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Battling cancer, Hayden Fry cracks jokes on Skype

[ 0 ] February 28, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Hayden Fry turned 84 years old Thursday, and Iowa’s legendary football coach admits his memory is slipping.

“I can remember every game we won,” Fry said, “and I can’t remember one we lost.”

Speaking Thursday  from his home in Mesquite, Nev., Fry made his comments via Skype to a group gathered to unveil details for FRY Fest 2013, an annual  festival named in the coach’s honor that is called “a celebration of all that is Hawkeye.”

Those gathered for Thursday’s  event serenaded Fry with a rendition of  “Happy Birthday.” Fry, a college Football Hall of Fame inductee in 2003 who had a 143-89-6 record at Iowa from 1979 to 1998, seemed to enjoy the moment.

“Thank you for the birthday present, especially the WD-40,” Fry said, holding up a piece of cake complete with burning candle. “I love you, and I thank you very, very much.”

Fry, who was born on Feb. 28, 1929, in Eastland, Texas, resurrected a dormant Hawkeye football program with humor, hard work and a “Scratch where it itches” mantra. Fry inherited a program that had 17 consecutive non-winning seasons and won three Big Ten titles and went to 14 bowl games, including three Rose Bowls.

Fry’s toughest opponent now is cancer. He’s been battling the disease – first prostate cancer, and most recently bladder cancer – since his final season as Hawkeye coach.

“The good Lord is taking care of me,” Fry said. “I’ve had nine operations. The doctor told me I was too ornery to die.”

Last year’s FRY Fest, a collaborative effort between the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city of Coralville and the University of Iowa athletic department, drew in excess of 20,000 people.

This year’s FRY Fest will be held Aug. 30, the day before Iowa opens the 2013 football season against Northern Illinois. This year’s event will honor the 125th anniversary of Iowa football;  the 75th anniversary of the school’s famed Ironmen team; the 75th anniversary of the athletic department’s booster club, the I-Club; and the 25th anniversary of the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

New this year will be the gran GABLE, a gran fondo bike race/ride named for Iowa’s legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable. The event, a collaborative effort between RAGBRAI and the CVB, will take place on Sept. 1.

All proceeds from the 25-, 50- or 100-mile fondo will benefit the Iowa Bicycle Coalition and the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. Riders who complete the 100-mile option will receive a gold medal modeled after the one Gable won at the 1972 Olympics.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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