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Let’s get this straight right now. Nebraska heavyweight wrestler Tucker Lane has three personal goals imbedded deeply in his mind over the next month:
1) Hold his own against the NCAA’s No. 1 heavyweight, David Zabriskie, in third-ranked Nebraska’s 2 p.m. dual against fourth-ranked Iowa State Sunday at the NU Coliseum;
2) Take on Zabriskie, plus the nation’s Nos. 2 and 3-ranked heavyweights (from Missouri and Oklahoma State) at the Big 12 Championship March 7 in Lincoln; and
3) “Finish on top” as an All-American (top eight finisher) at the NCAA Wrestling Championships March 19-21 in St. Louis.
Sounds a bit aggressive for a redshirt freshman who grew up in an unincorporated town in southwestern Colorado – a community so remote that it has more small farms and uranium mines than people and is 100 miles and three mountain passes from the nearest McDonald’s.
Well, it probably is aggressive, but the Legend of Tucker Lane is just beginning. So, please, expect nothing less than the best from this 4.0 student who chose Nebraska over perennial collegiate wrestling power Iowa and many others. He came to Lincoln with a 31 ACT score and would never, ever restrict the power of his own positive thinking. So why should we?
Tucker Lane is, after all, the first-born of one Larry Lane, a.k.a. “Red Dog Lane” when he wrestled professionally out of Charlotte, North Carolina, before becoming “Cowboy Larry Lane from Muleshoe, Texas” and touring North America with the National Wrestling Alliance, based in Amarillo.
Yes, Tucker Lane is the proud son of a father who spent 10 years (1973-83) wrestling against men who would peroxide their hair, wear ornate robes in the ring, faint purposely during a match, resort to eye pokes, shin breakers and butterfly neck-breakers, and, oh yes, did we mention how those same men would shout into a microphone whenever anybody would listen?
One of Wrestling’s Biggest Icons is a Family Friend
“The first thing people think about professional wrestling is how flamboyant and over-the-top it is,” Tucker said. “Obviously, I’ve been exposed to that side of things. I mean, when we went to see Ric Flair (a 21-time world champion), he came over to talk to us because he and my dad are great friends.
“The stereotype is flamboyant, but really, I come from a very modest background,” Tucker said. “When my dad was a professional wrestler, he never went over the top. That’s why he wasn’t a huge star in the business. He was just your everyday, blue-collar, working wrestler who went out and did his job. He didn’t wear a robe or worry about the frivolous things.
“My dad and I talk about his pro wrestling days all the time. I know all the stories by heart,” Tucker said. “When you’re talking to my dad, you’re not really talking . . . you’re listening, and I never grow tired of hearing about his life on the road. After a match, depending on how big the draw was, he’d either be spending the night at the Hilton or under the ring or, even worse, in the back of a truck in the rain. He had to make do with whatever he had. One night, he might be eating rotten tomatoes. The next night, he’d be living high on the hog.”
Larry Lane started three years as a heavyweight at Northern Colorado before he was drafted during the Vietnam War and ended up wrestling on the All-Army team that toured the East Coast. When the war started to wind down, the Army next asked him to compete on the All-Service team where he was billed as “Larry Lane, All-American” in exhibition matches across the country and from Puerto Rico to Japan and Korea.
When he left the Army, he became a high school teacher and coach. He was making $400 a month in Colorado when pro wrestling beckoned. “I was invited to my first pro match in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so I decided to give it a try,” he recalled. “I pinned a guy in five minutes and was told to collect my pay in the next room. I remember them handing me five crisp $100 bills, and all I could think was – ‘$500 for only five minutes of work?’ Remember, that was 36 years ago.”
Cowboy Larry Lane took the money, quit his teaching job the first chance he got and kept running after more fame and fortune over the next 10 years.
‘Red Dog’ Had Only One Gimmick – 1,000 Silver Dollars
“My first six months in pro wrestling, I was ‘Red Dog Lane’ – the villain out of Charlotte,” he said. “When I became a fan favorite in Calgary, I preferred the good guy role. The only gimmick I ever had was putting 1,000 'real' silver dollars in a fish bowl. I offered that as a prize to anyone who could stay in the ring with me for 10 minutes.”
Did anyone ever take those silver dollars home? “Of course not – only me,” Larry said. “I needed that money a lot more than anyone else.”
Over the next 3 ½ years, Cowboy Larry Lane estimates he wrestled a hundred matches with that fish bowl sitting next to the ring. Despite his blue-collar approach, he became a top-of-the-card performer and made seriously decent money over the last half of his pro career.
“I learned the more you made, the more you spent,” he said.
As fascinating as his life was, Larry Lane started looking more for fulfillment than fun, and ironically, the best wrestling gig he was ever offered came shortly before another low-paying teaching/coaching opportunity emerged from his home state of Colorado.
Wisdom must have been the result of an important lesson learned. Shortly after verbally agreeing to sign a contract that would pay him $3,000 a week to tour Japan for at least a year – with all expenses paid and taxes included – his old high school superintendent in Montrose, Colo., called Larry to ask if he might be interested in teaching and coaching again.
This time, when he came to a fork in the road, Cowboy Larry took the one in his heart, not the one promised to be paved with gold bricks.
“I ended up signing the much smaller contract,” Larry said. “When push came to shove and when all the smoke cleared, I knew it wasn’t so much about weighing what was lucrative, but indefinite against something steady, but long-term. It was more about hard work, doing what was right and re-establishing life priorities. I have no regrets at all about the decision I made.”
Cowboy Larry Got Married, Focused on His Family
Cowboy Larry Lane has no regrets because the money he turned down turned out to be the best investment he ever made.
