Hayden Fry unveils statue of his likeness at Iowa's FRYfest
Legendary coach says this 'could be my last trip back'
Legendary Iowa Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry on Friday – in what he said “could be my last trip back” – stripped the sheet off a statue of his likeness planned for a Coralville street named in his honor, and his eyes lit up.
“I don’t know who posed for it, but he’s sure good looking,” Fry said.
Hundreds of Hawkeye faithful clad in black and gold and swapping stories of seasons past gathered during the eighth annual FRYfest to see the unveiling of the statue, which Fry said he actually weighed in on.
“They said, ‘Do you have any recommendations,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I have a couple,’” Fry told the crowd. “No. 1, don’t make me look like Elvis Presley. One the other hand, don’t make me look like Humphrey Bogart. But the main thing is be sure and put me high enough on a foundation that the dogs can’t urinate on my shoes.”
Fry credited that sense of humor, in part, for his survival. He was given about five years to live 18 years ago and has endured 10 cancer treatments.
“One of the best medical treatments I’ve got is my attitude,” Fry said. “The brain attitude of keeping a sense of humor, enjoying life, and enjoying all of the people that are winners.”
In the midst of a battle with prostate cancer, Fry on Friday said he wanted to take the opportunity to thank the coaches, players, and fans who have backed not only the Hawkeye athletic department but the entire university.
“All these things come to mind in accepting this because this possibly could be my last trip back,” he said. “I’ve really had a difficult time.”
But Fry said he’s learned to rise above his circumstances, and he charged everyone listening to do the same.
“Be grateful. Be thankful. Don’t pay attention to the presidential election,” he said to laughter. “Really, I’m sincere. Don’t watch television where they keep repeating criminal activities and things that are nasty. It takes away from your enjoying life.”
Fry – flanked during the Friday ceremony by UI President Bruce Harreld and Athletic Director Gary Barta – merged memories of Hawkeye football triumphs with praise for the institution and its medical school, saying he comes back to receive treatment.
“But I don’t tell anyone because, when you have cancer operations, you don’t really feel like associating a whole lot,” he said. “So I apologize.”
Friday, though, Fry said he felt thankful and honored and good enough to say so.
“This is really a tribute to all of my coaches, my players, and the fans that supported the Hawkeyes,” he said. “What a wonderful 20 years we had.”
The City of Coralville commissioned husband-wife duo Doris Park and Stephen Maxon to create the bronze statue, providing specific instruction about what kind of hat, clothes, and shoes he should wear. Commissioners even weighed in on the sculpture’s facial hair.
“I brought this though,” Maxon said, pulling a black Sharpie out of his shirt pocket. “Just in case he wanted a moustache.”
But Fry had no critiques. And the couple – who own a sculpture and foundry studio in Kalona called Max-Cast and are responsible for the Irving B. Weber statue in downtown Iowa City – said it was fun to watch Fry’s reaction.
“It was interesting to do a statue of someone who’s going to be here to see it,” Park said. “The others we have done have been of people who are no longer with us.”
The $36,000 statue, paid for by Coralville’s hotel-motel tax, will be erected on a lime-stone pedestal in front of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 900 First Ave. It will face Hayden Fry Way – the route visiting football teams take when coming into town.
“That was his request,” City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said. “He wanted all the visiting teams to drive right by it.”
In that vein, Hayworth said, the statue will go up just in time for the Iowa-Iowa State game in Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 10 – although the city hasn’t announced a specific date.
Kevin Jamison, 46, of Colo, said he grew up idolizing Fry and was honored to attend his statue unveiling Friday.
“This is pretty neat,” he said. “It’s long overdue.”
At age 9 in 1979, Jamison said he attended his first Hawkeye football game – it was Fry’s first season.
“Once I did that, I was hooked,” he said. “This will be my 26th straight season without missing a home game.”
Jamison last year attended every home and away game, including the Rose Bowl. And he said FRYfest – with Fry’s appearance and the statue unveiling – was a perfect way to kick off another Hawkeye season, which starts Saturday.
“As a young kid, he was one of my heroes,” Jamison said. “Still is.”