BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – He threw about five passes a game in high school and somehow found himself runner-up in college football’s Heisman Award and headed to the NFL.
University of Iowa All-American Quarterback Chuck Long spoke to more than a hundred people Thursday night at Sheaffer Memorial Golf Course north of Fort Madison as part of a two-year book tour for his biography “Destined for Greatness”.
The biography penned by Iowa’s own Austin Putze hit the shelves two years ago and tells the story of how a high school quarterback in a run-heavy offense parlayed some natural athleticism and good luck into one of the most storied careers at the University of Iowa.
Long joked, but believes he’s set a record – not for wins at the University, but as a junior in high school when his Wheaton North Falcons downed LaSalle-Peru 14-6 for the state 4A title. Long completed 1-4 passes for -3 yards in the win.
“We had a run heavy offense,” he deadpanned to laughs from the Fort Madison Hawkeye fans, who were treated to about an hour of conversation and questions with Long, who is now CEO and Executive Director of Iowa Sports Foundation.
The Foundation encompasses the Iowa Games, Live Healthy Iowa, Iowa Senior Games, and Adaptive Sports Iowa. Long said one of his favorite things to do is to get around Iowa and speak with people and talk about healthy living and fitness.
Long, who played professionally for eight years for the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams, also had coaching stints at Iowa, Oklahoma, San Diego State, and Kansas. He said coaching was a physical and mental challenge.
“Those are long days coaching and it was physically and mentally demanding and took a lot of time away from my family. I just love what I do now. I enjoy talking with people about fitness and health and I love talking with Iowans,” he said.
He said he fears what football will look like in 10 years. Long said numbers are dwindling for many reasons, but what people talk about most is concussions.
“The concussion thing is out there, but it’s out there for all sports, including soccer, which is worse. Parents need to look at that but not be alarmed about it,” he said.
“I think you can get away with not playing football until high school. I think it’s the one sport you can do that, but kids want to play when they’re young. It’s becoming a safer environment and if kids want to play earlier, they should be able to. It’s a lot better than when I played and I seem to be talking to you okay.”
Long, in response to a question, said kids who want to play sports now should just play for the day and not be focused on tomorrow or the next day.
“I’m tired of these kids that want to be in the NFL when they’re 10 years old,” he said. “I would tell youngsters in this room – play to have fun every single day and don’t worry about the next day. Stay away from video games. Video games are the enemy. We played all day, I didn’t think I was going to college to play football. In high school it was over and then it was on to basketball. Work hard and have fun that day and every other day will take care of itself.”
After finishing his senior year at Wheaton, Long got a call from Iowa assistant coach Bill Snyder, who would later go onto fame turning around the Kansas State program.
Schneider invited Long to Iowa City for a campus visit and, after a weekend on campus, Head Coach Hayden Fry offered Long a scholarship.
“I went home and told my dad they wanted to offer me a full ride, and my dad said, ‘But son…have they seen you play?’ Dad had to call up Coach Fry to confirm it,” Long said.
He hadn’t received any other scholarship offers, but after Iowa made the offer, Long said he got offers from Northern Illinois and Northwestern.
“I wouldn’t have gotten those offers had Iowa not made me an offer, but I knew I was going to be a Hawkeye,” he said. “They took me to the Iowa River Power restaurant when I got off the plane. When I saw that prime rib, I knew I was going to Iowa.”
Long played for the Hawkeyes from 1981-1985 and is the only college player to have played in five bowl games. He took two snaps as a freshman in a lopsided Rose Bowl loss in 1981 and then led the Hawkeyes to the Peach Bowl as a sophomore and the Gator Bowl in 1983. In 1984, the Hayden Fry-coached Hawkeyes defeated Texas in the Freedom Bowl in what was Long’s senior year.
However NCAA officials reviewed Long’s playing time as a freshman and granted him one more senior year in 1985 due to the few snaps he took in his first year.
“This record’s going to be broken now with the new red-shirt rules that allow kids to still redshirt even with four games as a freshman, but right now, I’m the only college player to play in five bowl games,” Long said.
He reminisced fondly of the days with Fry and how the Hall of Fame coach would insist on discipline, but made sure the mood was light and the players had fun.
He talked about the game in Iowa City when Iowa was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Michigan was ranked No. 2 and how Fry cooked up some fun before the game with then-Wolverine Head Coach Bo Schembechler.
“Coach Fry was trying to find a way to relieve the tension of the players before the game. Bo Schembechler was on the other side taking everything in in his shades and chewing gum. Coach Fry sent over a fake punt snapper and punter and this snapper was snapping it all over the place,” Long said.
“Bo called Hayden over and said, ‘You can’t play these guys, this is awful’ and Coach Fry looked at him and said, ‘We don’t plan on punting tonight, Coach’ and walked away. Rumor has it that Bo found everything in their lockerroom that wasn’t attached and threw it against the wall he was so mad. That was Bo Schembechler.”
In addition to his position with the foundation, Long is also a studio guest and commentator for the Big Ten Network during the football season.