The Gophers wrestling schedule contained only 10 dual meets for the winter of 2021-22, due in part to difficulty of finding opponents in this Age of COVID.
The first was on Nov. 20 against mighty Oklahoma State, and the last is planned for Feb. 11 against Ohio State. Those are among six home dual meets, meaning a half-dozen chances for Gophers followers to see this country's No. 1 attraction in non-scripted wrestling, heavyweight Gable Steveson, at Maturi Pavilion.
Two of these arrive this weekend: Nebraska at 8 p.m. Friday and Wisconsin at 1 p.m. Sunday. In addition to watching Steveson and compadres, there is much more activity planned.
There will be a reunion of champions and a reconciliation of sorts with the coach who made those possible — although it's an accord not needed with the athletes and most of local wrestling fandom.
On Friday, the Gophers' back-to-back championship teams from 2001 and 2002 will be honored. A sizable turnout of alums is expected, coming from various areas of the country, as well as the wrestling office, where Luke Becker is the head assistant coach for Brandon Eggum.
On Sunday, J Robinson, the head coach Eggum replaced initially as an "interim'' in September 2016, will be the luminary receiving the cheers.
It is probable that nobody battled more relentlessly to promote his sport than did Robinson, fighting fiercely to keep college wrestling relevant here as it was vanishing around the country.
“He changed the face of wrestling in Minnesota. He made believers of us all. He took a program at the University of Minnesota and made it spectacular.”
There were 146 Division I men's wrestling programs in 1981-82, there were 124 when Robinson came to Minnesota five seasons later, there were 90 when the Gophers won their first national title in 2001, and there are 78 at this moment.
Robinson fought loudly against the idea that more opportunity for women's athletics by definition must lead to less opportunity for men.
That caused many to see him as an unapologetic opponent of gender equity in athletics. It's intriguing that as Robinson is welcomed back — at least by wrestling folks — a growing number of colleges are adopting what would've been his solution:
Don't cut men's wrestling. Add a women's sport ... even wrestling.
Jeff Swenson, the extremely successful men's wrestling coach at Augsburg for 25 years, has been the AD-only there since 2007. He added a women's program in the fall of 2019; there are now 25 wrestlers, including the tremendous Emily Shilson.
"J was against the elimination of men's sports; he was never against women's sports,'' Swenson said. "And he was absolutely the most important figure we've had in wrestling in this state.
"He changed the face of wrestling in Minnesota. He made believers of us all. He took a program at the University of Minnesota and made it spectacular.''
Robinson believed you could control misdeeds with discipline. When Xanax was being sold within his program, he confronted the miscreants, confiscated the pills and threw away the supply, and felt he could choose the punishment.
When the news got out of the cover-up, Robinson was fired in late summer 2016 and replaced by Eggum, then his lead assistant.
So many of Robinson's wrestlers are now coaches that several will be at the meet Friday, and then fly out on Saturday morning for a meet or a dual. J will be on hand Friday to greet his national champs in attendance, and then back on Sunday to be lauded more specifically.
This would be the time for a quote from Robinson, but the only contact I succeeded in making with him was a brief exchange of texts. There was no interview, so it was left to athlete-admirers to comment.
Marty Morgan, 39-0 as a Gophers senior, and then an assistant coach for 14 years: "He wanted to be prepared for everything. One example was we found out going into the 2001-02 season that ESPN was going to show the finals live early on Saturday for the first time. That meant our wrestlers would be getting up at 5:30 in the morning on that last Saturday.
"So, all year, J had our wrestlers get up at 5:30 for practices, so they would be ready for that moment.''
Luke Becker, NCAA champ in 2002, Gophers assistant: "He came here as an Iowa assistant in the mid-'80s and was convinced he could have a team that wrestled the Hawkeyes' style ... 'intense, in your face, think about scoring points.'
"And when J was recruiting, he was looking for athletes that could wrestle that way.''
LeRoy Vega, 125-pounder on 2001, 2002 champions, three-time All-America, Purdue assistant: "I called him Grandpa from the start. I didn't grow up with a grandpa in Portage [Ind.], and J seemed like the perfect grandpa to me. He's a great guy, would give you the shirt off his back, but he also wanted you to do the right things.
"I was near the top nationally at my weight class out of high school. I visited a lot of schools with top programs. Great coaches, good people, but J made Minnesota feel different for me.
"He took me to his daughter's gymnastics meet on my visit. He watched his daughter proudly, and talked to me about family. I kept thinking about that as I made my college decision.
"I can't wait to see 'Grandpa' on Friday night.''