Hayden Fry called me a liar. In a way, it was a badge of honor.

Iowa head coach Hayden Fry talks to the media prior to his team's practice a the Socorro Independent School District Stu
Iowa head coach Hayden Fry talks to the media prior to his team's practice a the Socorro Independent School District Student Activities Complex in El Paso, Texas, leading up to the 1997 Sun Bowl. (The Gazette)

Hayden Fry called me a liar.

That’s not something you want to hear while covering an Iowa football news conference for The Gazette, but oddly his false remark welcomed me into the “club.”

That’s the “club” of sportswriters and sportscasters who occasionally became Hayden’s foils, especially if he wanted to deflect attention from his Hawkeyes.

There was a long list of club members, including former Gazette sports editor Mark Dukes, but you did not become a club member without Hayden paying attention (at least a little) to your work.

You had to write or say something that got under his skin, even if it was innocent or somehow got a little twisted in the translation.

In my case, I asked Hayden if The Gazette could do a story about Iowa’s newfangled “winged” jerseys. This was back in the mid-1990s, and the request got a little bumpy from there.

Hayden said “yes,” IF I could get permission from his equipment manager who had the new jerseys. I relayed Hayden’s directive to the equipment guy — that it would be OK, if the equipment guy approved — but it somehow got mangled in the translation when the equipment guy checked with Hayden.

Hayden ended up with the impression that I had misrepresented the deal, that I had told the equipment manager that Hayden himself had issued a full green light, which was not the case.

 

So there I was, attending a weekly news conference, when I asked Hayden a question about the next game. That’s when Hayden welcomed me into the “club.”

“You LIED Jimm-ee! JIM-ee, you lied!,” he growled, staring right at me as all the eyes in the room turned in my direction.

What? Huh? What’s he talking about?

As I recall, I had written a few sentences in an Iowa game story that questioned one of Hayden’s calls on fourth down near midfield. It’s been about 25 years ago and memory fades, but Hayden did not like to be second-guessed, even if it was a legitimate question.

So that’s the day I joined the “club,” as a quasi badge of honor. It’s not something I sought, but Hayden picked the club members, and nobody else.

And you know what? In a few weeks, the little spat was over. It never affected our relationship and we continued to work cordially together, covering a period of 10 years from 1989 to 1998 when he retired.

A few years after the incident he said he “regretted” what happened, but never actually apologized. But that’s OK. I liked and respected Hayden and really enjoyed me 10 years on the beat.

John Hayden Fry died Tuesday at 90. He led a full and productive live, touching thousands of players and millions of fans along the way.

You’ve heard and read all the stories about Hayden by now. Now you know mine.

Jim Ecker not only covered Iowa football for The Gazette, he also served as the men’s basketball beat writer and was assistant sports editor for several year.