Jeff Pearlman

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John Degl

#133
My former childhood tormentor talks about his time as a bully—and his emergence as a wrestling star at the University of Iowa and, now, a coach. POSTED December 18, 2013


degl

A pre-Quaz story …

One day, as an eighth grader at Mahopac Junior High, I was playing Wiffle Ball in gym class. Someone hit a soft pop fly. I drifted back. A kid named John Degl drifted in. We slammed into one another, and the ball fell to the ground. Degl scowled my way. Then, when class ended, I spotted him walking toward me. Closer. Closer. Closer. POP! He punched me in the face—hard. Like, harder than I’d ever been punched. Tears immediately streamed down my cheeks, and my jaw throbbed.

Upon entering my next class, Chris Guadagnoli asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I got hit,” I said, “by John Degl.”

Over the ensuing year, I lived in fear of John Degl. He kicked my books a few times, ripped a poster from my hand. He was a tough kid with an apparent chip on his shoulder; I was a geek runner with acne. I avoided him at all costs. It was, for me, awful.

Fast forward to 2003. I’m writing “The Bad Guys Won” about the 1986 Mets, and the first chapter concerns my boyhood in Mahopac. I think back to those days—watching baseball in Mr. Gargano’s house. The acne. The loneliness. John Degl. So I jot down this passage …

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 10.50.23 AMShortly after the book comes out, one of John Degl’s pals sends me an e-mail saying, more or less, “Why would you write such a thing? John’s a good guy.” My rapid-fire initial reaction is to laugh—karma, it is a bitch. Then, I’m hit by guilt. Did I really hurt John Degl’s feelings? I certainly harbored no grudge—it was merely a story from back in the day; a fleeting incident from a fleeting period of time. The whole thing inspires me to do some research on John Degl. I find out that, since high school, he went on to wrestle at the University of Iowa, then to coach at multiple places. He’s a husband, a father, a guy from Mahopac—just like me.

For many years, I wanted to reach out. I believe I called him once, without getting a reply. As the years passed, I felt worse and worse and worse. Are we really supposed to hold people to acts from 20 years ago? Was it fair to memorialize a guy on the first page of my book?

Hmm …

Hence, I am thrilled—beyond thrilled—to have John Degl as today’s Quaz. Not only did John punch me in the acne-coated face, but he’s someone I now consider a friend. He runs his own wrestling academy, Iowa Style Wrestling, and his saga is one of overcoming multiple obstacles to reach a dream.

John Degl, it’s an honor to have you as today’s Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, John, so I’m gonna start this one off with something very personal, and we’ll go from there. And the reason I feel OK asking this is because I feel I’ve developed very nice friendship via Facebook with you and your wife, and time has passed, and blah, blah, blah. So … when we were in junior high together, you punched me in the face after a gym class—then bullied me for a spell. You were a big dude, I was not. You were tough, I was a wuss. Years later, I actually wrote about this in the first chapter of my Mets book—and several people said to me, “I was afraid of John Degl, too.” John, this is anything but an attack, or an assault. I simply feel the need to ask: Looking back those 26 … 27 years, who were you? Why did you seem so angry? And, now at age 40, does that help you understand what kids with similar dispositions are thinking?

JOHN DEGL: People thought I was angry, but I wasn’t angry per se. What I wanted was to be left alone. I loved to read. I loved to compete. I loved chess. I loved art. (I was an art major at Iowa) What I did not like was school. I hated school. I hated being stuck inside. I was super competitive, and I wanted challenges. So if I seemed angry it was because I was forced to be in a classroom that was not reaching me. I had some great teachers and I was always fine in their classes, but mostly I had good teachers and they didn’t do it for me. School was a bad environment for me. In kindergarten I had a teacher who I despised. She jaded my opinion of education. I was a little kid who was not good at managing my frustrations. That turned into a high school kid who couldn’t wait to get to practice every afternoon.

