Hayden Fry, 1929-2019
I guess my point is that I was always aware of Hawkeye sports in some flavor or another, but never really dug deep and started paying attention to sports with any seriousness until about 1998 or so.
But I knew who Hayden Fry was.
I think that alone should tell you how iconic the man was. I was a bookish kid, only tangentially aware of sports until I hit high school, but I knew who Hayden Fry was. Walk around Iowa for awhile and you'll meet someone who's got a kid named Hayden, I guarantee it. (Also: dogs named Hayden wouldn't be surprising either.) For those more deeply rooted in the sports of it all, they probably remember the victories: Iowa vs. Michigan in 1985. Beating Ohio State in Columbus for the first time ever in 1987. Beating Ohio State again, black helmets free of Tiger Hawks, the day after the 1991 Campus Shootings. There are so many more people who lived through those years that could add to the list. Going to not one, not two, but three Rose Bowls is pretty awesome.
Two days after I was born, Iowa played Iowa State in Ames with Coach Fry on the sidelines. They won 51-10 and didn't lose to Iowa State again until twelve days after my fifteenth birthday. That's how dominating of a Coach Fry was- I literally grew up never seeing Iowa State beat Iowa. Ever.
Northwestern's hatred of Iowa began under Fry with a genial, "I hope we didn't hurt any of your boys."
The list of quotes and stories is endless. A stroll through Hawkeye football Twitter today and you'll find that everyone has a favorite quotation or a story you haven't heard before. You'll read about his time in Texas, where he helped integrate the Southwestern Conference while he was Coach at SMU. You'll read about his Coaching Tree-- Ferentz, Stoops, Alvarez, Snyder, McCarney-- all now the winningest Coaches at the schools they went on to Coach. You'll read about America Needs Farmers and how he championed Iowa's farmers in the 80s when times were hard and bleak for too many people in this state.
His retirement in 1997 was a seismic media event. The end of an era, the passing of an icon. Nobody quite knew who Kirk Ferentz was when he was announced as Fry's replacement-- but as it turns out, the Athletics Department made another great choice.
You knew it was going to end at some point- everything does. But this feels, to me, a little like The Pope dying, or maybe what it'll be like when the Queen finally goes. In my thirty six years of existence on this planet, there have only ever been two football coaches at the University of Iowa.
There's a statue out in Coralville near the Iowa River Landing along the street that bears his name. I can't remember the first time I saw that statue, but when I did I was surprised. I thought it should have been bigger than that- his influence, personality and impact all felt bigger than that statue. But in that sense, his Texas roots seem oddly appropriate: like the Alamo, the legend and legacy of Coach Fry will always be bigger in the hearts and minds of the people he impacted.