Jan. 14, 2013
Editor's Note: The following piece was written in 1998 by George Wine, sports information director at the University of Iowa from 1968-93. It was reprinted in the January, 2013 issue of Hawk Talk Monthly. Wine passed away July 5, 2012.
By GEORGE WINE
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- That evening started for me with a drive toward Iowa City for my weekly bridge game with the boys. I live north of town about 10 miles and often use Highway 1, as I did on this trip.
As I neared the city limits I was stopped on the highway by a line of cars backed up about half a mile. The line was barely moving and I grumbled to myself that this was going to make me late for my card game. The guys would wonder what was keeping me.
We crept along for 10 or 15 minutes before I noticed the flashing red lights of several police cars and ambulances. Then I saw a car turned upside down on the highway with a lot of people milling around. I recall thinking: Somebody might have been killed in that accident.
When I arrived late to the bridge game I explained that an accident had traffic tied up out by the Highlander. I said it looked pretty bad. Thirty minutes later the phone rang and the call was for me. Bob Bowlsby was on the line.
"Chris Street has been killed in a car accident," he said. I leaned against the wall, took a deep breath and asked him to repeat that. I couldn't believe what he was saying.
About 10 minutes later I walked into my office at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as the phones were ringing. They kept ringing and ringing and ringing. For hours. Lots of other people couldn't believe it either.
That happened five years ago. The date was Jan. 19, 1993. The accident report says the collision between the car Street was driving and a Johnson County dump truck/snowplow occurred at 6:49 p.m. The coroner's report says Street died instantly when his car was turned upside down and sent hurtling down the highway.
News of one of the most tragic incidents in Hawkeye history (Coach Buck O'Connor's death in a 1958 car accident is another) spread across the state like wildfire. Shocked, stunned and disbelieving Iowans -- whether they were Hawkeye fans or not -- struggled to make sense of this awful news.
My own reaction was: How can a vibrant, dynamic, super-energetic young man like Chris Street be with us one moment and gone the next? Five years have passed and I have yet to find the answer.
The sudden loss of any Iowa athlete, especially a basketball player whose every game is televised, would create a strong reaction, but the news of Street's death seemed to tear the guys out of an entire state and had a powerful impact beyond our borders. It was the top story on ESPN's SportsCenter that night.
As the days passed it became clear that after only 2 ½ years in an Iowa uniform, Street had become the measuring stick as to how basketball should be played. There were many players with more ability than he possessed, but nobody put more of himself into the game. Nobody got more from his ability. Nobody played the game harder.
Street had earned the admiration of coaches all over the country with his relentless style of play. That's what Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said: "Chris was a relentless competitor." Street played his last game at Duke ono national television.
During a tough Big Ten campaign, coaches like Northwestern's Bill Foster and Minnesota's Clem Haskins found time to attend Street's funeral. "Some of my players broke down when they heard about his death," Haskins said.
Michigan Coach Steve Fisher said, "Now those one-point losses don't matter. This is reality; this really hurts." Purdue Coach Gene Keady said: "There are no words to describe our sadness." Michigan State Coach Judd Heathcote called Chris "a coach's dream." Indiana Coach Bob Knight asked, "What could be more tragic?"
Perhaps because Street was the point man in Iowa's full-court press and was often looking in the television camera at the end line, and therefore looking into our living rooms, fans felt they actually knew this Hawkeye.
More than one adult expressed their grief this way: "I feel like I've lost a son." Jill Winegarden, 11, of Cedar Rapids wrote in Sports Illustrated for Kids: "I felt like he was my best friend just from watching him play. He always looked like he was having so much fun."
Street was a favorite with members of the news media because, win or lose, he was always willing to talk. He never ducked an interview, and reporters greatly appreciated that. Regardless of the game's outcome, he would patiently answer questions in his easygoing, friendly manner. Lots of athletes -- professional as well as college -- could take a lesson from that.
Opposing players had great admiration for Chris. Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg demonstrated his by discarding his jersey and wearing Street's No. 40 the remainder of the season.
Other than his immediate family, those who had the most difficult time dealing with Street's death were his teammates and coaches. Iowa basketball shut down for several days as they went into seclusion and mourned their loss.
USA Today reported that "An entire state paid homage" the day of his funeral, Jan. 22. Then Coach Tom Davis, in uncharted waters, showed great sensitivity in pulling his players together to face the rest of the season.
"Chris lived life to the fullest every day," the coach reminded his players, suggesting that Street would want his teammates to do the same thing. The courageous Hawkeyes won 10 of their remaining 15 Big Ten games to earn an NCAA tournament berth.
Street grew up watching Hawkeye games on TV in his hometown of Indianola, and he made a verbal commitment to play for Iowa before entering his junior year of high school. His dream came true the day he donned a black and gold uniform, took the court and competed as a Hawkeye for the first time.
Not many current Iowa players knew Chris Street. Ryan Bowen, while still in high school, remembers playing against him one summer in Iowa City's Prime Time League. Kent McCausland recalls meeting him once.
In their daily routine, the Iowa players are reminded of Chris when they pass his picture, encased at the entrance of their locker room, or notice his jersey No. 40, which in retirement hangs inside the door.
Maybe if the Hawkeyes draw strength from those daily reminders and play each game just a little harder, some sense can be made of his death. Maybe. We'd like to think so, anyway.