As a kid I had two sides—sweet and sour. The bad side was very mean and if I felt threatened my fight-or-flight response was not flight. I always went to attack mode. There was no middle ground or attempt to see things from the other’s point of view. I viewed everything as a zero sum game. I either won or lost and I hated losing. That, I can’t explain. My parents are great, generous and kind. My brother was nothing like me. My parents didn’t fight or have any major issues. My grandparents were all alive well into my teens. We had enough and more than many. I never suffered or had any reason to act the way I did. Even to this day I have a very strong idea (my own code, so to speak) of right and wrong and if I feel wronged in any way I have to be careful to not lash out. As a kid I didn’t have that skill. I think what happened when I hit you and the subsequent bullying was just a simple case of you not caring about winning that Wiffle ball game and that made us enemies in my head. It’s not very flattering to admit. But I remember you dropping the fly ball and I said, “What the **** “and you were probably defensive and I considered that an affront so I hit you. Then I was mad at you forever and picked on you when I saw you. If my child acted like I did I would be mortified. My poor parents did a better job than I represented. I was taught better but this almost compulsive need to be right or win made me make many poor choices.

Now I am a coach and I see all kinds of kids and I do understand that what happens in their mind is very real to them. It doesn’t matter if it is illogical to us as adults. The human brain is not fully developed until our early to mid 20s, yet we expect them to be adults at 16. We give them cars, phones and the power to ruin their lives in an instant. The mind of a child or teen is not the same as an adult. Their friends sometimes mean so much that it is impossible to convince them that other things are more important. They worry about money and yet they have their whole lives to work. It is crazy what they think is important but they believe so strongly, it’s a major challenge to approach them in a way that will help them. It took me many years and, admittedly, I still fall back into old habits sometimes when I am arguing with a high school student-athlete I coach. It’s the hardest thing to work in their reality. To talk to them in terms of what they think about as important. I have learned that to help a teen it is critical to not embarrass them in any way; to be super patient and to let them find the answer themselves through very precarious guidance. It’s so easy to lose them to girls, drugs, alcohol, cars, Internet fantasy world, or just to making money because they want gas money. I feel my many imperfections make it easier to deal with them because now that I am “old” they look at me as not a friend but an adult (aka: the enemy), so I work hard at establishing a relationship of trust. I over-share sometimes to let them know that I, too, was very flawed. For sure the mistakes of my youth help me as a coach, but I wouldn’t recommend so many mistakes for anyone looking at coaching as a profession.

Degl, right, alongside his early wrestling hero, Mahopac High's Phil Mazzurco.

Degl, right, alongside his early wrestling hero, Mahopac High’s Phil Mazzurco.

J.P.: You own and operate Iowa Style Wrestling, a wrestling academy in Putnam County, N.Y. John, how do you explain your love for the sport? What is it about wrestling that does it for you?

J.D.: I love wrestling because for the most part it is pure. A bad call can screw you but, unlike baseball or football, you can control your own fate. In this regard it’s even better than boxing, because the scoring is immediate and you can make up for a bad move or bad call with a pin. You are almost always “in” the match.

My first love was baseball. I wanted to be Bucky Dent. In eighth grade I missed tryouts due to having surgery. My appendicitis burst. I missed tryouts and the coach refused me a later tryout. I didn’t like that answer so I asked the head varsity coach to intercede. The head varsity coach intervened and I was put on the team. The coach was so mad about me going over his head he never played me. One day our catcher dropped a ball or had someone steal on him and I said something derogatory, so the coach—knowing I had never caught ( I was always at shortstop)—said, “Can you do better?” I said yes, and he put me into to embarrass me or shut me up. However I was better at catcher than at short. Who knew? So I played the rest of the season and in ninth and tenth grades I was the starting catcher until I gave up baseball to concentrate on wrestling. I realized that in baseball I was at the mercy of a coach’s opinion, while in wrestling I was master of my fate. So painfully—very painfully—I quit baseball.