Within a year of leaving the pros and going back home, he married for the first time. He and his wife, Gwen, 20 years younger and “a lot tougher than I am”, will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this summer.
They are the parents of three academically gifted, hard-driving athletes – son Tucker, in his second year on a full-ride at Nebraska; son Stryker, who this weekend is going after a third Colorado state high school heavyweight championship in Denver after recently accepting a full scholarship at second-ranked Cornell; and daughter Mollie, a high school junior, who, despite weighing only 130 pounds, has finished second twice in state meet discus competition. “Mollie may be the smartest of all three children,” Larry said.
“She also may be the toughest,” Tucker added. “My sister is very supportive and my biggest fan, but I don’t want to mess with her. She’s every bit as tough as Stryker and I are.”
She’s another benefactor of her father’s vision, her mother’s wisdom and their joint commitment to enable and maximize their children’s gifts.
“It’s obvious how tough my dad is, but he’s always said for any kid to be tough, the mom’s got to be tough, too,” Tucker said. “I think it’s true. If the mom’s not tough, the kid can turn out weaker than wet toilet paper.”
Well, guess what? Gwen Lane, the matriarch of this hard-charging family, “is one of the toughest people I know. She’ll stand up and fight with the best of them,” Tucker said. “Don’t get me wrong. She’s the most loving and supportive mother I’ve ever seen. I mean, she cooks for us. She drives the bus to our meets, and she films the competition once we get there. She’ll do anything.”
Anything, that is, except allow any shortcuts to the tough workouts that Tucker, Stryker and Mollie have completed for five mornings a week since they were grade-schoolers.
Tailor-Made Facilities for Wrestling, Everything Else
“If you’ve ever been to the Lanes’ little ranch out in the middle of nowhere, you’ll see two barns behind the house,” Nebraska Wrestling Coach Mark Manning said. “One is a wrestling room with a full mat. The other is a weight room with all the weights you need.”
Cowboy Larry laughs when people say Redvale, Colo., isn’t close to anywhere. “Why,” he said, “we’re 800 miles from Lincoln, 800 miles from Tulsa, 800 miles from Reno and 800 miles from Waterloo. How much more centrally located can you get?”
Tucker admits there are pros and cons to living in such relative isolation.
“Being a wrestler, those barns were my dad’s first priority when we were growing up,” Tucker said. “My dad didn’t just build those wrestling barns, though. He built us our own football field, our own baseball field and our own track to run on. I mean, he had overhead ladders built for us outside and climbing ropes tied into the tree.”
The Lanes loved the freedom of living in wide-open spaces. “Where else can you do everything you love to do right on your own property?” Tucker asked. “That’s what my dad did and loved doing, and we all benefited from it. We didn’t have all the other resources that an athlete in the city might have, so my dad studied up and made sure he found the best way to give us what we needed most to succeed. I guess you’d have to say he always seemed to find it. Pretty much any sport you wanted to do, he had a facility to do it. It was pretty cool then. It’s even cooler now.”
It’s cooler because, more than ever, Tucker Lane realizes how much his own potential legend is tied to the Legend of Cowboy Larry Lane.
“My dad really taught me about all the important things in life, especially how to work hard for everything you get,” Tucker said. “I couldn’t be happier about the way my parents have raised me. I’m proud of my dad just like he’s proud of me. His lifelong love has been wrestling, and his experience has really let me live the dream that most people just don’t ever get a chance to live. I get to wrestle, go to class and prove myself every day.”
Nebraska’s head coach knows the source of that attitude. “Cowboy Larry Lane . . . I love that guy,” Manning said. “He’s tough on Tucker, Stryker and Mollie, but it’s only because he wants the very best for them. I mean, those kids all have great values, great work ethic and tremendous humility.”
Cowboy Larry “feels my successes and failures just as much as I do, if not more,” Tucker said. “Even though he had this unbelievable wrestling career for 30-plus years, he always wanted more and always wondered what he could do better. He wanted to make sure I had the chances he never really had. We’ve had some emotional moments, but I know they’re only because he loves me so much. He only pushed me because he cared.”
Tucker: ‘I Have As Good a Chance as Anyone’
Tucker’s motivation and focus are exceeded only by his honesty and humility.
“I’m happy with everything going on in my life right now,” he said. “I love Lincoln, Nebraska and the life that I have here. Even though I’ve had my ups and downs as a freshman starter, I have a chance to put on a big push here against the best heavyweights in the country, starting Sunday and continuing on through Big 12 and the NCAA. I’ve been taught all my life that I have as good a chance as anyone, if I work hard, learn and execute what my coach plans for me.”
Manning shares the optimism. “Tucker has really stepped up to the challenge,” he said. “He’s won a lot of matches and shown a lot of character. He’s so conscientious and has such high standards for himself. We’re all excited about what our team is going to do and what he’s going to do here in the Big 12 and the NCAA.”
A large part of Tucker’s optimism rides on the shoulders of his higher-ranked teammates. “Having Craig Brester, Brandon Browne, Jordan Burroughs and Stephen Dwyer around really helps Tucker,” Manning said. “They really set the ladder high for him, and he has risen up to that. You want a freshman and first-year starter to step up to that challenge and expectation level. Tucker has done a great job wrestling under pressure. You know, a lot of times the match comes down to him, and he’s responded.”
In this week’s national individual rankings, only three freshmen are included in the top 20 heavyweights. Ranked 15th, Tucker Lane is one of those freshman.
“We’re hoping Tucker’s legend is just beginning,” Manning said. “He’s certainly worked hard enough, and he’s not the only one who thinks he can finish in the top eight and become an All-American next month. I think he can, too.”