Hlas: Iowa loses a great and true friend in Bob Brooks

Sportscaster from Cedar Rapids was all you could want in a person

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Bob Brooks would have wanted to be remembered by people who were smiling as they did it.

So let’s try to hide our sadness over the loss of such a great friend to Eastern Iowa, its sports and its people. Instead, let’s smile about someone who was a supporter of us for all his 89 life-filled years.

My mind darts in multiple directions in futilely trying to describe Bob’s essence. But I have the luxury of realizing many of you either knew him well or feel like you did. So I’ll just offer some keywords and thoughts.

Talent. Bob was a first-rate broadcaster for so many decades.

Younger people in this area may have no idea what a skilled play-by-play man and sports reporter he was for so long, on radio and television. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004 because of the good work he did over six-plus decades, as well as the goodwill he built.

When Bob called an Iowa Hawkeyes or high school game on the radio, he got things right. He told you what was going on. The broadcast was about the game, not him. Yet, he always pumped genuine enthusiasm into the broadcasts, making each one important. Which, as he knew, they are to the people who care about them.

I saw and heard him do sports-news updates from many different locations over the years. Golf courses, hotel lobbies, you name it. I never failed to be amazed at how he did them without a script and without a hitch.

That authoritative, often-imitated voice. You couldn’t have that voice and not be a broadcaster, could you?

Part of the reason I got hooked on the excitement of sports was from when I was a kid and I listened to Bob call games on the radio. I’d listen to major-league baseball and NBA broadcasts from faraway stations at night, and think Bob was just as talented as those people. Which he was. But this was his home, this was where he wanted to be.

Respect. Something that was always striking over the years was how 18-year-old college freshmen athletes from other states or players from the Cedar Rapids professional baseball team would seem to show Bob immediate respect, though they had never met him or heard of him.

He would ask questions while holding a microphone plugged into his large cassette recorder from a bygone era (former Illinois basketball player Dee Brown called it a VCR), and the young athletes would answer politely and earnestly.

More times than not, when the interviews were over the athletes acted like they were grateful, like that interview had been a little more special than most.

Support. There were good and obvious reasons the Kingston Stadium press box was named after Bob in 2011. The stadium itself should be renamed after him.

He broadcasted so, so many Cedar Rapids-Marion high school ballgames over the years, and treated the games with every bit the importance as if they were the Iowa Hawkeyes games he called for decades.

It didn’t matter who you were or when you played, it wasn’t a small thing if you were one of the countless high school players Bob interviewed after games. So many kids and coaches and family members took pleasure and pride from that.

Celebratory. Bob wanted the people he knew to do well and reveled in it when they did.

The look on Bob’s face as he greeted Kirk Ferentz before Ferentz’s press conference after Iowa’s miraculous win over LSU at the Capital One Bowl … I thought Bob might start levitating.

Was he what some disdainfully brush off as a “homer?” Yes. He was a University of Iowa graduate who proudly spoke of paying a quarter to watch Nile Kinnick play in 1939. He cherished his relationship with Hawkeye coaches, players, administrators and fans.

But he wasn’t an on-air cheerleader. He always gave credit to opposing teams and built trust with their coaches. For his close identification with the University of Iowa, he always tried to attend Iowa State, Northern Iowa and small-college functions whenever he could, and didn’t engage in any put-downs of Iowa’s instate rivals. Which is a fitting lead-in to …

Professional. Just on appearance alone, Bob was a pro. He was from a generation where men wore jackets and ties and hats, and he stayed true to that his whole life. He always looked like a person to be taken seriously.

At the U.S. Open golf local qualifier at the Cedar Rapids Country Club just last month, Bob was the best-dressed person on the grounds. He recorded one interview after another with one golfer after another who either knew him or was delighted to meet him.

You’re either a pro or you aren’t. I can’t prove it, but I believe I saw irritated head coaches resist temper tantrums in their postgame press conferences because they saw Bob and knew there was a level of decorum in the room that shouldn’t be dishonored.

When you saw how so many of the biggest names in sports treated Bob, or asked about him when you introduced yourself as being from Cedar Rapids, you realized he indeed was a legend.

Cooperative. When it came to Hawkeye or Cedar Rapids sports history, Bob was the encyclopedia. Time after time, year after year, young (or aging) sports media people in this state went to Bob to get blanks filled in about something from the past and he always was happy to help.

But as much as he enjoyed talking about the past, he was never stuck in it. Even when he was in the hospital recently, he wanted to talk about what was going on now. He wanted to know what we were working on at The Gazette, which he read as soon as he one was brought to him each morning. Do you think the Big Ten will expand again, he asked me. Are you going to watch that “30 For 30” on O.J Simpson?

Funny, Friendly. Bob loved telling funny stories, and funny they were. He also loved hearing a funny remark. His face and voice were often filled with merriment.

I’d be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time I saw strangers to Bob approach him in public just to give him an appreciative hello. I’d be a pauper if I had a million bucks for every time Bob offered a minimal greeting rather than warm conversation.

Bob Brooks loved his work, loved life, loved people. We were lucky he was from here. Smile when you think of him today.

Comments: mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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