Even then wrestling was my third-best sport. I also loved football and wanted to play it in college. All my recruiting trips were for football. I was all set to play football at Columbia or Union but didn’t want to decide until after wrestling season just in case. Well, I won states and that changed everything. I wanted to go to Iowa. That’s all I wanted. They told me no and don’t even bother applying because the wrestling team is full. Coach Jim Zalesky, who later became a great friend, flat out told me don’t come to Iowa, because I couldn’t wrestle there. So I listened and found myself at Manhattan College. I followed my high school idol, Phil Mazzurco. No sooner did I get their then I knew it was not for me. I was not meant for the Bronx. I told my family that I was going to Iowa with or without their help. I bought a plane ticket and showed up on the first day of the second semester. I had no classes and nowhere to live. I enrolled and went straight to the wrestling room where I was told no again—only this time by Dan Gable, the head coach. He said I would quit and that there were no spots left, but I could watch. I did this every day for more than a month before he walked up to me and said, “You promise you won’t quit? It’s, like, $300 wasted if you quit. I need to get you a physical and a mouthguard and they are expensive.”

Nowhere else can you walk on to the reigning national champions and make the team. What sport? Try walking on at Duke basketball or at Alabama football.

Wrestling does it for me because no one can stop you if you don’t let them. You can’t hide, you suck because you suck or you are great because you earned it. No excuses.

Degl, standing and third from right, was a star at Mahopac High School

Degl, standing and third from right, was a star at Mahopac High School

J.P.: Back when I arrived at the University of Delaware in 1990, the school was eliminating its wrestling program—as many colleges continue to do. Why do you think schools so eagerly and willingly cut wrestling programs? And do you worry about the sport, ultimately, vanishing from the Division I college scene?

J.D.: Wrestling is easy to cut. It is a minor sport at many institutions. It costs very little in the grand scheme of things but you can get 20-to-40 males off the list of athletes to make the gender equity portion of Title IX more manageable. If you cut basketball its 10 kids, even lacrosse and baseball have small rosters compared to wrestling.

Coach Gable has been a huge advocate for wrestling. He has tried to combat the cutting of programs. Some have fought successfully to get outside funding that Title IX isn’t applied to. I think that is the only way wrestling will survive. It will take wealthy alumni to make endowments that are beyond the scope of Title IX because it’s private money. It’s sad because education is not just about the classroom.

I have a daughter and I am very glad we live in a country that values equity and fairness. However, hurting men’s sports to help women’s sports isn’t the best answer. I hope they find a better way than cutting men’s sports

The sport of wrestling has been hit hard and yes I am very worried because I make my living coaching and helping student-athletes try to wrestle in college.

My facts might be a bit dated, however …

• 669 American colleges/universities have had wrestling and dropped their programs.

• 48 states and Washington D.C. had schools drop wrestling programs.

• Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii have had programs, but dropped them and left their states without a single collegiate wrestling opportunity.

• Alabama, Georgia and Washington have had multiple programs at all levels, but now have no four-year collegiate wrestling program to take part in.

• Using the NCAA’s average roster size of 27, the number of lost individual chances to compete collegiately are 18,063 nationwide.

J.P.: Odd question, perhaps, but can anyone be good at wrestling with dedication and intensity? Or are people born to be wrestlers—and some people not born to be wrestlers?

J.D.: The only way you can be good at wrestling is to never quit. Many people don’t have what it takes to lose for a long time and stick with it. If you have the mentality to not see results but believe they are coming anyway, than you can be a wrestler. Suspension of reality and a belief that you can be great is all that is needed to be very, very good at this sport.

Jordan Burroughs is special. He was born better athletically than most. But in football he would be fast and people would see his talent right away. Yet in high school he never won a state title until his senior year. Delayed gratification is a must in wrestling.

Burroughs is arguably the best athlete on the planet. His athleticism is unreal. He is a freak. But it took him years to see success. There are many four- and five-time state champs who never reach Burroughs’ success after high school.

The best thing about wrestling is that you can win so many different ways. You never see a bunch of short fat kids winning the final four in basketball. You can be anything in wrestling. Some fat heavyweights are great athletes and learn to use their size. Some small heavyweights are great and use their size (smallness) to be more agile and quick and are great at heavyweight. Frank Molinaro was, like, two-feet tall and won a NCAA title. Kyle Dake is long and he won four. Anyone can be a great wrestler—maybe not an NCAA or Olympic champion, but anyone can be very good with dedication and intensity.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 10.31.39 AMJ.P.: You wrestled for the legendary Dan Gable at the University of Iowa. We always hear how great coaches are—but rarely do we hear why they’re great. John, what—specifically—made Gable great?

