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Staff file photo / Highlights of the UTC playing days of former Mocs football coach Russ Huseman, right, have been among the most noteworthy parts of the weekly MocsVision watch parties during the sports shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

With both wonder and wistfulness, Gerald Zigner watched the grainy black-and-white highlights of his late father Ralph's outstanding University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling career during the school's weekly MocsVision Facebook "Watch Party" on April 30.

"Just how powerful he was," Zigner said of the Mocs' most successful super heavyweight during the 1970s. "It's been 10 years since my dad passed away, and I'd never before seen footage of him wrestling. It was both touching and overwhelming."

Those are at least a couple of the emotions the UTC athletic department surely hoped to deliver when it began its weekly video replays a few weeks ago as a distraction from the coronavirus pandemic.

Beginning on March 19 — which was also exactly one week after the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament and pretty much every other sporting event in this country was either canceled or postponed — the school has shown a past Mocs highlight at 8 p.m. each Thursday on its Facebook page for athletics (facebook.com/ChattanoogaMocs).

This week's segment will again focus on wrestling's late 1970s success, the clips coming from 16mm and 8mm film footage with no live audio. The school has added background music and a few graphics, but otherwise, to quote its news release, "it is raw UTC wrestling."

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Staff photo / UTC men's basketball fans cheer as the Mocs' starting lineup is announced before a home game against Furman on Jan. 24, 2015.

The sports covered have been all over the map. That first week was a 1993 men's basketball game against Georgia Southern. The next highlighted what was dubbed the "golden era of Mocs basketball," which was not a reference to shooting guard Wayne Golden and the 1977 Division II national title, but rather UTC's first Division I NCAA tourney appearance in 1981, its March Madness win over North Carolina State in 1982 and its deep National Invitation Tournament run in 1985.

Wrote Mitch Morken of a chance to watch his father Nick's exploits during those years: "My dad tells great stories of his time there. I've never seen him play, so thank you for uploading this throwback."

There have also been women's basketball replays of games Clemson and Tennessee, a chronicle of the football Mocs' move to Finley Stadium, a 2015 Southern Conference volleyball tournament win over Western Carolina and a 1981 football win over Jacksonville State that featured former UTC football coach Russ Huesman during his playing days with the Mocs, as well as Dennis King (1980-83) who won the team's most valuable back honor his final two seasons.

Posted King's son, Brenton, after viewing the replay: "I really enjoyed watching the throwback videos. It's the first time I got to see my dad play football. It brought joy to both of us. If possible, we would love to see more. Thanks again for the memories."

Of course, that particular replay also caused current UTC assistant and former Mocs playing great Jacob Huesman to have a wee bit of fun at the expense of his dad, who's now the head football coach at Richmond.

"We finally got confirmation that my dad didn't play in the leather helmet era," Jacob said with a chuckle over his cellphone Wednesday morning. "Watch that tape, and he was always the first guy to arrive at the pile after the ball carrier was down. He was pretty good at playing center field back there in the secondary. He probably could have picked off a couple of my passes playing that way."

In truth, after Jacob and his sister Natalie got through ribbing their dad throughout the replay of that game — "My other sister Emily wouldn't even answer her phone to get in on the fun," he said — Jacob admitted he gained some respect for his father's playing days.

"I'd seen some footage of Dad playing at Moeller (High School in Cincinnati) before he came to Chattanooga," Jacob recalled. "But this was the first time I'd seen him playing for the Mocs. It was pretty cool. And it proved what his teammates had always said about him: that he wasn't afraid to hit you. There was one play near the end of the Jax State game where he absolutely flattened a tight end coming across the middle.

"All kidding aside, my dad was pretty good."

Zigner was better than pretty good. He was an All-American who once competed in the prestigious University Games in Bulgaria and other world-class tournaments. Beyond that, noted his son, "My dad was one of those guys who, when he walked in a room, the place lit up."

After his wrestling days ended, Zigner opened Ziggy's Bar and Grill and package store in North Chattanooga, where it became a staple of that area for 30 years.

Said Gerald, who is now a paramedic in the Erlanger Health System: "My dad was my hero, a single dad who always took care of me. It was great to see him execute the 'air conditioner press' and 'fat man roll,' moves I used to do when I wrestled in high school. Athletes can sometimes play up the old times to be bigger or better than they were. But watching those clips of my dad, he was everything his teammates always told me he was."

This is part of why Jacob Huesman wants to push for more of these MocsVision moments in the future.

"We need our (current) players and community to know more about the history of UTC athletics," he said. "It's good to play clips of those glory days and get people more informed about our history, because it's a great history. At one time or another, every sport here has had a pretty good run."

As anyone tuning in Thursday night will surely be reminded.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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