I had wrapped up all of my interviews except one. I purposely saved it for last because I knew it would be the longest. I needed only a little more information, some background from the past. No matter. He was going to tell me stories. None would be short.
I called his home only to receive an answering machine. I left a message. Not 10 minutes had passed before the phone rang. I picked it up and by the time I got to the "he" of my hello, a booming voice came back, "Rob, this is Al Grady. I was out walking my dogs. I understand that you need some help."
I was working on a story about Iowa fans booing the quarterback (the December cover piece for Hawkeye Nation magazine). Al proceeded to relay about 45 minutes worth of stories related to the topic.
Al began to get choked up when talking about Gary Snook, who he recalled being the first Iowa signal caller to get booed so bad that it became a bigger story than the game. Snook was one of the few players that did not have family waiting for him after the games.
I feel fortunate for every one of those 45 minutes that I was able to spend talking to Al last month. Heck, I feel real lucky for every second that I was able to speak with the longtime Iowa City Press-Citizen sports editor during my six years in Iowa City. I feel cheated that I never will get the chance to listen to him again.
When Al passed away on Tuesday, the University of Iowa community lost a treasure. Iowa journalism lost a legend. The world lost an extremely kind person.
The first time I sat down in the Iowa press box was in 1997. Al sat right next to me. He immediately introduced himself and never walked by me again without a greeting. He was always good for a grammar tip or two, as well.
Some of the younger reporters used to tease Al every now and then. We'd make gentlemen bets on which obscure Hawkeye he would ask Kirk Ferentz about in the Tuesday press conferences. A few years back, when he showed up in the press box decked out in his black and gold, one of the local writers asked him, "Hey Al, who are you rooting for?"
It's funny, but as much as we wanted to think of ourselves as the high-and-mighty, objective journalists, Al really had it figured out. He never felt the need to conform to be a modern day scribe who act guarded around the subjects he covered for fear of being thought of as partial. I admired Al because he was a Hawkeye fan still able to report objectively on a contest.
Al also changed with the times in terms of coverage. He was very quick around the Internet and loved recruiting. Whatever interested the fans, interested Al because he was a fan. He would frequently ask me recruiting questions.
Wherever somebody was talking Iowa athletics, Al was close by. When you flipped through channels on your TV set here in Iowa City, there was a good chance he would hosting a talk show or speaking to a group about the history of the Hawkeyes. He occasionally called the "Good Call" radio show of which Jon Miller and I are a part.
People like Al don't come along too often. He loved his work, and he cared about the people like Gary Snook. And he did it for much of his 76 years on this earth.
Like Al when talking about Snook, I got a little emotional today when I learned of his passing. I have grown to love what I do in covering Hawkeye athletics because of the passionate fans. And nobody showed more passion than Al.
As I sit here, ready to finish up this piece, I still can't believe that Al is gone. My condolences go out to his family and friends. They should take pride in his contributions.
Rest in Peace, Al Grady. You made a difference and will always be remembered.
Rob Howe is the Senior Editor for Hawkeye Nation magazine and the senior writer for Hawkeyenation.com