J.D.: Dan Gable is great for so many reasons, I could (and you should) write a book about it. However, to summarize I will tell you it was because of passion.

He sister was murdered when he was in high school. He knew who did it and told the police. He could have felt guilt. He could have drifted to drugs and the party scene. He didn’t. He took all the pain and the hurt his family felt and made himself the focus of their world. He outworked everyone. He gave them something to latch on to.

As a coach he took that intensity and made you believe you could do it because he did it and he knew what it took. If Gable said cut a tree down and chop it up, you believed it would help you win a national title. He made you passionate about the sport of wrestling.

He also never quit on anyone. He let kids who would never start be part of the team as long as they came to practice and tried hard. He loved work ethic. He forgave so many people so many things. He didn’t ignore it, but he forgave you if you failed a class or got caught doing something wrong downtown. He always made you feel welcome. He was a taskmaster and hard as granite in ways, but never demeaning. He would ride you if you needed riding and he would mentally break you, but he always put you back together stronger. He never left the pieces out for you to figure out. He supported his athletes.

Gable was smart—he treated everyone as an individual. He figured out what made everyone tick. He was a master psychologist. He knew what we needed and gave it to us. I wasn’t a star … never All-American, but I was treated like I was one. He didn’t ignore me because I wasn’t his best wrestler. He got the most out of you. Whether you won or lost he worked to make you understand that you could win, and he motivated you to always push harder and train smarter.

Other teams looked great at the beginning of a season. Gable’s teams always looked best at the NCAAs. He was a master at peaking. He knew the less-is-more approach worked when others did not.

He is a genius.

deglJ.P.: There are some wrestling forums and chat rooms that tear into you. Overly competitive. Too intense with people. No class. On and on. John, I know nothing of the wrestling world. Where does this stuff come from? Is there a point? Is it jealousy? Both? Neither?

J.D.: Well, some of it is true and some of it is completely false and some is just the perception of someone who dislikes me. We all see things differently. In college we had to look at an old woman/young girl. Same picture. Some people saw a beautiful woman. Others saw an old hag.

I am overly competitive. I don’t know what too intense is, but I am intense. The worst thing I did was tell an 18-year-old he couldn’t hide anymore and to enjoy it (winning sectionals) while it lasted. He lost at states and I still was the jackass who yelled at a kid. If he won I would have been the jackass and wrong. That was bad. I didn’t do a Woody Hayes but I crossed a line. I was way wrong. And that was classless.

The rest is mostly jealousy. I came home from Iowa and tried like heck to be the savior of Section 1 wrestling. We stunk. In 1991 Section 1 had three State champs and took fourth as a section. In 2002 Section 1 was 12 out of 13in States. No Champs and only three all-state wrestlers.

In between and after we were bad. I came back in 2001 after coaching Hofstra and coming back from Iowa for a second time.

No one wanted saving. The coaches did not want to have me help them. They didn’t respect me. They didn’t want to change. I coached one year of high school and Mahopac won the Section 1 team title. I know a Hall of fame Coach who went 33 years before winning one.

I am reading a great book, David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell. He points to how Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, and Cézanne simply decided to create their own pond. They “abandoned” the “Salon”—the establishment did not respect them, but they all worked together. If they had split up no one of them would have stayed the course.

“There are in Paris scarcely fifteen art-lovers capable of liking a painting without Salon approval.”

