Hayden Fry came to the University of Iowa as I was about to start my freshman year at Northern Iowa.
I already was working at The Gazette as a part-timer, but our paths, for obvious reasons, didn’t cross.
Fry retired as I was about to be named sports editor at The Gazette.
I was 20-plus years into my career here, but our paths crossed only a few times.
I covered few Iowa football games, talked to Fry only on occasion and generally over the phone line.
I write this because I want to make it clear, I am not an expert on the man who took the Hawkeye football program from perennial loser to a championship contender.
I, like many of you, watched from afar. And I, like many of you, enjoyed the re-reading or re-telling of Fry stories after he died Tuesday at the age of 90.
Legend is a word that gets tossed around a lot, often when it doesn’t fit.
When it comes to John Hayden Fry, it fits like a custom-made Stetson cowboy hat.
There are many stories being told these days, some from good memory, some from sketchy memories.
While talking former Hawkeye great Bill Happel into contributing his story on Fry, I related another I heard this week.
Lew Montgomery, a fullback for the Hawkeyes from 1989 to ’92, told a story about the 1991 Rose Bowl trip. Montgomery said, during a team dinner when the captains and coaches shared a head table, a waiter asked Fry if he could tell the coach a joke.
Fry, of course, obliged the young man and the waiter asked “do you know the difference between Cheerios and the Iowa football team?” Fry said no, so the waiter delivered the punch line. “Cheerios belong in a bowl, the Iowa football team doesn’t.”
Fry, always ready with a comeback, reportedly said “do you know the difference between a golf pro and a football coach?” The waiter said no and Fry offered “a golf pro gives tips, a football coach doesn’t.”
The story seemed a bit fantastic to me as I relayed it to Happel, who responded “that’s the best thing about Hayden’s stories. They were always great, but you never knew if they were true or not.”
Chuck Long, the All-American quarterback who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1985, told another story about the Ohio State-Iowa game his senior year, an epic No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle won by the Hawkeyes, 12-10.
Fry, Long said, “loved getting in the other coaches heads, especially Bo Schembechler, the legendary coach in Michigan.”
So during the pregame warmup, Fry sent a player out to act like the long snapper, a guy who had never snapped the ball before.
“He was snapping the ball into the ground, over the guy’s head,” Long said.
Schembechler came over to Fry and asked if he really was going to let this kid snap on punts.
“We don’t plan on punting today, coach,” Fry said, according to Long.
Schembechler apparently was furious and took his frustration out on the visitor’s pink locker room.
“That’s my favorite,” Long said. “That’s all our favorite story.”
And that’s the beauty of a personality like Hayden Fry. The storyteller may be gone, but the stories will live forever.
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