The Player to be Named Later
By Andy Hamilton
The best of Mark Perry Jr.
Posted by Andy Hamilton
on March 26, 2008, at 7:30 PM.
I've met a lot of unique athletes during my nine years working for the Press-Citizen, but nobody quite like Mark Perry Jr.
He might come off a little bit cocky, he might say some things that rub some people the wrong way, but he's been entertaining to watch throughout his time with the Hawkeyes, and probably even more fun to cover. Perry has been candid, colorful, engaging, incredibly knowledgeable about wrestling, always accessible and he's been a winner. There's not much more a reporter could ask for in an athlete.
I spent a few minutes talking with Mark Sr. Saturday night at Iowa's team celebration. I told him how much I enjoyed getting to know his son and watching him wrestle. Every tournament Mark Jr. would show you something you've never seen before. Mark Sr. told me the story about the first time Tom Brands watched Mark Jr. wrestle. Incredulous, Brands told somebody, "I watched that Perry kid wrestle. He spent five minutes of the match on his back and won 7-0."
True to form, Perry showed me something I've never seen before in his final tournament. I've never seen a guy miss two months late in the season and come back and win a national title, and I've never seen a guy wrestle the final three minutes of a title bout on a shredded knee and win a championship.
Of course, I've never come across anybody quite like Mark Perry Jr., either.
A couple people have asked why the Press-Citizen refers to him as Mark Jr. and not Mark. I asked Perry what he preferred the first time I interviewed him and he said Mark Jr. Maybe that's a show of respect toward his father, a two-time All-American. Maybe that's Mark Jr. wanting to be independent.
Nevertheless, I'll never forget my first interview with Perry. He was in town for his official visit to Iowa in November of 2002 when I ran into him at Iowa's wrestle-offs. At the time, everybody assumed he would wind up wrestling for his uncle John Smith at Oklahoma State.
Here are a few excerpts of my first interview with Perry:
"I want to be in a program where it's intense like this. I like it, it's crazy, that's how you've got to go."
?I was probably leaning toward Oklahoma State until today. I kinda had a different perspective of what I thought Iowa would be like. It?s going to be a hard decision, but I?m not going to let family interfere. I?m going to go where I feel most comfortable.?
?I heard the guys have a tough-guy attitude. They?re tough guys on the mat, but their pretty good guys outside of the wrestling room. That?s what I was afraid of, that I wasn?t going to relate to them because I don?t go around acting like a (a name not fit for print) to everyone.?
?I feel kinda weird being here. The more I?m here, the more I want to be here. When I was a kid, I wanted to shoot every Hawkeye. I was all against them, but you have to move on, I guess.?
?Ironside and Doug Schwab, I loved watching those guys wrestle and just break people and humiliate them. You just don?t see that from other schools, and I just want to be able to do that, so I thought I might want to go there.?
Selfishly, I wanted to see Iowa sign this guy just for the opportunity to cover him. I didn't know if he could wrestle or not, but I knew he would fill my notebooks with quotes -- and he did.
Iowa went on a weekend Big Ten road trip in 2005 and lost to Illinois and Northwestern. The defeat against the Wildcats brought an end to a 35-meet winning streak in the series for the Hawkeyes. I had nearly finished my story on press row when the team started boarding the bus, more than an hour after the completion of the final match that night. The Hawkeyes got some things off their chests in a closed-door meeting. Perry and some of his teammates later talked about some of the things that were discussed.
?It doesn?t matter if you?re a freshman or a senior," Perry said. "Every one of us are here to accomplish the same thing. I?ll tell you right now, I?m not waiting three more years to become a national champion. I want to be the national champion this year. If it comes to where you can?t say something because you?re a freshman, if they don?t want me to say something then they need to speak up and say something, otherwise I won?t say anything. But it?s not going to benefit them if they keep making the same mistakes they?ve been making for two years.?
?I am trying to get a point across," Perry said. "I just want our guys to win. It doesn?t matter what the fans or what other people think because I don?t really care. It?s not that I don?t care what they think, but it doesn?t help not saying anything or for no one on our team to not say anything and we keep losing to programs like Northwestern.?
?It?s not even those duals that bother me, but losing matches that we shouldn?t be losing because no one?s willing to say, ?Hey, you?ve lost five times this year doing the same thing. It?s not going to work. You?re going to have to change.?
?You could tell that the coaches have been wanting all year for someone to stand up and say something," Perry said. "It wasn?t that I felt it was the time and place or I was the person who needed to stand up. But coming from Blair, it?s hard when you win all the time and Iowa doesn?t lose all the time. My family doesn?t accept losing, Blair doesn?t accept losing and I know Iowa doesn?t accept losing. When it?s not going the way you want it, I was pissed off."
?I just said everyone?s got to stop worrying about what other people think or say and just wrestle for themselves and have fun. It?ll bring the team together and we?ll be a lot better off if guys relax and have fun and stop worrying if I shoot this high-crotch will the guy cut the corner on me and take me down. So what? Then get up and get another takedown.?
Later that season, Perry defeated Missouri's Tyron Woodley in the NCAA quarterfinals to set up a meeting with defending NCAA champ Troy Letters of Lehigh in a battle of two of the best scramblers in the country. I phrased a question something along the lines of: Knowing the way you think, I know losing this match hasn't entered your mind as a possibility, but if you lose is it going to be 20-19 instead of 3-2?
Perry responded: "I know what you're getting at, but I'm not going to give up 20 points because I'm not going to my back. But he is."
Sure enough, Perry cranked Letters over for a three-point near-fall in the second period and held on for a 3-0 victory in one of the most stunning wins in the 2005 tournament.
Perry used the same hold -- a half-nelson in a crab ride -- to crank over his longtime nemesis Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State for the winning points in a 4-3 victory in the 2006 NCAA finals.
?You know, as weird as it sounds and as much as people have made a big deal about it, it?s really never been a big concern of mine ? me versus Hendricks,? Perry said. ?It?s getting to where I want to be with my goal, and I knew it was probably going to have to be through him, so I focused on a lot of areas instead of wrestling him like I wrestle most other people.?
?I could lose to him 150 times in a row and I?m not going in thinking I?m not winning or I wouldn?t be doing this sport,? Perry said.
?(It?s) just relief,? Perry said. ?It?s something that made me an unhappy person for a long time, or since I?ve been in college and failed at what I?ve been trying to accomplish.?