Sept. 19, 2011
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Growing up in Oskaloosa, Iowa, a young John Campbell spent hours listening to Jim Zabel radio calls. On Saturday, Campbell joined Zabel — and 23 others — as a member of the Kinnick Stadium Media Wall of Fame.
Campbell, who has been sports director at KCRG-TV since June, 1979, is the first fulltime television journalist to be honored. A class of four was inducted Saturday, joining 20 from the inaugural class of 2006. Other newcomers are Phil Haddy (UI sports information), Chuck Schoffner (UPI and AP) and Kevin Evans (Waterloo Courier).
“I’m humbled by the honor; I’m surprised by the honor,” Campbell said. “To go down with Zabel, Ron Gonder, Bob Brooks, Gus Schrader and Maury White — that’s something else. That’s special to me to join that group of fellas who have covered Hawkeye sports over the years.”
The Wall of Fame, located in the media section of the Paul W. Brechler Press Box, recognizes individuals who covered Hawkeye football with integrity, accuracy and fairness over a long period of time.
Campbell played football and basketball and was a pole vaulter before graduating from Oskaloosa High School in 1965. After being denied admission to Dartmouth College, he followed his uncle’s footsteps to DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. Campbell played one season of football there and spent four years at the college radio station, specializing in sports. When the Hawkeyes played football at Purdue, Indiana and Illinois, Campbell attended to lend Zabel a hand.
“I would spot for him and in those days, I went down into the locker room to get interviews,” Campbell said. “I had a note pad and took quotes. I remember talking to Eddie Podolak in the locker room at Purdue, and now these many years later, Ed’s around and I’m around; it’s kind of interesting.”
During a year of graduate school at Indiana, Campbell began working with film. In June, 1970, he was hired as a news reporter/photographer at WBAY-TV in Green Bay, Wis. Two years later he moved to sports, where he has been since.
After 10 years in Wisconsin, Campbell returned to Iowa. One of his primary duties was covering the Hawkeye programs he cheered for as a child.
“I came the same year Hayden Fry came and it was not a package deal, I want everyone to realize that,” Campbell said. “Hayden was so interesting and colorful and you never knew what he was going to say on Tuesdays (at his weekly press conference), so it made it fun to cover. I consider the 80s as one of the golden ages of Iowa sports. He was doing great things, they had gone to a Final Four, Vivian (Stringer) arrives (to coach women’s basketball), (Dan) Gable had the wrestling program going, so great things were happening.”
Campbell was in Columbus, Ohio, when Marv Cook caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Chuck Hartlieb with six seconds remaining to give Iowa a 29-27 win against Ohio State on Nov. 14, 1987. He was in State College, Pa., when Tim Dwight returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown during a 21-20 win over Penn State on Oct. 19, 1996. He was in Kinnick Stadium for Fry’s 100th victory as the Hawkeye head coach on Nov. 23, 1991 — a 23-8 decision over Minnesota in a game punctuated by Danan Hughes making a snow angel in the end zone.
He also saw Iowa defeat Michigan, 12-10, on Oct. 19, 1985, in a battle between the top two ranked teams in the nation; he watched Warren Holloway score on a 56-yard pass completion from Drew Tate as time expired to lead Iowa past LSU, 30-25, in the Capitol One Bowl on Jan. 1, 2005; he was in Kinnick Stadium when Daniel Murray kicked a 31-yard field goal to upset No. 3 Penn State, 24-23, on Nov. 8, 2008. He filmed Dallas Clark catching a 7-yard touchdown pass from Brad Banks with a minute to go during a 31-28 win against Purdue on Oct. 5, 2002.
“There have been a lot of exciting and thrilling games to cover and it’s been fun covering Kirk Ferentz and see him come back and have the great success he has,” Campbell said. “He’s such a class guy and he never panicked. Those first couple years weren’t easy, but I never saw any panic in him. I just like the way he runs the program.”
Fairness, accuracy and objectivity have long been Campbell hallmarks. But he admits that his job is easier when the Hawkeyes win.
“You know the coaches, you know some of the athletes — sure you want to see them have success,” Campbell said. “You know it’s important to them, and it’s important to so many people in this state how the Hawkeyes do. Sometimes I think I lose contact with that a little bit. How the Hawks do is so important to so many people.”
Campbell speaks with fondness of covering Gable’s wrestling teams: “He is so refreshingly honest and open and down to earth. Of course they were doing well and they had some interesting characters along the way on that wrestling team, which always made it fun.”
And Stringer and her women’s basketball teams: “She was such a soft-spoken lady, but boy, she was a great coach; really neat. That last year was tough with her husband dying on Thanksgiving Day. It was a really, really tough situation.”
And Tom Davis and his men’s basketball teams: “He was a fun guy to cover, he did such great things. The saddest story I ever covered was Chris Street’s death (Jan. 19, 1993) — that was tough and Tom Davis handled it so well and that’s something I’ll always remember.”
This is one of many awards for Campbell, who has covered three Rose Bowls, an Orange Bowl and Final Fours in both men’s and women’s basketball. He received the Iowa Sportscaster of the Year Award in 2005 and has been honored by the Iowa High School Athletic Association, the Iowa High School Athletic Director’s Association and the Iowa Broadcast News Association.
One Iowa victory Campbell missed was the `Throwback Game’ against Ball State on Sept. 25, 2010, because he was receiving the prestigious Silver Circle Award (lifetime Emmy) in Minneapolis.
“I missed the game when they wore the yellow helmets,” Campbell said. “I grew up on the yellow helmets.”