But they went ahead anyway and changed the world of art forever. I was brash and didn’t care about the old guard. I felt so strongly that wrestling had so much to offer, but the section failed the athletes. The coaches failed the athletes. No one was going on to wrestle in college. So I decided if they didn’t want to work with me I would crush them. So I made no friends and alienated the ones I had. It took many years before someone finally convinced me I was an idiot. I had a clue I was, but this good friend wouldn’t quit until he made sure I knew it 100 percent. My friend, Eddie Mezger made me see that wrestling was not an individual sport and that’s when things changed. I found a way to create that critical mass the artist in Gladwell’s book found. I built a community to fight the old guard. I tried to mend fences with coaches and some took me up on it. I made the club (ISW) more of a family and developed a selfless culture instead of a selfish one. Instead of pitting the athletes against each other to see who was the best I tried to make them see that even their biggest rival was an asset; that the key to winning at the state level was training with the best-available kids, and since then we have done amazing things. There are currently 25 Section 1 wrestlers wrestling on college teams. That is the basis of the jealousy. In the end my club has done what no one thought could be done. But it cost me a lot. Now it’s better. I learned that I could be successful and not be a jerk. Before I thought I had to be ruthless and push so hard. I’m a better coach and get better results without all the madness. I still get tweaked here and there. Also, having a family makes a difference.

I truly thought I had to be a bully to the world to make kids win. I felt huge pressure to win right away. That led to many bad decisions and behavior. At Iowa Gable never acted like that. But we had no culture and no one believed they could compete. Now I have a track record and kids believe. In the beginning I’m not sure we would have gotten there without some of the craziness—some was needed. Now I can let my resume speak for itself and kids get on board or they don’t. I have less to prove and more work to do.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 10.28.25 AMJ.P.: Greatest moment of your career in wrestling? Lowest?

J.D.: Greatest—coaching kids in my club and seeing them go to college and wrestle. One year we had five state champions in one year and 13 state finalists. That was the best!

Winning a New York State Title was the most rewarding as an athlete but at the time it was not because I didn’t think it was a big deal. I truly just expected to win like any other match. Now I realize how hard it was and how few people do it. I have coached kids who were way better than I was and they did not win States.

The lowest was, for sure, my last college match. I lost to Airron Richardson of Michigan. I was mounting a small comeback when I heard (incorrectly) Gable say, “two seconds” when there were 20. I tried a real quick duck and got put on my back, thinking there was no time, but I gave up backs and was down by a large margin. In the end I lost 16-4. My career was over. Years of sacrifice and nothing to show for it. At the time I felt I was a loser and a huge waste. Gable was the best and I failed him. I failed my team. I failed myself. I didn’t cry. I balled. I was beyond inconsolable. I hid for over two hours and cried. I’ve never felt pain like that until my friend Tom lost his 5-year-old son. That hurt worse. That cured me of thinking losing a match means shit. I have never recovered from that. I have recovered from losing in college and not keeping my spot at 190 and letting Mike Derasomo catch my weak pop up in the Babe Ruth Mahopac Sports Association World Series to end the game in our loss. But I have never recovered from my friend losing his son.

J.P.: How do you feel about the emergence of MMA and the decline of boxing? And how do both those things impact the sport of wrestling—if at all?

J.D.: I don’t watch MMA, but I think it is a great sport. They have done a very good job of taking some of the brutality out and making it more skill-based, even though it still is very dangerous. The original MMA was really deadly. Now MMA is a great sport.

I think that’s why boxing is declining. Kids are told fighting is bad. You can’t hit or you get arrested. Many people used to fight, with some sense of fair play. If you fought a friend or enemy you didn’t try and kill them—it was just a fight. That was when boxing was an art and kids who liked to fight found boxing. Schools don’t support boxing any more. You can’t fight because of the societal rules being so harsh. Kids have to play nice and no one feeds into boxing. Also, boxing was very corrupt.

MMA is good for wrestling at the amateur level. It is a place where you can land. Before MMA you either quit or did freestyle or Greco to try and make an Olympic team. You had no way to make a living. You risked everything to put your career on hold and you had very little shot at Olympic gold. Even when you did win, you had no money so the risk was huge. Now with MMA if you keep the warrior lifestyle you can always land in the MMA world and try and make at least enough to support yourself. It’s a great way to follow your wrestling dreams with at least a little hope of using the skills to earn a living. It’s like a writer who, before the Internet, was either publish or perish. Now you can have more options to take your passion further into your life and maybe make a career out of it instead of a hobby or a teaching gig.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 10.28.05 AMJ.P.: I’m torn on youth sports, and I’ll tell you why: When we were kids, it seemed much more about the experiences; about playing different sports different seasons; about teamwork and fun and being outside. Now, all around me I see kids playing one sport two, three or even four seasons; parents gunning for scholarships; pressure, screaming, yelling, shouting, taunting. John, can an argument be made that, perhaps, the youth sports experience isn’t so valuable? Or, perhaps, that something has gone wrong?

