Iowa Men's Basketball

Now, let's talk 'why' Gary Dolphin

My lifelong and totally wonderful connection to the Voice of the Hawkeyes

Gary Dolphin, Iowa football radio play-by-play commentator, tips the brim of a fishing hat in homage to Bob Brooks during a Celebration of Life service for Brooks at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Brooks, a Cedar Rapids native and longtime sports broadcaster in Iowa, passed away in June. The fishing hat was the “closest thing (he has)” to a fedora, Brooks’ signature. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Gary Dolphin, Iowa football radio play-by-play commentator, tips the brim of a fishing hat in homage to Bob Brooks during a Celebration of Life service for Brooks at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, July 27, 2016. Brooks, a Cedar Rapids native and longtime sports broadcaster in Iowa, passed away in June. The fishing hat was the “closest thing (he has)” to a fedora, Brooks’ signature. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

My brother was born with one leg that was 7 inches shorter than the other. He was the boy everyone noticed and it was for that. When we were little, he used to have to wear a massive brace and then there was a haphazard attempt at something semi-prosthetic.

Now, I wasn’t keeping notes, but probably around the time he was 8, Matt probably tore that off and went skateboarding. We grew up in a completely Dubuque part of Dubuque, a city known for its Mississippi hills and bluffs.

Where we lived, there were three hills that nearly ran right into our front yard — Carlotta, Harvard and Alta Vista. I would go down Carlotta sitting on my yellow skateboard that we all had. There was no discussion.

Matt wouldn’t do that. He did not care. Zero regard for his body. He saw the Burt Reynolds movie “Hooper” and wanted to be a stuntman. I guess this was his training.

We also grew up in an extremely Catholic neighborhood. There were lots of big families. There were four of us. I still don’t know how many people were in the Fitzpatrick family. They just kept coming.

Of course, there was no internet. Sports were our internet, actually. Baseball, basketball, football, golf, hockey, skateboarding. We had catchers and goalies masks. More Dubuque Packer gear than you could imagine. Morning, noon and night.

Matt was going to be an athlete. His leg was just going to have to deal. We eventually used the semi-prosthetic to hit tennis balls. I think we talked our sisters out of setting it on fire.

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As you can imagine, running was tough. I’d catch that out of the corner of my eye during football games. This was around sixth grade, when sports life was starting to be flag football and maybe some hoops (club stuff wasn’t invented and we wore jeans to baseball).

The neighborhood games were winding down. Hey, what about wrestling?

It wasn’t all that different from the boxing we did after watching “Rocky” 40 million times (at the theater). I think Matt had me in a single leg before I even finished the word “wrestling.” And then he probably hit me with a skateboard and I probably threw a football at his gut.

It was a weight class of five, I think, but he won the 75-pound city title as a seventh-grader. In eighth, it was the 85-pound title with a full bracket.

He won a couple of wrestle-offs as a freshman at Dubuque Wahlert. He won 20 matches and made it to state (and the next fall, he kicked a few PATs for the sophomore football team).

Before the state meet, the local TV station showed up at the Wahlert wrestling room. KDUB sports director Gary Dolphin heard about Matt and wanted to do a story.

This was winter/spring semester of 1985. We didn’t have the internet. We didn’t have computers. We had Pong and Odyssey (did anyone have fun with Odyssey?).

TV was our internet.

Memory is foggy. I think Dolph interviewed my parents, Bill and Jane. Either way, Dolph won my dad over forever.

The VHS tape made regular appearances at family dinners. I went to college the next fall. Every time I came home, my dad wouldn’t even ask me. He’d put in the tape. Between throwing Pong controls (that was a thing, you guys), my brother and I watched.

It meant everything to my family.

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I ended up a sportswriter. The decision was made by an editor in Fairmont, Minn. I was in Iowa grad school and decided I needed to get a job. Applied and interviewed at the Fairmont Sentinel and got the gig. The Sentinel had two openings. There was a news reporter and sports reporter. The editor said, “You’ve done sports, you do sports.”

OK.

I hopped around and eventually ended up back in Dubuque. I covered an I-Club event at the Meadows Golf Club and brought my dad. Dolph was running the show. They talked and laughed. I was like, “Dad, I’m a pretty big deal, too, you know.”

Nope. Not with Dolph around.

My dad passed in 2016. He was cremated. If there had been a coffin, that VHS tape would’ve been in it, along with a squirrel claw that was shaped into the squirrel giving the finger and an ancient Captain Marvel comic.

And now for the hard part.

Matt died in December 2016 after suffering complications due to peritonitis. He coached a Jefferson Middle School wrestling meet, went home and died of organ failure on his kitchen floor. Mom called the next morning. I called my sisters.

I saw video of the meet. Matt didn’t get out of his chair. He wasn’t one of those wrestling coaches. I wanted to reach into the phone vid and hurry him to the hospital.

In February 2017, Matt’s wrestlers (I can’t bring myself to put “former” in there, maybe some day) started a petition and rattled some cages about naming the wrestling room after Matt. The Morehouse Wrestling Room opened for business in the spring of 2017.

Jefferson principal Kelly Molony worked with the kids, took it to the Dubuque Community School Board and, with smiles — I was at this meeting — they happily approved this. I thought that was great. Stuff like this doesn’t move this fast. Principal Molony and every wrestler, you’re in my heart forever.

The dedication was in late May. This is a very busy part of the year for Dolph. That spring I-Club circuit can be a grind. No matter how much you wish it wasn’t, Sioux City still is five hours from anywhere Eastern Iowa.

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(For a second, consider all of the I-Club banquets Dolph has emceed. That’s a connectivity with fans that the UI feeds off. That only comes with long-ass road trips to Carroll, Decorah and Manchester.)

There was a slideshow with the ceremony. I can’t remember how this happened, but out of the goodness of his heart, Dolph reached out and offered to narrate the video. Cory Sheets, who’s been in the booth with Dolph as a producer/spotter for a while now, jumped in. With everyone’s schedules, this became a deadline thing and they busted ass to make it happen.

I don’t do Facebook much. It’s never clicked with me. I have an account and I occasionally go there, I don’t stay long.

Last weekend, I clicked through and noticed my mom posted something. It was a picture of Dolph. You guys have seen it. Dolph is wearing headphones and over his head are the words “I stand with Dolph.”

I don’t mean to drift into puns here, but Dolph is someone you can bank on. (Don’t boo, because, you know, Dolph works at U.S. Bank in Dubuque.)

That is what you look for in people in your lives. People you can bank on.

Dolph didn’t need me to write this. He’s got supporters parachuting in to have his back on the suspension he’s currently serving for referring to a Maryland basketball player as “King Kong.” There were a bunch who went to UI President Bruce Harreld to make some noise.

Dolph didn’t need me to write this. I wanted to write this. These are the tender mercies that keep you moving in life.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.