30 Years Ago, Garth Brooks Suits Up for USA Wrestling: The Peculiarly Amazing Tale of ‘Captain Garth’

by Jim Casey

The 1992 Summer Olympics opened in Barcelona, Spain, 30 years ago on July 25. And there were plenty of takeaways from the Games of the XXV Olympiad, including the debut of USA Basketball’s Dream Team, a unified German Team after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and a Unified Team made up of former Soviets after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 (the Unified Team edged Team USA in total medals, 112 to 108, respectively). However, the most peculiarly amazing footnote of these Olympics—at least, in my opinion—was Team USA Wrestling’s honorary captain: Garth Brooks. It’s a factoid you won’t find mentioned within the Wikipedia pages of “1992 Summer Olympics,” but that needs to change. Seriously, does anyone reading this have Wikipedia permissions?

Check out the cowboyed-up 1992 poster below, courtesy of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, which depicted Garth with Team USA wrestling legends (and ’92 gold medalists) Bruce Baumgartner, Kevin Jackson, and John Smith.

1992 Poster: (from left) Bruce Baumgartner, Garth Brooks, Kevin Jackson, and John Smith (photo courtesy National Wrestling Hall of Fame).

Partners in Excellence

Indeed, it truly is excellence, as the poster says: Garth Brooks and Team USA – Partners in Excellence. Proceeds from the poster, which was released after the 1992 Olympics (hence Garth appearing with the Team USA gold medalists), benefited USA Wrestling.

Now, I have never seen this poster in person. Apparently, it’s on display at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. But, as far as I’m concerned, this poster is a phantom, an apparition, second cousin to Harvey the Rabbit.

However, assuming the poster does exist, it leaves us with the why? Why was fresh-faced Garth Brooks, 30, the honorary captain of Team USA Wrestling in 1992 (and in 1996—we’ll get to that in a minute)? It’s a tale rooted in, er, Garth’s Oklahoma roots.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys

Troyal Garth Brooks was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on February 7, 1962.

Garth played football (quarterback/tight end) and baseball player at Yukon High School in central Oklahoma. He obviously had a decently strong arm. When he attended Oklahoma State University in Stillwater (1980–1984), the G-man transitioned to javelin and earned a partial track-and-field scholarship.

While Garth was throwing spears during the day, he was dreaming of a country music career during nighttime gigs at Wild Willies Saloon.

“The javelin wasn’t at all for me,” said Garth to Country Weekly magazine in 1996. “It was for the good guys who would eat, sleep, and think javelin. They’d work on it all the time and didn’t consider it work. Me, just hauling that damn thing down the runway was work.”

1996 Poster: (from left) Kevin Jackson, Dennis Hall, Bruce Baumgartner, Garth Brooks, Kurt Angle (yes, the Kurt Angle from WWE fame, as well), and Tom Brands (photo courtesy National Wrestling Hall of Fame).

Oh Captain, My Captain

As a college wrestler myself from 1997-2001, I had always just assumed Garth stepped on a wrestling mat at some point during his childhood in Oklahoma (maybe he did). Remember, we didn’t have Wikipedia back then (not that it would have helped in this instance), so we were forced to assume everything, and then just state it as fact. Everyone from Oklahoma wrestles at some point in their lives, whether it’s on the mat or in the rodeo. I’m from Tennessee. That’s what we believe.

The actual Garth-wrestling connection is rooted in his time at OK State, which was an NCAA wrestling powerhouse during Garth’s collegiate tenure (before and beyond, as well).

Once again, a 1996 issue of Country Weekly magazine provides us with some insight—although brief.

“Garth has been very good for our sport, both as a spokesman, as well as behind the scenes,” said Bruce Baumgartner, who was a graduate assistant wrestling coach at OK State from 1982–84. “Several of us got to know him when he was at Oklahoma State and have stayed in touch. He’s invited us backstage to some of his concerts, and he is just a great guy.”

In fact, John Smith (pictured in the 1992 poster) wrestled at OK State (1984-1987) and has been the head coach since 1992.

Captain Garth Returns in 1996

As I mentioned earlier, Garth was also the honorary captain of the 1996 Olympic Wrestling Team. That poster, which hung on my roommate’s wall in college, featured Kevin Jackson, Dennis Hall, Bruce Baumgartner, Kurt Angle (yes, the Kurt Angle from WWE fame, as well), and Tom Brands. Of course, Garth is front and center (and the only one not wearing a singlet).

While not featured on either poster, Kenny Monday was also on the 1992 (silver medal) and 1996 Olympic Teams (and 1988 Team: gold medal). Kenny attended OK State during Garth’s tenure, too. They even lived on the same floor in the dorm.

Kenny confirmed his Garth connection via Twitter recently. “I’ve known @garthbrooks since our college days at @OSUAthletics we lived in the same dorm Iba Hall. His core hasn’t changed! He was a good dude then and he’s a better man now! Very proud to know him!”

Of course, Kenny basically confirmed what Baumgartner told Country Weekly in 1996. Javelin-flingin’ Garth was hanging with high-level wrestlers at OK State.

Garth’s honorary captain status? It’s just a 1990s example of “game recognizes game.” Garth was the biggest country star of the 1990s (sans Chris Gaines). Now, let’s get this on Wikipedia.