Have you heard the story about the time Chuck Long made a mess on Hayden Fry’s clothes? Let me set this up: I met Long in the lobby at the Big Ten Network headquarters in Chicago to get him to tell me a good story from his days as Iowa’s quarterback. After his five-year NFL career and 16 seasons as a college coach, Long has put his coaching plans on hold and now serves as a co-host for #BTNLive, one of several shows on BTN.
Long enjoyed a standout collegiate career as a four-year starting quarterback from 1981 to 1985, playing under legendary head coach Hayden Fry. Long helped lead the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten Championship in 1985, the program’s first conference title in 27 years. The Big Ten Player of the Year that season finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, getting edged out by Auburn’s Bo Jackson in one of the closest races in that award’s history.
But Long’s journey to Iowa City was not the most conventional, by any means. In fact, even receiving an Iowa scholarship surprised Long. I asked Chuck Long to tell us about his greatest story during his college playing days.
BTN.com: What was it like being recruited to play for a Big Ten program back in the early 80’s?
Long: To be honest, I was not recruited heavily out of high school. Only three schools, Iowa under coach Hayden Fry, Northwestern under coach Dennis Green and Northern Illinois under coach Bill Mallory, were interested in me. I played at Wheaton North High School, right here in the Chicago-land area, and we were a running football team. I was an option-type quarterback in high school. I was 6-foot-4 and about 175 pounds in my senior year.
BTN.com: Wow, that’s skinny, even for a quarterback.
Long: Yeah, I was a stick, but we ran the ball well. We won our first-ever state championship my junior year, back in 1979. I come from a very good football town.
BTN.com: So you rarely threw the ball, you were skinny as a twig, and yet, two Big Ten teams were recruiting you? Did you set some type of record there?
Long: As a matter of fact, I did set a record that I will share with you, although I’m not very proud of it. In our state championship game, which I am very proud of the victory, I set an Illinois state record for passing yardage. I was actually 1-of-4 passing for -3 yards in the game. That’s a record that I don’t think will ever be broken.
BTN.com: So did you ever find out what it was that made Iowa recruit you as a quarterback?
Long: Why Iowa recruited me, I’ll never know. Why any of those teams were interested in me, I’ll never know. But later on, I asked Hayden Fry after my career at Iowa, “How did you ever find me? How did you recruit me?” He said we actually took every one of your passes from your high school career and put it all on one highlight reel. That just goes to show you that if you can put all my high school passes on one single reel, we really didn’t throw the ball much.
BTN.com: Well, he must have seen something on that reel that made you stand out above the rest.
Long: That’s possible, but remember– it was also a time when there were 95 scholarships or more, so I got that extra scholarship. I was one of the last ones to get it. They get who they need and who they want, and then they go after the guys that kind of slipped through the cracks. I was one of those “whoever’s left guys.”
BTN.com: You went from being the last player to fill out a recruiting class, to being a four-year starter at a Big Ten school. Something had to change along the way.
Long: Well if you fast forward now, I went to Iowa and really immersed myself in the passing game. I studied a ton of film. In fact, I didn’t even know what a Cover 2 was until I got to college, so I had to learn all of that.
BTN.com: You went from not knowing what a Cover 2 was, to being the first and only quarterback in NCAA history to play in five different bowl games. How did that happen?
Long: During my freshman year, there was a rule that you couldn’t redshirt freshman. So what coaches tried to do was to play you as a freshman and then redshirt you as a sophomore. So, I actually got into one quarter of one game in a blowout against Northwestern my freshman season. We then went to the Rose Bowl that year and we got blown out by Washington. It was 28-0 late in the fourth quarter and Coach Hayden Fry, with his great sense of humor, turned to me and said, “Hey Charlie, I want you to go and get on TV for the hometown crowd.”
So the next year, the Big Ten threw that rule out, so I missed out. Then after my senior year, the NCAA came back and said “Hey we think we cheated you out of a year, if you want to have another senior year, you can.” So I did and it worked out great because we ended up winning a Big Ten Championship and going to the Rose Bowl.”
BTN.com: Any funny stories while playing for coach Hayden Fry?
Long: In fact, I have a great one, if you want to hear it.
BTN.com: Bring it on.
Long: Well, I always said that coach’s signature victory was in my freshman season when we beat a heavily-favored Nebraska team. The following year, we lost a lot of guys from our team and we went to Lincoln and got rocked by another great Nebraska team. It was the first game of the season and it was extremely hot outside, so I tried to coat my stomach with as much food as I could get.
BTN.com: Are we talking breakfast food or lunch food?
Long: I ate everything from pancakes, to eggs, to pasta. Around the middle of the fourth quarter, we are getting beat 42-7 and they are hitting me pretty good. Of course, (Hayden) wants the clock to run and get out of there, but I called a timeout in the fourth quarter and he was beyond mad about it. He walked to the sideline and he said “Hey Charlie, why’d you call a timeout?” In so many choice words, of course.
BTN.com: Well, why did you call a timeout?
Long: Before I tell you why, let me start by telling you that coach always wore signature white pants and white shoes. That was his trademark, along with a white collared shirt and a black coat. Well, I proceed to get sick all over his white pants and shoes as he’s talking to me, and keep in mind, that was my first collegiate start.
BTN.com: Ouch, how did he react to that one?
Long: Not so good. In fact, he was so mad that he benched me right on the spot. And he was so mad that he benched me in the next game. So there’s my start to Iowa Hawkeye football. You like that?
BTN.com: I love it. Now that was a great college football story.
Long: Oh yeah, now there’s something not everyone knows about me.
|About Sean Merriman||BTN.com contributor Sean Merriman interviews Big Ten names and asks them for a great story about their days in the Big Ten for our Big Ten Tales section.|