinning, and scoring points.’ That was real study for me. That was something that was… these are guys I look up to. I want to be like that. I want to wrestle that hard. I want to be that brutal on the mat. I learned a lot of wrestling from him.”

Even when it was apparent that du Pont was losing grasp of his mental state of mind and kicking people and objects out of his training center, Dave Shultz continued his cool, calm, and relaxed outlook to try and keep the team together.

‘We just got to band together, man.’ He had that California in him. ‘Just stay together, man. It’s okay.’ In my mind I’m following the leader of a guy I wanted to emulate my whole life. I looked up to my whole life. And I’m believing what he’s saying. And I still believe it today. It was about the team aspect of it. We could’ve handled this better, the post-Shultz era. We should’ve been able to bond together without drawing lines in the sand. My friendships with those guys that were way better friends with Dave than I was could’ve been stronger as a result. Dave was the guy that brought us together and then when he wasn’t there, there wasn’t any mix anymore. It was a, ‘Well they’re Hawks. Well they’re Newtown Square (where Foxcatcher was located).’

“It was just a weird, funny time in wrestling history. I have no regrets. I have nothing but the deepest admiration for Dave. Coming from a place where wrestling is everything (Iowa) and then going to a place where they made an environment where wrestling is everything. It was kind of cool to be that. You’re a Foxcather guy training in Iowa City. How does it get any better than that? I get to go on the road with Dave Shultz and train under Dan Gable. How does it get any better than that? Right. So, that’s really in a nutshell the Foxcatcher experience.”

This was an absolutely amazing sit down with Terry. This is like hearing your grandfather’s stories about his younger days. It’s not something you come across or hear often, so when you do, you need to cherish the moment and remember it.

The Impact and the times:

Tom and Terry were both apart of one of the most important and harrowing events in USA Wrestling history. Obviously, after Shultz’s murder in 1996 and du Pont’s incarceration, Team Foxcatcher would ultimately be shut down and disbanded. Much of the du Pont estate would be sold off and even the 90 year-old mansion he grew up in was demolished. He would eventually die in prison in 2010.

The 1993 and 1995 men’s freestyle teams were world champions and would go on to become one of the greatest in USA wrestling history. Tom and Terry both won gold in 1993, while Dave Shultz brought home a sliver. Melvin Douglas and Bruce Baumgartner also won gold.

The 1995 team was perhaps more impressive winning six medals in total, four gold and two bronze. Terry, Kevin Jackson (former ISU coach), Kurt Angle, and Baumgartner all finished atop the podium while Zeke Jones and Melvin Douglas got bronze. Tom wouldn’t medal that year, but he would go on to be an Olympic Champ the following year in the 1996 games in Atlanta.

At one point of another all these medalists trained with Team Foxcatcher. Even Dan Gable frequently coached the team and was often seen in Dave’s corner throughout his world and Olympic runs.

The World Wrestling Championships was founded in 1951 and it took 42 years for the USA to climb to the top. After that 1995 season it would be another 22 years before we won it all again in 2017.

One could make the argument that the rise and fall of USA wrestling lived and died with Dave Shultz and Team Foxcatcher. Tom and Terry Brands were an integral component to that success and sadly were there to see it all unravel.

This is as dark as I’m going to get on this dreary day in the south lands. I simply found his interview to be incredible and I had to dive back into the history books once more and share it with you all. If you lads are interested in further reading about locals on the team, the Des Moines Register put out a nice little article when the movie, “Foxcatcher” was released.

Also, our very own Ben Ross wrote perhaps the best overall feature I have ever read on this subject back when he was with the Daily Iowan. Please, please check that out here.