June 1, 2005
hawkeyesports.com note: The following was written by Andrew Logue and first appeared in June 1, 2005 editions of the Des Moines Register.
A narrow stretch of highway known as Spur 55 became Drew Tate's shortcut to tranquility.
When Tate needed an escape from the labels and limits placed on him since grade school, he headed east toward the creeks and gullies that flowed into Galveston Bay.
Sometimes, the future Iowa quarterback would use his 1993 Jeep Wrangler to chew through the muddy banks of a bayou. Other times, he settled peacefully under a bridge, relaxing and reflecting with friends. "When everybody wanted to be together," Tate said, "this is where they would come."
"We'd keep saying, 'Do you think he's ever going to make it to be a college football player?'' I doubted it very seriously, but then again, he proved me wrong."
Dan Perez, owner of C&D Groceries and a longtime Tate family friend
Tate's miraculous touchdown pass in the closing seconds of the Capital One Bowl - a 56-yard toss to Warren Holloway that stunned Louisiana State, 30-25, on Jan. 1 - thrust him into the national spotlight and sparked rumblings of the Hawkeyes being NCAA title contenders this fall.
Those who shared Tate's childhood struggles and triumphs recognized a desire for success that "SportsCenter" highlights failed to fully capture. They also witnessed his transformation from a rambunctious youth growing up on the outskirts of Houston to a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. "A lot of Baytown people were watching, and were very proud," Dan Perez, owner of C&D Groceries and a longtime Tate family friend, said of the LSU victory. "We all knew Drew was going to make it big."
Images of Tate are forever etched in the minds of Hawkeye fans, but the people who followed his journey from Spur 55 to Iowa City add perspective to the pictures.
Perez remembers Tate as an energetic kid who was 7 years old when his family moved to Baytown. He was quickly labeled a troublemaker because of his antics, but his spunky attitude suited the working-class community built around an oil refinery.
So did his love for traditional Mexican food, which Perez served up in the back of his store.
"Drew was tough," Perez said of the 6-foot 185-pound Hawkeye junior. "He would take that hot sauce, and plenty of it."
Tate used to shadow his stepfather, Dick Olin, while he conducted football practices at Robert E. Lee High School. Afterward, Tate would volunteer to clean cleats if one of the players would drive him to C&D Groceries. The wheeling-dealing Tate grew into a varsity starter - as a freshman.
"We'd keep saying, 'Do you think he's ever going to make it to be a college football player?' " Perez said. "I doubted it very seriously, but then again, he proved me wrong."
Lake Tate smiles when talking about the way he used to antagonize his younger brother. He was 5 years older than Drew, and delighted in coaxing him into mischief.
Drew liked jumping off the roof of his house and into a swimming pool. He also broke several fingers after tying his skateboard to a bike and trying to hitch a ride. Most of Tate's bruises, however, came courtesy of Lake.
"We abused him," Lake said, "because he was a little turd."
Lake enjoyed stuffing Drew into lockers, keeping the future prep all-American out of the way until someone came looking for him.
"You'd hear someone banging in the locker room, and there was Drew," said Clint Riley, the offensive coordinator at Baytown Lee. "That was a common deal when he was younger."
Olin became a source of stability in Tate's life after marrying his divorced mother, Martha, a couple years before arriving in Baytown. By the time Tate was 8, Olin realized his stepson was a relentless competitor with a low tolerance for failure.
"When he would get upset," Olin said, "it was because he was so mad at himself."
Tate had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder as a preschooler, but it was his behavior during Little League baseball games that sometimes alienated peers.
"We used to always make fun of Drew, because he didn't have any friends," Lake said. "He'd be playing baseball out on the field cussing the other kids. None of the parents liked him. And so I guess they told their kids, 'Don't hang out with Drew.' " Being isolated allowed Tate to forge an even stronger bond with Olin - a quarterback for Northern Iowa during the mid-1960s.
"We had no history together," Olin said. "We had to make all our memories."
A volatile chapter was added when Tate, a Little League pitcher, erupted on a steamy summer evening. After struggling to throw strikes, he started hurling obscenities at an umpire.
The shouting match shocked spectators.
"The parents in the stands were like, 'Oh, my God,' " Lake said. "He's crying and screaming at the umpire, 'Take me out of the game.' " Before Tate could be ejected, Olin left the bleachers and made a visit to the mound.
"I don't know that they had an opportunity to kick him out, because I was there real quick," Olin said. "I told him, 'Drew-fus, don't do this stuff. Just relax.' "
Organizers sometimes placed limits on Tate, denying him a chance to compete on certain teams, even though his skill level exceeded his age.
Olin again told Tate to be patient.
"He was always good," Olin said. "Playing with older kids like his brother, you had to get real good. Because they're going to kill you." Baytown Lee is located less than a mile from the docks, where tankers begin their trek through the Gulf of Mexico. Trains carrying petroleum move along the tracks across from the football practice field.
This is where a young Tate played imaginary games before varsity practices, throwing his first touchdown passes to anyone willing to run a route.
"There were supposed to be two or three bags of footballs, but by the time (the players) would get there, they would be all scattered because Drew had to have his special football," Perez said. Tate graduated Baytown Lee as the most prolific prep passer in Texas history. But Riley, a longtime assistant coach for the Ganders, can still hear chants of "Drew sucks" echoing in Stallworth Stadium.
"Basically, half the town hated him," Riley said. "Anytime he put on a uniform, they were on him."
Some supporters of crosstown rival Sterling had a hard time forgiving Tate after he orchestrated a series of lopsided wins.
"I would say 90 percent of the people respected him and thought he was a great athlete," Olin said. "There's 10 percent of that Sterling connection that doesn't care about him." The street leading into Baytown's old downtown district is divided by an oak tree that has become part of local lore.
Old-timers claim Sam Houston once camped under the city landmark. Kids tell tales about the outlaws who were hanged from its sturdy branches.
"They used to smack the horse in the butt, and it would take off," said Drew, recounting a scene that once symbolized frontier justice.
A few blocks away, modern storytellers gather at Trophy Barber Shop, where the walls are decorated with dozens of stuffed animals from around the world. Even the trash can was made from an elephant's foot.
Most of the talk, however, is about football and the exploits of the hometown product who wears black and gold.
"We watch Iowa play," Joe McShan said as he trimmed a customer's sideburns. "(Tate's) quite an individual. He's quite a ball player."
Tate's also made quite an impression on the people of Baytown.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn't seen him change," Riley said. "He's just matured."