By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — John Streif’s odyssey of selflessness began at the University of Iowa in 1966, the first season with Ray Nagel as head football coach.
Early on, he worked with great coaches and great student-athletes, but it wasn’t until the 1980 season that he enjoyed a winning record in football with the Hawkeyes.
“Why have coach (Hayden) Fry and coach (Kirk) Ferentz turned this around? They turned it around by doing little things and emphasizing detail,” Streif told the Hawkeye football team and staff Sept. 1 in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center. “That’s the only difference I see.”
Streif is the first honorary captain of the 2017 football season. He called his arrival at Iowa a “freak thing.” Streif was a senior in high school in Manchester, Iowa, where a pitcher on the University of Iowa baseball team was doing an internship.
“He threw me in the car and said, ‘I think you would like to be a manager at Iowa,'” Streif said. “He brought me down here and Ray Nagel interviewed me. In the offseason, the trainer was short people, he asked me to in the training room to help him, and I never left the training room.”
Aside from a three-year stint as assistant athletic trainer at West Point Military Academy, Streif has worked for or around Iowa athletics since. He served as assistant athletic trainer for the Hawkeyes for 40 years and added the position of travel coordinator in 1980. Streif retired in 2012.
“Everywhere you turned, John was there,” Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He did a great job as a trainer, but it went well beyond that. University of Iowa athletics has been his life and the people who have been fortunate to get to know John will be the first to tell you what a special person he is.”
Of the many awards Streif received over the years, the most fitting could be the Above and Beyond the Call of Duty Award from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 2007. He has spent several hours comforting student-athletes and staff in hospitals and was always eager to lend a helping hand.
“It comes from your family,” Streif said. “They taught me if I was going to get involved in something, do it right and do it all the way. The people you work with bring it out of you.
“When these kids come to school and their parents are off somewhere else and they had to go through surgery or be hospitalized, they needed somebody there to help them and be with them. I tried to do as much as I could, even though I still had a job. I made sure I stopped in the morning and evening.”
Streif said it was satisfying when he helped relieve the burdens of others.
“They all give you credit for what you did for them,” Streif said. “I got an awful lot more from them than they did from me.”
Streif misses the daily interaction with Hawkeye student-athletes, but he remains on the go. He walks twice a day and spends a few days each week with his 91-year-old father.
Much of his time will be spent Saturday at his old stomping grounds inside Kinnick Stadium. He will accompany the Iowa captains to midfield for the pregame coin toss and spend time with the team in the locker room before and after the game.
Being recognized in front of 70,000 fans is nice, but to Streif, the most rewarding part of being honorary captain has already occurred.
“It is important to my family. To me, it is great, but (speaking to the team Friday) was the important part,” Streif said. “Being able to interact with these players and staff and share some of my thoughts. This is more important than (Saturday).”
Coincidentally, Streif is honorary captain the same weekend the 1980 Hawkeye basketball team is recognized at FryFest. That team finished the regular season 19-8 before rolling to the Final Four with NCAA Tournament victories over Virginia Commonwealth, North Carolina State, Syracuse, and Georgetown.
“There isn’t a team I worked with at Iowa that had more adversity and they went to the Final Four,” Streif said. “The feeling you get and how you stick together, that is especially true with the 1980 group. Kenny Arnold, because of his illness, has done a lot of that to the group, but it is just drawing them closer together. It is special and that’s what a team is all about.”
Streif knows about team; he also knows about family.
“F-A-M-I-L-Y,” he told the Hawkeyes. “Forget About Me, I Love You.”