Barry Stevens was putting on a show, and I was in awe sitting in the bleachers of the Kuemper High School gymnasium as I was witnessing it.
A long three-pointer, a thunderous dunk — and I was enjoying every minute of the Iowa/Iowa State seniors barnstorming game. But as the exhibition wore on, I grew antsy. I was eager to see my idol in action, but I was downright giddy about meeting him at the autograph session.
I stood patiently in what seemed like a three-mile long line. Finally, I got a glimpse of his trademark smile. It would be my turn any minute. I began rehearsing what I was going to say when I handed him the poster I was clutching onto for dear life.
Finally, it was my turn. Barry paused to take a drink of Mountain Dew. That allowed me to deliver my rehearsed, but heartfelt, line.
"Barry, I am your biggest fan," I blurted out.
The adults chuckled, but Barry said, "Thanks," and smiled as he signed my poster.
I couldn't wait to tell my dad, who was waiting nearby. That poster hung on my wall until I was a teenager. It was my first encounter with Barry, but it wasn't the first time he made my day.
Earlier that year, I wrote him a letter requesting his autograph. A few months later a manila envelope with an Iowa State logo arrived in the mailbox. Inside was a media guide with Barry on the cover and his signature in blue ink.
I bragged to all of my friends about my new treasure but elected not to take it school worried that it might be damaged.
The autographs were the culmination of three years of hero worship. As an eight-year-old I watched the Cyclone sophomore blossom, and I was hooked. I begged my mom to buy me a red jersey with a screen-printed yellow 35 on the front and back. She finally obliged, and I wore it until the numbers fell off.
Barry left ISU as the school's all-time leading scorer and led the Cyclones to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the mid-1940s. Barry left, but I stayed a faithful Cyclone fan and cheered on Jeff Grayer, Barry's high school teammate, as he led the Cyclones to the Sweet 16 in 1986.
My Cyclone love affair began with Barry and Grayer and continued with Victor Alexander, Justus Thigpen Fred Hoiberg and onto countless others.
As years past I never forgot those precious memories. While working as a sports editor, I interviewed former ISU assistant Jim Halllihan. Hallihan traveled the state promoting the Iowa Games as its new director. On all three occasions, I listened as he regaled me with tales of those mid-80s ISU teams. I relayed my passion for Barry, and he told me how pleasurable it was to coach him.
A few years later I discovered how much Barry meant to Danny Evans. Evans became the women's basketball coach at Arkansas-Pine Bluff while I served as the Pine Bluff Commercial sports editor.
In our initial phone interview I discovered he grew up with Barry and Grayer in Flint, Michigan. Evans played at Oregon State but never lost touch with childhood friends.
Evans enjoyed hearing about how Barry was my first hero. He said Barry and Grayer raved about the devotion of the Iowa State faithful and "Hilton Magic."
I called Evans shortly after reading Barry had died Wednesday. Evans was expecting the call. He was in disbelief that one of his best friends was gone.
Hallihan told the Des Moines Register that Barry was a Christian man and didn't drink, smoke or use drugs. Evans agreed. That makes his untimely death at 43 a little easier to deal with.
Still, in my heart Barry Stevens will always be that college senior in the
prime of his ISU career, and I'm still that little boy
and his biggest fan.
Nate Olson is a 32-year-old Carroll native. He earned a journalism degree at Northwest Missouri State University. He interned at The Caroll Daily Times Herald and was the sports editor of the Algona Upper Des Moines and the Atlantic News-Telegraph and two other papers in Arkansas. He now lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he writes for Hooten's Arkansas Football magazine and Hootens.com.