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January 17, 2013It is a bittersweet time for Dr. Tom Davis this week as he reflects back on the life of Chris Street. The former Hawkeye coach has many fond recollections of his star forward. Davis also is still impacted deeply by the loss of Street on a cold January evening in 1993. Davis talks about his memories of that time and remembers Chris Street.
Q: What are your thoughts on the 20th anniversary of the passing of Chris Street?
DAVIS: It's really hard to say how you really feel. As I started to think about it this summer, the one thought I had was, I don't know if enough was every said about what great parents Mike and Patty Street were in terms of how they raised this young man. With the values that he had an the talent that he was able to use was certainly God given, but he had other good coaches and good people around him in his early years that developed him into the person he became. People have to understand, when a college coach gets acquainted with him, the personally is pretty much made by then and habits and the way he approaches people are all pretty much there. I have been thinking a lot about Mike and Patty and I'm not sure that has ever been brought up about them when they talk about how great Chris was. Well, he had help getting there from his parents and he had terrific coaching in high school from his basketball coach and his football coaches. Chris loved playing football and other sports too. I know he had a lot of people help him get there.
Q: Does it seem like 20 years ago?
DAVIS: In some ways it seems like forever. In other ways it was just recently. It's kind of mixed as you look back on it.
Q: Have you had a lot of emotions come back this week?
DAVIS: It's funny, over the years when I would speak to a group or something, there would always be a question about Chris Street. People care. You guys have probably figured out that there was a caring there. I found that it was hard for me to talk about. I'd get choked up. You wouldn't think that you would, but just thinking back as you have the memories, it's tough. It has probably been a tough week or month on everybody as they get ready for this for everyone connected with this. But, I think it's good. It gives us a chance to reflect on somebody who was pretty special.
Q: Are you still thinking about whether you are going to come to the game on Saturday night?
DAVIS: I'm just not sure yet. I'll have to wait and see.
Q: Do you ever think back to that night? You went out there.
DAVIS: Oh yeah. Lots of times. My wife and I were talking about it the other night about what she remembers. I just ran into a friend who said I came out to your house that night. My memory wasn't the same about that night. I think John Strief has come to pick me up to take me to the scene of the accident. My wife knew it was something bad.
Q: How did you find out?
DAVIS: If I remember right, John Strief called me. He was notified and he called me right away and said he would come over and get me. Then we ended up at the arena in the locker room.
Q: So you went to the accident scene first?
DAVIS: I think that's the way it was. You would think you would remember the details, but that whole thing people would ask me what did you say in the locker room before the Michigan State game? I have no clue. I can't even remember much of the game. I had to watch the video. I think in coaching you get to the point where you have to do this or you have to do that and you do it, but you don't have a vivid memory of the details. I don't know if it is a form of shock or whatever you might call it when you go through a trauma or a tragedy like this.
Q: Was your first reaction to get to the scene of the accident?
DAVIS: No, I was just what can we do? There was not much we could do as it turned out. I think Chris was at the hospital by the time I got notified. It was tough.
Q: What got you guys through that period of time?
DAVIS: I think it had to do with Mike and Patty. I think we thought so much about his parents and the family and his sisters. We were concerned for them. I remembered thinking about that going to the funeral. My wife recalled that we all went over together on a bus. It was the coaches, the wives, the players, and the managers, and trainers. She recalled that we were on the bus and not only did we leave on time, but we left early because all the players showed up early and they were all dressed up in suits and ties. That was really impressive to her.
Q: Have you had some of the players from that team reach out to you this week or in the past few weeks to talk?
DAVIS: I talk to quite a few of them fairly regularly. I don't think any of them have talked specifically about Chris. I talked to Kenyon Murray not too long ago. I talked to Ryan Leuhrsmann recently. Guys like Ryan were impacted by Chris Street. I went down to get a newspaper today at a local place and the guy behind the counter told me he was in 4th grade at the time, where he went to school, and how his mother woke him up and told him about it. I didn't know the guy, but it impacted people. That is probably why this is a good thing in the long run because it helps people remember how special this young guy was and the values he had. If he didn't have the values he had, and the parenting, and the type of personality he had, then there wouldn't be any of this. He was a pretty special individual.
Q: Does it amaze you that virtually every Iowa fan knows exactly where they were and what they were doing when they found out?
DAVIS: Yeah, it's tough. It does kind of surprise me because he was still so young. He had accomplished some things, but he hadn't accomplished a lot. It wasn't like he had won the Heisman or something like that and yet he had the same impact. I think it says a lot about Iowa and the kind of state we live in. It says a lot about their view of sports at the University of Iowa. It says a lot about television coverage back then. Back then I think we still had three radio stations doing the games live. You still had the coaches show on Sunday night, which was a pretty heavily viewed show. You had the call-in show, which I remember very well. (laugh) An hour and a half a week. It seemed like six months. (laugh) I don't know if I still have them, but I wish I had the letters and things that I would get that people would mail into the office. It was about everything. The call-in show reminded me of that because they would hear something and that would prompt them to send me a picture of their dog. They would be watching TV with their dog and they would send me a picture. Some people would send me things that they were making. I think the state would adopt the basketball team thru the Iowa Television Network and the radio network and it made basketball very popular in the state of Iowa. Colder months. Not as many cable channels. No twitter or facebook. (laugh) When something like what happened to Chris, I don't know if it would be like that today. It would be harder to develop that kind of character with the fans. I think it was a function of the times that made all that happen and made people care that deeply. I think that is a pretty good reflection about what life was like here 20 years ago and what life was like coaching here. You were on display. That was the whole thing. If you had a young guy who had problems, he was on display. If he was very gifted, like Chris was, then the positives were on display. That's why I started with the parenting thing because I think that is a good thing to focus on. It was about what his parents did and his coaches did at an early age. I wish we could take more credit here. I know how hard it is and it's hard to change someone when they get here and they are 17 or 18 years old. Their values and way of life is pretty much ingrained. You can make some changes. We will think we can make changes, but it's not that easy. (laugh)
Q: Chris got better every year he was here.
Q: Was that just his work ethic?
DAVIS: Absolutely. I think that is where the coaching comes in at the college level. You have good assistants, good trainers, and good doctors and others that can help you. You can help him focus and the facilities are available at all hours. If the guy has that desire, capability, and direction then he can do something with it. Chris had that.
Q: Once he got to Iowa it was also the first time he was just playing basketball and not other sports.
DAVIS: That's a real good point. He kind of represented the Iowa athlete of 20 years ago. He did it all and he could do it all at the high school level. One story that I've told before I will tell again because I get a kick out of it. He committed to us between his sophomore and junior year, I think, and the summer between that time, football practice was starting and I got a call from Chris. He said, "Coach, can I play football?" I said, yeah, I've seen you and you are pretty good at football. I was kind of joking around with him and he says the coach wants to know if it's ok that I go out for football. I said sure, you are a high school kid and you have to do. He said, "Great, I love football. I love hitting people." I don't remember all the honors he received, but he was all state. One practice I saw him at he was in the defensive backfield and even then he was like 6-5 as a sophomore. I said, gosh, I wouldn't want to be hit by that kid either. (laugh) He had that personality where he would go play any sport at any time and he would do it well.
Q: The fact that he called you says a lot about him.
DAVIS: Yeah, and it shows how coachable was. There are a lot of kids that would just do it anyway. He was totally committed to do what had to be done. He is the type of kid that you could say, right now I am not your coach. You coach is your high school coach and you have to do what he says. We are not going to tell you what to do. In the summer if you come to camp, we will work with you. You have to have fun like any other kid and I think he did.