J.D.: In my opinion youth sports are way off the mark. I make my living by people paying for coaching. I love youth sports. I think they have as much to teach youngsters as any classroom. Not in lieu of the classroom, but in conjunction with a great academic education, sports are vital. Nowhere else do children learn about real life as effectively. The classroom is monitored 100 percent of the time. The rules are very strict and the teacher is omnipresent. The playground is where real-world skills used to be learned, but now there is less play and more monitoring.

The youth sports programs should focus on the skills and then let the chips fall as they may. Instead, the coaches all want to be Vince Lombardi or Don Shula and the parents all think their child is a star. We give everyone a trophy. Its not real life and then we wonder why as teens they lack life skills and are soft. We make them soft by pampering them physically and mentally.

Specialization is happening too early and even though I think wrestlers should wrestle most of the year (even at an early age), the sport is not like any other. It develops everything, like gymnastics. Baseball all year is no good. Too narrow. Football all year would be bad—kids would be too physically beat up. But gymnastics, yoga, wrestling, karate and things that are really skill sports can be done properly all year and the kids can do other spots as well and not burn out mentally.

Youth sports should be about skill development and fun. Parents have ruined the experience with the “winning” becoming the goal. I can’t tell you how many “championship” youth football teams I hear about. It’s a joke.

I think other countries have some great ideas. I read in “Outliers” that the first year or so in Russia in this “hot-pocket” of tennis that the kids can’t use a racket—because it will hurt their minds. They use their minds to see perfect shots. The results are theoretical based on the skill of their stroke. That’s brilliant.

J.P.: I’ve always wondered this—so I’ll ask: What did it feel like, seeing your name in “The Bad Guys Won”? Were you hurt Flattered? Indifferent? To be honest, I’ve long felt I’ve owed you an apology. I never held any sort of long-term grudge. It was merely an experience to write about. But, in hindsight, I believe I treated you unfairly. I’m sorry.

J.D.: Well, it wasn’t very flattering, so I guess at first I was annoyed. Then I was defensive, because it had very little context. I was a year behind you in school and I didn’t seek you out to harass you. That year you mentioned was when you were in ninth grade and I was in eighth and we were in completely separate buildings. I do remember being a huge dick when I saw you but I don’t remember ever laying in wait or seeking you out to bully you. Admittedly, when I did run in to you I was a huge jerk—which, since I like Karma, I kind of appreciated the fact you stuck it to me in the book. I deserved it. I don’t think you owe me an apology.

As an adult I felt bad because regardless of what I thought about it, you had a very different perspective on the events. Kids I coach have brought it up often to me and I can then share with them how your behavior and choices follow you. So in the end it has been a good thing to have in the open and I can also finally apologize to you for the horrible way I treated you. I’m sorry, too.

Screen Shot 2013-12-17 at 12.23.54 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH JOHN DEGL:

• Five greatest wrestlers of your lifetime?: Jordan Burroughs, Dan Gable, John Smith, Terry Brands and Tom Brands (can’t pick—they are twins), Cael Sanderson.

• Right now, you vs. Hulk Hogan in a no-holds-barred steel cage match. Who wins, and how?: Hulkamania has no chance! I’d put him in a Camel Clutch and he would tap out faster than a Texas two-step.

• Five reasons one should make Mahopac, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination?: 5. Camp out on Canopius Island in Lake Mahopac; 4. Attend the Muddle Puddles “Mess Fest” to support the Ty Louis Campbell Foundation 3. To see Them Bonds play at the Pub or J.P. Cunninghams. 2. See Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Massaro House on Lake Mahopac. 1. Visit childhood home of famous author Jeff Pearlman.

