It's a story that spans the decades, bringing together the winner of the 2020 Hodge Trophy ... and the mat legend whose name is on the award known as the "Heisman Trophy of amateur wrestling."
Here's the Cliffs Notes version: Dan Hodge, three-time NCAA champ for the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1950s, inscribed the cover of the April 1, 1957 Sports Illustrated (the only issue of SI to ever feature an amateur wrestler on the front), to be presented to University of Iowa superstar Spencer Lee, who was named recipient of the 2020 Hodge Trophy, the annual award for the top college wrestler of the year by WIN Magazine.
The story begins on April Fools' Day this year (no joking), with an email from Barb McReynolds to Andrew Hipps, InterMat co-owner and senior editor.
"On April 1, I noticed a Facebook post from Mark Palmer about the 1957 Sports Illustrated cover that featured Dan Hodge.
"I have a very unusual request that I don't know if you can help me with or not. My husband collected a few of these magazines. Before he died, he had always thought Spencer Lee would one day win the Hodge trophy and of course, now he has.
"I am trying to find out if you know an address for Dan Hodge. Ideally, I'd love to mail a copy to him to have him autograph this magazine so that my family could give it to Spencer in honor of this great Dan Hodge legacy award."
Spencer Lee won the 2020 Hodge Trophy (Photo/Iowa Athletics)
Ask and ye shall receive ...
It so happens that one of my Facebook friends is Dan Hodge's granddaughter, Stacy Ewy Wilson. I contacted Stacy, and, in what seemed to be less time than it took for Hodge to pin an opponent (the Sooner fall guy pinned 36 of his 46 opponents, for a 78% pin rate), Stacy said yes ... providing her grandparents' mailing address to share with Barb McReynolds.
Fast-forward to this past week. Barb let us know that she had already received the Hodge-autographed copy of her April 1, 1957 Sports Illustrated magazine by return mail, inscribed to the recipient of the 2020 Hodge Trophy with this message on its cover: "To Spencer Lee/God Bless You/Danny Hodge."
Barb McReynolds then mailed the signed magazine to Spencer Lee and his family, along with a letter explaining "the rest of the story" that makes this story all the more heartwarming ... and meaningful. Here's a portion of her letter:
"Rob and I have been Iowa wrestling fans since our first date in February 1980 when we attended an Iowa versus Iowa State meet. I have so many fond memories of the great Iowa program and the time that we spent together talking about wrestling.
"I feel Dan is an absolute legend and I know how hard the Hodge Trophy is to win," Barb said. "Spencer Lee is an incredible individual, on top of his wrestling skills. And, my husband was an amazing man."
Barb's late husband also had an amazing career as a high school wrestling coach. At the time of Rob McReynolds' passing, a local newspaper tribute said, "The highlight of Rob's coaching career included a three-year winning streak between 1993 and 1995 where his squad had a combined record of 107 wins with zero losses, and he coached Colorado state's Wrestler of the Year." The tribute also mentions that "He attended 34 NCAA wrestling tournaments, was a member of the National Wrestling Coaches Association for 25 years, and was a University of Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling Club board member."
Rob and Barb McReynolds"For several years, Rob collected copies of this Sports Illustrated magazine with Dan Hodge on the cover. Rob was both inspired and in awe of the great Dan Hodge and the elite trophy associated with his name. A few years ago, Dan attended an event at the University of Iowa and Rob had him sign copies for Brent Metcalf and Mark Ironside since they had previously won the Hodge Trophy.
"Last year, a few days before Rob died, he told me that he wanted me to still go back to Iowa meets without him. He also said that he honestly believed that Spencer would win this (Hodge) award and he asked me to try to get a copy of the magazine autographed for him if that was ever possible. That probably sounds like a strange conversation for end of life, but it demonstrated Rob's true passion for Iowa and his recognition of Spencer's talents ..."
In her letter to Spencer Lee and his family (which accompanied the 1957 Sports Illustrated issue signed by Dan Hodge), Barb McReynolds wrote, "Tom Brands called to thank me for doing this for Spencer. I told him those three men were the important individuals. I was just the 'signature broker' in the deal."
Barb continued, "I'm proud to call myself a fan of Iowa wrestling and I'm honored to give you these autographed magazines. Spencer, congratulations on this incredible accomplishment! You truly deserve the accolades. I also know Rob would be happy that I have completed his wish. Thank you for everything you do and the success you bring to the Iowa program."
In past years, the Hodge Trophy is usually presented to the wrestler in person at a public event in the fall, such as a home football game at the wrestler's college.