With the size of the smile on Matt Mammosser’s face, you would’ve thought he was the hero.
Instead, he was interrupting my interview with the man of the hour, Bryant Lilly.
And I couldn’t have been more grateful for the intrusion. Mammosser’s heartfelt congratulations for Lilly couldn’t have better reflected an often misunderstood concept: The best rivalries are fueled by respect.
Sure, he was pumped to have hung with Lilly after the Sterling junior tech falled him last year. But he was also humbled to simply be – if only for Wednesday night – at the epicenter of the Twin Cities’ age-old rivalry.
“It’s pretty hard to have all that responsibility and stuff on your head,” Mammosser said between gasps. “It makes you feel special and pushes you through the tough times when you’re really tired.”
On the drive back to the office, I had to remind myself, “Don’t speed. Don’t speed.” I was pumped. And I’m not a wrestling fan. I know about as much about the sport as I do underwater basket-weaving.
From the outset, there was no mistaking what the NONCONFERENCE dual meant to all parties involved. When Gabby Diaz-Morales earned a pin in the final junior varsity match, Sterling fans unleashed a roar usually reserved for sectionals.
Then, after all the varsity combatants were introduced, Rock Falls captain and half-bear-half-18-year-old Shawn Skinner strutted behind the Rock Falls bench as if he was at Assembly Hall.
After he went all Tazmanian devil on Josh Villarreal, he spent the next hour fulfilling his job as captain by screaming his lungs out for his teammates.
When the smoke cleared and Sterling emerged victorious, Skinner said some things that resonated beneath my ribcage.
Here’s the biggest one: “I’ve been wrestling with these guys from Sterling forever, and I love all of ’em.”
That’s love, folks, with a capital L.
“A lot of people think the Sterling-Rock Falls rivalry is a lot of smack talk, but it’s really not,” Skinner continued. “Before the matches, we’re talking to each other. We don’t let competition get between us, but we do get pretty competitive. That’s what makes it fun.”
I get pretty competitive, too. So I was kind of embarrassed I led my adoring Twitter followership astray by pumping up the Skinner-Villarreal matchup as the main event.
But, like Konner Smith at 113, I recovered well and finally got one right. When Austin Olalde pinned Bain Britt and got Sterling within a point at 24-23, I leaned over and said to the rest of the gentlemen at the press table, “If this is a one-bout dual come 170 pounds, this is going to get epic.”
That brings us back to Lilly and Mammosser. Without the guttiest match I’ve seen at Musgrove Fieldhouse, my prediction would have – per usual – rang hollow.
Thanks, boys. And thanks for letting me play witness to a classic.