• How did you propose to your wife?:  I met Jen in (then-Mahopac High baseball coach) Frank Miele’s office and he told her to stay away from me. Well, after only a few dates Jen said I could date other women. I was amazed at this forward thinking, but then she mentioned I would have to stop dating her. So I knew I had to marry her. She was very smart. I said, “I love you” for the very first time the day before we went to the comedy club Caroline’s in New York City. Well, I insisted we sit up front. That was dumb. The second comic asked me in front of the whole club if that was my girlfriend. I said yes. Then he says, “Do you love her?” and I hesitated a split second and he killed me. Jen laughed it off but I hurt her feelings because just the day before I said it for real.

Fast-forward a year and the same headliner is at Caroline’s so I planned everything to be the same. I invited the same people and had a ring ready. I had called ahead and had the guarantee that the opening act guy would ask me the same two questions. Well, this did not happen. The whole night went by and no questions to me! I was getting very stressed and Jen was getting very much into her cups. Finally, I had her cousin go and ask WTF, why didn’t this guy do the act. So in a very forced way the MC comes out and all the acts are done but the place is still full and he says, “Is John Degl here? Is that your girlfriend? Do you love her?” It was the worst because he ruined my whole plan but this time I had to say it right so I said yes instantaneously and then said I love her so much I want her to marry me. Jen looks at me and says and I quote” You have to be shitting me …”

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Rampage Jackson, Nelson Mandela, Fozzie Bear, Elmo, Pearl Jam, “A Walk to Remember,” Willie Nelson, Dave Fleming, Dwight Howard, Candyland, Legos, Erik Estrada: Pearl Jam, Nelson Mandela (he would have been No. 1, but I found out he didn’t write or even use “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson. he still is a superman, though; Dave Fleming; Willie Nelson, Legos; “A Walk to Remember,” Fozzie Bear; Elmo, Erik Estrada; Candyland, Dwight Howard, Rampage Jackson.

• What the heck is up with wrestlers and cauliflower ear?: It tastes good with butter. No, it’s gross and it hurts, but wearing headgear is a pain in the neck so many kids train without and they get hit and their ears swell and the blood hardens and you get cauliflower ear. If you wear your headgear you don’t get it! All kids and college kids should wear it all the time.

• Celine Dion calls. She offers you $5 million to move to Las Vegas and work 363 days next year teaching wrestling to her poodle, Ed. You also have to clean up the dog’s excrement and bake 200 cookies daily. You in?: I will take it. Cael Sanderson doesn’t make $5 million a year and he is currently the best of the best results wise. I will never make $5 million. I have a daughter and I love her enough to bake cookies and clean poop. I would never debase myself for money because it would teach my children that money is important, more important than self-respect, but I would be silly as hell for $5 million. I’m in if you can broker the deal—I’ll kick back a 10-percent finder fee after taxes.

• Dumbest thing you’ve ever heard a youth sport parent scream from the stands?: Impossible to answer—too many to even begin. However, once I heard a parent tell the kid to throw a half (a move to turn an opponent to his back) while the ref was talking to the kids about what anklets top wear before the match.  I have had kids actually stop mid-match and tell their dad’s to shut up. I think all youth events should be held in hockey rinks and the parents are behind the glass you can’t hear them that way at all.

• How do you explain the continued existence of The Bachelor on TV?: I didn’t know it was still on. My best guess is because too few people listen to baseball on the radio. If we listened to radio baseball and took time to talk with friends instead of texting them, then no one would ever watch a show like that. But somehow we text instead of calling and we e-mail instead of writing and we allow reality TV to exist. I know I like many modern technologies and conveniences but the impact on the culture is bad.

  • Steve

    One of the best quaz es yet. We all either were a bully or were bullied and the other side is interesting to hear and understand .

  • Steve

    Really enjoyed that, Jeff. Admittedly I am an Iowa grad (although not a wrestler) so it caught my attention, but I though John did a nice job of explaining his perspective and how it has changed. Amazing what you start to figure out as you get older.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life