This is the silver anniversary of one of the weirdest seasons in Iowa football history.
The Hawkeyes lost to Hawaii and Colorado, something I dare say won’t happen in the same season again. Then they went 4-1-3 in the Big Ten. Ties were still part of college football at the time, and Iowa seemed to have a tie magnet.
At least the teams they tied were good: Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State.
The Hawkeyes’ reward for a 6-3-3 regular-season was a Peach Bowl game against North Carolina State. I covered it, and found it a tedious assignment. Atlanta was indifferent to the game, the late-December weather there was cold and wet, and it poured during the game, which the Hawkeyes lost, 28-23.
But the highlight of the days leading up to the game for me was asking Hayden Fry for his thoughts on the recent death of singer Roy Orbison, since I knew Orbison was from west Texas, like Fry.
Fry told me that when he taught and coached at Odessa High School in the 1950s, Orbison was one of his students. He said Orbison acted up in class one day, so he put a metal wastebasket over Orbison’s head and had him sing.
“That’s how he got that nasal twang,” Fry claimed. I loved writing that story, and loved that the Gazette ran photos of Fry and Orbison side by side, facing each other, both wearing their trademark sunglasses.
In Fry’s post-retirement book “Hayden Fry: A High Porch Picnic,” he told the story for posterity.
“He was a very nice young man, small and energetic, and wore thick glasses,” Fry said. “He was a good student and well liked by his classmates. Roy was well into music when I had him as a high school student. Besides singing, he had a combo called the Wink Wildcats. The name was taken from the town where he lived — Wink, Texas, about 30 miles from Odessa.
“Roy was in my home room and one day — I believe he was a junior at the time — I went down to the principal’s office on business. When I returned, Roy was standing on my desk leading the class in “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Everyone was singing on key and it sounded pretty good, but I had to do something to discipline Roy, so every day for a week I made him stand in a corner of the room with a wastebasket over his head singing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” to the class. So I take some credit for the unusual high-pitched quality that was in Roy’s voice. I used to tell him he would never have developed that characteristic if I hadn’t put him under the wastebasket. We used to laugh about that when I occasionally saw him. It was a tragedy that he died at the peak of his professional career.”
Fry told me Orbison’s combo was called the Wink Warriors. The high school sports teams in Wink were the Wink Wildcats. It turns out they were the Wink Westerners. Wink is 54 miles from Odessa.
As for Orbison attending Odessa High at any time, I don’t know.
This Sun Records site says he attended Odessa (Junior) College in 1955. RoyOrbison.com says here that he graduated from Wink High School in 1954. Maybe Orbison was at Odessa High for some reason when Fry taught history and was an assistant football coach there in the 1951-52 school year.
Fry then got his draft notice and joined the Marine Corps. He returned to Odessa High and was the head football coach from 1956 to 1958.
At any rate, it’s a great story. Fry has always been a great storyteller. And Orbison was a great singer, whether or not he got trained with a wastebasket.
I’ll be the moderator for a panel discussion at FRY fest, Friday at 3:15 p.m., at the Marriott in Coralville. Several former Iowa players are scheduled to be on the panel, including former Fry players Larry Station, Casey Wiegmann, Hap Peterson and Bill Happel.)