CORALVILLE, Iowa — Fans stretched from the door to the far wall, perhaps 50 people deep waiting for a Chuck Long autograph.
The legendary Iowa quarterback sat at a table in the Black and Gold Shop signing his new book, Destined for Greatness. It’s a biography written by Aaron Putze, who spent more than four years compiling information for the book. To the people in line who waited for their moment with Long, it was worth it.
One woman drove cross-country to see her youthful idol. In 1985, Amy Butler saw Long before her junior year at Oskaloosa (Iowa) High School while attending a golf camp in Iowa City. Butler flagged down Long, who was entering his final year at Iowa, and asked for a picture. He complied, and she has kept that picture close to her more than 30 years later.
When Butler noticed on Facebook that Long was signing autographs, she decided to recreate that photograph. So she drove from Washington, D.C., to Iowa to get another snapshot with Long. Of course, her mother was at her side, so the trip was not totally exclusive to her few minutes of reintroducing herself to Long.
“I’ve been a Chuck Long fan since 1981,” Butler said. “We had season tickets. He was so kind to literally a junior in high school. He was so kind. I never forgot that.”
Long remains perhaps the most beloved living former Hawkeyes player and perhaps second to Nile Kinnick in Iowa history. He was lightly recruited from Wheaton (Ill.) North High School and became a three-time first-team All-Big Ten quarterback. As a senior in 1985, Long won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best player, the Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback), the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football (best Big Ten player) and was named the consensus first-team All-America quarterback.
In 1999, Long was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and is one of nine players enshrined on the Kinnick Stadium Wall of Honor. His statistics were off the charts for his era. Long owned the Big Ten career record for passing yards when he left Iowa with 10,461, which still ranks fifth. He also held the NCAA mark for consecutive completions with 22, which he set against Indiana in 1984. Long still ranks among the Big Ten’s all-time top 10 in multiple categories, including career completion percentage (.650 — now third), season completion percentage (.671 in 1984, .670 in 1985, now seventh and eighth, respectively), touchdown passes in a game (6 twice, now second), touchdown passes in a season (27 — now 10th) and career touchdown passes (74 — now fourth).
The conversations were limitless in line. A woman in line wanted Long to write a special note to her father — “Thanks for all the years supporting the Hawkeyes.” Fans too young to know him and too old to forget him also had their books inscribed and signed.
Former teammate Jim Poynton was there, as was former Johnson County Attorney J. Patrick White, who now serves as president of the Iowa City Quarterback Club. White used to speak to the Iowa football team every August and had multiple books for Long to sign.
“Chuck is one of the Iowa legends, obviously,” White said. “Every time you go into Kinnick, you see his name and number up on the press box.”
More than the statistics, Long was known for the memories. In 1985, Iowa was ranked No. 1 for five consecutive weeks. His last-second bootleg against Michigan State capped a 35-31 win. Two weeks later, Long led the No. 1 Hawkeyes the length of the field against No. 2 Michigan. Rob Houghtlin’s 29-yard field goal on the game’s final play gave Iowa a 12-10 victory.
But in early November, Iowa’s perfect season ended in a Columbus, Ohio, monsoon, 22-13. That’s why White took extra delight in the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 win against Ohio State this year.
“One of the things that was really great about pounding Ohio State this year was they really killed that season, albeit in a rainstorm,” White said.
That 1985 game slowed Long’s momentum toward the Heisman Trophy. He had 4 interceptions that day, and he lost to Bo Jackson in what then was the closest vote in Heisman history. But to those standing in line on Friday, the memories are about the good days, of which there were plenty.
Long will sign at the following businesses this week (all times CT):
Saturday, Dec. 9 — Countryside Turf & Timber, Iowa Falls, 10 a.m. to noon
Saturday, Dec. 9 — SingleSpeed Brewing Company, Waterloo, Iowa, 3-5 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 10 — Black and Gold Shop, West Des Moines, Iowa, 3-5
Monday, Dec. 11 — Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, Iowa, 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 12 — Pizza Ranch, Muscatine, Iowa, 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 14 — Scheel’s, Coralville, Iowa, 4:30 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 15 — Wheaton North High School, Wheaton, Ill., 6 p.m.
Tuesday, Dec. 19 — Liberty National Bank, Johnston, Iowa, 5 p.m.
The book is available for $17.95 at Amazon.com, at Kindle Direct Publishing and Black and Gold Shops throughout Iowa.
Proceeds for Long’s book go toward Children’s Therapy Center of the Quad Cities. The Black and Gold Shop donates $5 from every book sold to the center, which aids in the fight against cerebral palsy. It’s a personal fight for Long, whose brother Andy has cerebral palsy.