The Day Gable Wrestled ‘Goober’

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 | Columns, WIN Magazine, Wrestling

There have been many great wrestling showdowns through the decades, such as Caruso-Fehrs, Behm- Sanders, Lewis-Smith, Fraser-Houck, Perry-Hendricks. They were all classic matches, to be sure.

But one match that never makes the list is Gable-Goober.

And for good reason. It was a pure mismatch from the outset, and there was nothing important about the match at all.

But it surely was the funniest wrestling match of all time!

It took place one June day in 1978, in Iowa City, Iowa.

For those of us who grew up in the 1960s, the Andy Griffith Show was a staple of family life. Griffith played Sheriff Andy Taylor in the small town of Mayberry, with Barney Fife (Don Knotts) and Opie (Ron Howard) at his side. One of the main characters was a bumbling gas station attendant named Goober Pyle, played to perfection by actor George Lindsey.

The re-runs of the show can be seen on some station somewhere every single day in America. Andy Taylor, Barney Fife, Opie and Goober have become a part of American culture.

In an effort to raise funds for the University of Iowa athletic program in the 1970s and ‘80s, Amana Refrigeration, just down the road from Iowa City, came up with the idea of the Amana VIP Golf Tournament. It enjoyed a 20-year run, bringing in such names as Gerald Ford, former president of the United States; baseball legends Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Stan Musial, and entertainers like Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, Dinah Shore and Charley Pride.

IT WAS IN 1978 that the Oak Ridge Boys, a very popular country-singing group, were invited. They said they weren’t golfers but were softball players – and wrestling fans. They challenged the Iowa wrestling team to a softball game.

The idea caught on life wildfire. I was sports editor of The Gazette newspaper in Cedar Rapids, just 20 miles from Iowa City, and was delighted when I heard that the Oak Ridge Boys had asked George “Goober” Lindsey to be their team captain.

I called Goober for an interview and he said he was coming to Iowa for two reasons – to play softball against the Iowa wrestling team and to challenge Dan Gable to a wrestling match!

The hoopla began and by the time the players took the field, there was an overflow crowd of 5,000 fans on hand. Goober strutted onto the field with his trademark cap turned on backwards, and began “trash talking” Gable, who was taking fielding practice around third base.

Gable basically ignored Goober until the game began. When Goober came to bat, the fans went wild. He dribbled a pitch back to the pitcher and could have easily been tagged out at first, but the first baseman, heavyweight Tom Burns of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, (and everyone else in the place) wanted him on base.

Goober made it to first and then began issuing challenges to Gable, on third base (by the way, Gable was a very good baseball player as a youth). The next batter sent a ball to the infield and Goober could have been thrown out at second – but no one was going to let that happen.

The showdown was set. Goober was on second shouting at Gable.

The next batter swung and Goober took off for third. Then he stopped midway, staring at Gable, and began taking his baseball uniform off – revealing a wrestling singlet!

Gable stripped too, and was in a singlet. They grabbed each other, there was a quick flurry, and Goober hit the ground, on his back, pinned!

As the crowd went wild, on its feet laughing and clapping, Gable let Goober up for a second chance – whereupon Goober immediately turned and ran as fast as he could to the dugout, quivering in fear!

The showdown between Gable and Goober ended like most of Gable’s matches – with a resounding pin!

George Lindsey went on to a long career in television and stage. He appeared on the popular TV show “Hee Haw” as Goober for nearly 20 years, and is such an icon that his hometown has named a street in his honor. As I said earlier, Goober can be seen on some TV station somewhere in this nation every single day!

The other guy? Well, Dan Gable continued coaching for a few more years and left a stunning record of accomplishments. Today, he is the sport’s greatest ambassador, traveling the nation to promote the sport in numerous ways.

I doubt either one of them thinks much of their wrestling match on a softball field in Iowa City over three decades ago. But it was a real hoot for those of us who saw the Gable-Goober showdown.

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