My father, Lew Jordan, or Big Lew as his friends called him, passed away the day after Christmas at the age of 82. He was much more than a Hawkeye fan, of course. My friend, Dan Finney, wrote this great piece on his blog, and it ended up in the editorial section of the Register on New Year’s Day. My dad was a great many things. A family man. An attorney (and a damn good one). A die-hard democrat. And a huge Hawkeye fan. This is that side of him.
Big Lew was born near Spencer Iowa, and moved to Detroit with his family when he was a teenager after his father passed away. After graduating high school at age 17, he hitchhiked to Iowa City with $80 to his name. In 1947, that was enough for his first term’s tuition, with maybe enough left over to get him by a month. He would go on to the Navy for four years, before returning to the University of Iowa and completing his undergrad, and then graduating from their College of Law.
During his time there, Big Lew worked as a bartender at Joe’s Place. It funded his way through school and provided him the chance to hear some interesting stories. He used to tell stories of how Alex Karras would come into the bar three sheets to the wind. Karras’s issues with coach Forest Evashezski are well documented, but dad got to hear Alex’s drunken side of it. I’ll respect both my father and Mr. Karras by letting those stories rest in peace. I will say that dad didn’t think too much of Karras, but he really did like Randy Duncan. He used to tell stories about Randy coming into Joe’s Place, and Hawkeye fans should probably be thankful for Big Lew, as he once kept the owner from killing Randy during an argument. It’s just too bad I never convinced my dad to write these stories down.
Big Lew was in the Navy in 1953, but still spoke with anger until his dying day of the “Fainting Irish” game as if he were there in person. He hated Notre Dame forever more, just like every good Hawkeye fan should. And he forever loved Forest Evashevski, who was not shy about ripping into the Irish after that game. Evy was at Iowa much of the same time as dad, and was a big reason why Iowa football became such a big part of Big Lew’s life. He was back in school for the 1956 season and first Rose Bowl victory. He graduated in ’58 but attended several home games in the fall to watch that Rose Bowl Championship team as well.
My mom and dad’s first date was at Kinnick Stadium in November of 1963. Back then, people got all dressed up for the games. Suits, ties, dresses, wool coats and hats. Far different from today. I’m not sure if Iowa won or lost that day, but thank God the date went well.
Big Lew never thought too much of Hayden Fry. In his mind, he could never live up to Evashevski. Evy won the big game (that being the Rose Bowl), and Hayden never could. Dad always saw Hayden as a used car-salesman from Texas.
Speaking of the Rose Bowl, the old man took the family to the Rose Bowl in 1985-86. We went to the Rose Parade and saw the people camping out for days with their sofa and all living room furniture only to leave it all there after the parade. My mom had to pee so bad, but all of the port-a-potties were overflowing with urine and shit so she held it. Leave it to my father to forget his wallet at the hotel, so we had no money; only the tickets. No ATM’s or credit cards accepted everywhere like today, but there was no going back to the hotel and risk missing any of the game. So we walked through a really rough part of town to get there on time. Big Lew was holding my hand and crack-heads were coming at us from all directions begging for money. We were easy targets in our Bumble-bee Iowa garb. Dad kept walking, looking straight forward saying, “Nope” over and over again. I thought we were gonna die. If you know Iowa history, you’ll remember that the game was a disaster. Top that off with the fact that we had isle seats with people constantly walking in and out the whole game, and dad was swearing at those people the entire time. “Jesus H. Christ, did you people come here to watch a fucking game and go buy Cokes and stand in the restroom line……SIT DOWN!!!!” In four quarters of profanity only one lady told him to “screw off”. These are my first real memories of dad using the F- word. My brother and I fought the whole drive back to Iowa, and that’s probably why I never got to go to another bowl game. And dad still talked shit about Ronnie Harmon throwing that game until the very end.
He only liked the old-school Hawkeye, and never understood why they went away from it. While I don’t hate the Tiger Hawk, I agree that the retro version is much better.
He said getting rid of Tom Davis was a mistake when it happened, and that he didn’t like the way Alford looked. Good call on that one.
Big Lew hated Ed Hightower. It was as if the first task he had to do for an Iowa basketball game was to check to make sure Hightower was not officiating, and if he was, holy hell the tirade that would ensue! But in fact, he hated most basketball officials. Iowa is the only team in the Big Ten that gets hosed at home every time out. I still agree with that, and it will likely never change.
He loved seeing the Hawks beat Michigan. He would always follow it up by singing, “Hail, Hail, to Michigan, the cesspool of the West!”
He never got over Iowa getting rid of Jim Zabel. Gary Dolphin was fine, but dad always talked about how Zabel did so much to build the fan base. Before TV, he was the guy that made people want to listen to the Hawks, even when they probably weren’t worth listening to. Zabel cared more than my dad did; that was the appeal.
Big Lew never booed the team. Sure, he occasionally booed the officials. And he, of course, would curse the coaches under his breath for stupid play calls. But he never booed the players. You just don’t boo the black and gold.
My favorite game ever at Kinnick was the Purdue game in 2002, and mainly because it was spent with my father. Iowa really had no business winning that game. Two blocked kicks, a 94 yard TD by a tight end, two defensive stops and a drive for the ages allowed the victory. But it was classic Big Lew when with just over three minutes left Iowa punted the ball away down by 4. Iowa had all three timeouts, so a much needed three-and-out was in our heads. Fans began to stream out of the stadium thinking the game was over. This infuriated Big Lew, as he had an aisle seat and had to stand for people to get out. I still feel sorry for those that left that day; not because they missed the finish but because of the tongue lashing that my father gave them on their way past. If he wasn’t in his 70’s he likely would have been punched in the face. But he wasn’t, and he was also right. You don’t leave a game until the clock reads zero. Iowa got that three-and-out, and Brad Banks and Dallas Clark did the rest. I hadn’t hugged my father in years, but we hugged a dozen times that day. I’ll never forget it.
As his health failed, he didn’t get to make it to many games. He pretty much stopped going altogether around 2008. He smoked since he was a teenager, and walking to Kinnick became an impossibility.
I loved talking sports with my dad. It was one of the big things I have missed over the last few years as he went downhill. He couldn’t stay awake through games, and eventually that made him angry so he’d stop watching altogether. I don’t know when I finally realized that he wouldn’t argue with me anymore about who the quarterback should be, or who is the better point guard, but now that he’s gone I miss it even more.
There’s no lesson to be learned here (other than don’t smoke). But I think my father would agree that you shouldn’t take those special seasons for granted. They only come along so often. You should also go to bowl games if you can. He and mom only made it to three in their 44 years of marriage, and I know they both would have loved to do so much more. Really folks, I hope you just appreciate and respect the loss of a fellow Hawkeye, and if you’re read this far, I’m sure you do. He was one of the best.
And this is a direct quote from his burial instructions, that he typed up back in 1985…
I want no soloist. If there is to be music I do not want any sad song; I want “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “When the Saints Go Marching In” and either the “Battle Hymn of Republic” or the “Iowa Fight Song”.
We played he Iowa Fight Song one last time for the old man at the end of the service. It was the perfect send off for a damn near perfect Iowa fan.