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An eye on a title


It isn't that Jim Crumley has an eye for trouble, although it may seem that way. But trouble certainly has a way of finding Crumley, who wrestles for Oregon State. Take that eye. It is Jim's only one. The other he lost when as a 12-year-old he threw a pitchfork at a bat in the family barn. "The pitchfork hit the ceiling and got me in the eye coming down," he says without a trace of self-consciousness. "It's probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I had always wanted to be a basketball player, but after that I got into wrestling."

After that he got into more trouble. Most of it has stemmed from a recklessness that has made him a crowd pleaser and alternately driven his coaches mad and awed them. This week, if Crumley stays in one piece, he should win the 177-pound title at the NCAA championships. Three times this season he easily defeated last year's titlist, Bill Murdock of Washington. The rub, of course, is that business of remaining whole.

Crumley thinks he has the problem licked. "I've worked on getting over my carelessness," he said recently at lunch, then rose to leave and in quick succession forgot his jacket, dropped his hat and bumped into a chair. "Well," he said, looking on the bright side, "that's better than before. I used to trip over the mat just walking out for a bout. Now at least I can get out there without falling down."

Just barely. Crumley's instinct for misadventure goes back to his early childhood. He grew up in Sodaville only a few miles away from the OSU campus in Corvallis, and did his best to reduce its population, now 125, by at least one. Once, he remembers, he was playing cowboys and Indians with his brother John. "We climbed a pile of logs about 15 feet high," he says. "John pointed his finger at me, shot and then dared me to fall off dead. I fell and broke my collarbone. The next day I had my arm in a sling and my mom caught me trying to do a tightrope act by balancing on the clothesline. We climbed trees a lot. One day I was in an oak cutting down some limbs when my machete hit a knot, bounced back and cut my foot. I got mad, swung at the knot again and back came the machete. Got the foot again. That wasn't bad. Sometimes when a guy was on a limb, somebody cut it off."

Life on the mat has not been very much safer. Two years ago at the Olympic training camp Crumley threw an opponent to the mat—and wound up giving himself a concussion. And last September while working out with 190-pound teammate Greg Strobel he heard something tear. Says Crumley: "I thought I had ripped his shirt, but it was my right shoulder."

As a sophomore Crumley tore cartilage in his rib cage and was out half the season, but he took the Pacific 8 title and four straight matches in the NCAAs before losing in the finals 8-6. He had a mangled knee in his junior year, wrestled even less than the year before—and added another Pac 8 crown. In the NCAA semifinals he was ahead 11-8 with a minute to go when the crazies got him. He foolishly went for a pin, was caught in a double grapevine and got himself flattened. Later, triply flattened by mononucleosis, a bad ankle and impending fatherhood, he red-shirted for a season.

Now it is a new year and the last time around for Crumley, which, all things considered, might be a blessing. All season he has competed with that bad right shoulder and twice he has been sacked by the flu. Still, he has won 22 of 23 bouts. He won the 177-pound titles at the Arizona and Washington Invitationals at the season's onset and was given the outstanding wrestler award at both events. "The nicest thing, though, was when the guys gave me the team trophy after the Arizona tournament," Crumley says. "I guess it meant they were glad to have me back."

"I've never taught him anything because he's too creative to tamper with," says Coach Dale Thomas, a man who doles out praise with the free hand of Oliver Twist's porridge pourer. "About the only thing I've worked with Jim on is that carelessness. He's a good scrambler. He'll throw all kinds of stuff—legs, upper-body moves, a front whizzer, cradles, bar arms. And nobody has any idea what's coming, because he doesn't either. He's uninhibited. This means he can give anybody trouble—and get into trouble with anybody."

As Thomas and everybody else have discovered, telling Crumley to calm down is about as easy as teaching a puppy to sit. The suspicion is, although Crumley denies it, that he does not want to curb his flamboyant style. His specialty is to become so entangled with his opponent that it is almost impossible to tell which limb belongs to whom. But Crumley seems to know, even if his victim doesn't, and suddenly there he is with a twist here, a turn there, in command. When the arms and legs are all sorted out, Crumley is on top.

"I'm trying to change," Crumley says, not too convincingly. "But something happens to me. Like when I met Wes Hines of Oregon a few weeks ago. Wes was my roommate at the Olympic camp, so I knew what he would do and yet I walked right into it. Before I could think, I was down 9-2. It seems the other guy always gets the first takedown on me. But once we're on the mat I feel more confident and can really go to work." He worked Hines over for a 13-11 win.

But there will be a new Jim Crumley in the NCAAs. Jim Crumley says so. His shoulder, he says, has forced him to become a more conservative and careful wrestler. He is watching his weight—he used to go up and down 12 pounds between matches—and staying clear of pitchforks and high places. Now, if he doesn't stumble....