Earle Murphy’s devotion to Iowa Hawkeye sports began in 1934 when a neighborhood group of black athletes made sure to include him in their football games.
Murphy was 11 then, recovering from foot surgery necessitated by a childhood bout with polio. Hawkeye star Ozzie Simmons ventured over to his house on South Dubuque Street and asked Murphy’s mother if he could carry “the little white boy” over to participate in their private practice sessions.
Murphy was delighted to play center for both teams. Simmons became his hero. Hawkeye sports became his passion.
“That’s what made me a Hawkeye. I didn’t know too much about it,” Murphy said.
Now 92, Murphy has published recollections from his 80 years of fandom in a 163-page glossy book “A ‘Hawk’ For All Seasons.” The title comes from a 1976 column that Al Grady wrote about Murphy for the Iowa City Press-Citizen after Murphy was named the I-Club’s man of the year.
Murphy started the project five years ago after people kept listening to his trove of stories and telling him he should turn them into a book. The result is a breezy spin through Hawkeye sports history, with sidesteps into Murphy’s personal story of 65 years of marriage to Louise and their seven children.
And into Murphy’s time as president of Bremers clothing stores, including his perch at the flagship store in downtown Iowa City that allowed him to rub shoulders with every significant figure in the Iowa athletics department.
“Especially in the '40s and '50s, downtown is where everyone went. Most men dressed up. He was a huge sports fan, so he was able to meet all these people,” said Murphy’s son, John, who helped compile the stories in the book along with sister Ann Murphy Pearson. “No one can really meet them nowadays. Your football coach isn’t walking around downtown.”
The book includes stories about famous football players such as Simmons, Randy Duncan, Willie Fleming — “the best runner Iowa ever had,” Murphy asserts — Emlen Tunnell, Paul Krause, Alex Karras and more. Murphy writes about the time that a famished Bob Jeter chowed down on turkey in his house the day after starring in the 1959 Rose Bowl. Coaches Forest Evashevski, Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz all became friends of “Murph.”
Murphy also attended numerous home events in basketball, baseball, wrestling, track and swimming over the years. He co-founded a group of Hawkeye fans called the Garden Club who still meet the Friday before every home football game, now with son John as their leader. And he helped launch the Johnson County I-Club in 1973, serving as its president the next year.
But Murphy’s proudest accomplishment, and one of his closest friendships, involved longtime athletic director Bump Elliott. When Elliott announced he was retiring in 1989, Murphy formed a “committee of one” to see that he was honored appropriately: with a $100,000 football scholarship in his name, the renaming of Woolf Avenue to Elliott Drive and the most challenging endeavor of bringing a hawk sculpture from a farm field north of Iowa City to a park across from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Elliott wrote the foreword to the book.
The oversized glossy paperback was published by Tru-Art Color Graphics and sells for $24.95. Murphy said 425 have already been sold, with proceeds going to an Iowa athletic scholarship fund established in his and Louise’s name and to the Briarwood Health Care Center in Iowa City, where Murphy is now living.
The books are available at Iowa Book Store, Lenoch and Cilek Ace Hardware and Paul’s Discount in Iowa City, as well as Hy-Vee and the Black & Gold Shop in Coralville.