Former OU coach Stan Abel remembers Danny Hodge: Arm wrestling, crushing apples and a knife fight
When Danny Hodge snapped his fingers, it sounded like a firecracker popping.
That, according to former University of Oklahoma wrestling coach Stan Abel, is just one of the many amazing things about Hodge, his lifelong friend.
The Jan. 3 feature in The Oklahoman about Hodge, who died on Christmas Eve at age 88, brought a tremendous outpouring from readers and fans, including Abel.
Abel, now 83, first met Hodge as a freshman at OU in 1957. OU wrestling coach Port Robertson asked Hodge, a two-time NCAA champion, to work with Abel. Hodge would win his third straight NCAA title later that year and Abel would go on to win back-to-back crowns in 1959 and 1960.
During their college days together, their favorite hangout was at the local Dairy Queen with their friends. Hodge was kind of like Fonzie, Abel said, the cool guy everyone wanted to be around. Hodge, like Fonzie, would stick up for Abel and his buddies if they ever got in a jam.
Years later, when Abel was coaching OU in the '70s, Hodge joined the team at Abel's house one night after a Bedlam win and performed the feat he is famous for, crushing an apple in his hand.
"They were in awe," Abel said of his Sooner squad.
But one of Abel's favorite stories about Hodge happened when former OU assistant football coach and former player Scott Hill challenged Hodge to an arm-wrestling match in a Norman restaurant.
After Hodge left OU and turned pro, he would often call Abel when he was in town. One night when Hodge returned to Norman, Abel took him to dinner at a local restaurant.
"We are sitting at the bar and ordering some food and in walks Scotty Hill who had just gotten out of football practice," Abel said. "As it turns out, Scotty was a great arm wrestler. Scotty proclaimed he could beat everybody on the football team."
Hill asked Hodge if he wanted to arm wrestle. Hodge consented and Abel moved out of the way.
"I grabbed the top of their hands and started the clock," Abel said. "They started their tugging and pushing. Danny was just testing him out."
Hodge indulged Hill for awhile before slamming Hill's forearm down on the bar's counter. Hill jumped up and asked for a rematch.
"This time he (Hodge) didn't mess around," Abel said. Hodge ended the contest in the blink of an eye.
"Hill jumped up and started walking around the room, shaking his arm, then said, 'Let's go left-handed,'" Abel said.
The next three contests with the left arm ended just as quickly in Hodge's favor.
"He (Hill) had no chance whatsoever," Abel said. "Scotty spent the next 30 minutes exclaiming how he could not believe how strong Danny was, that nobody had ever been able to beat him like that. He just kept saying, 'I can't believe it.' It was like (Donald) Trump getting beat for the presidency. He just couldn't accept the fact that Hodge was that overwhelming."
The time Hodge went into the ring and a wrestler was stabbed
A major rival of Danny Hodge's during his early days of professional wrestling was Angelo Savoldi.
In a match between the two wrestlers in Oklahoma City in the spring of 1960, Hodge's father jumped in the ring and stabbed Savoldi with a pocketknife. Savoldi required stitches and Hodge's father, who was an alcoholic, was arrested.
"Danny never told his dad it was fake," Abel said. "Danny always played the good guy and (Savoldi) played the bad guy. Danny would be walking away and the guy would come up behind him and hit him with a chair, or he would pull things out of his shorts like brass knuckles and hit him, different things like that.
"His dad was so upset that this guy was cheating that he jumped up out of the stands and ran into the ring and took out his pocketknife and stabbed the guy."
Savoldi later sued the promoter, Leroy McGuirk, who was represented at the time by a young Oklahoma City attorney Kent Frates.
After McGuirk was subpoenaed for a deposition, "Leroy called me and said, 'They are not really serious about this are they?'" said Frates, who still is practicing law in Oklahoma City.
Frates told him they were. McGuirk replied: "Let me talk to Savoldi. If he carries through with this, he will never get another wrestling match in this part of the country again."
A day later, McGuirk called and told Frates that Savoldi was dropping the case.
How Hodge influences Chickasha wrestling still today
Chickasha's biggest wrestling supporter was inspired by Danny Hodge.
Homer Hulme, 87, met Hodge while they were in college at OU. Hulme wasn't a wrestler, didn't know anything about the sport, until he met Hodge on campus and the two students became friends.
Hulme has been taking Chickasha wrestling teams to eat and watch Bedlam wrestling matches in Norman for more than 25 years. A decade ago, Hulme set up a $50,000 wrestling endowment that has grown to $70,000 so those trips could continue even after he is gone. It's something that would have never happened had Hodge not turned Hulme into a wrestling fan.
A former mayor of Chickasha, Hulme wishes OU would do more to recognize Hodge's achievements such as the university has done for its Heisman Trophy winners. Several years ago, Hulme said he paid $2,000 for a stone on the sidewalk near the Sam Noble Museum in Norman to honor his friend.
"He may be the greatest athlete to go through OU," Hulme said. "He was the most marvelous athlete I ever hoped to meet. He was such a humble person. You would think you were speaking to a preacher. He was just so low-key and nice."
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