SIOUX CITY -- Steve Allspach always loved the memorable quote from Grantland Rice, the sports journalism pioneer who wrote, “For when the one Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes not that you won or lost but HOW you played the game.’’
He was as literate as any colleague I ever had. And, when it came time for him to put thoughts on paper, the residue of his voracious reading habits would often surface in some form or another.
I will miss all of that almost as much as I’ll miss one of my very best friends. Which brings me now to the story I’m so sorry to share: The death early Wednesday morning of my longtime colleague at Sioux City’s Touchstone Living Center.
Thus ended a battle to survive that lasted nearly four months since a massive stroke Jan. 17 silenced one of Iowa’s more knowledgeable sports historians ever. He was never to utter another syllable, much as he tried in these last several weeks.
I met this man in 1972 when I took a job at the Ottumwa Courier. Steve, a former defensive lineman at William Penn College, had remained in Oskaloosa, less than 30 miles up the road, serving as the sports editor of the Oskaloosa Herald.
A few years later, he was hired on with the Cedar Rapids Gazette, becoming a co-worker and close friend to my late brother, Bobby.
Those two ink-stained ragamuffins, as we called ourselves years ago, remained pals all the way until Bobby’s passing in 2011.
I will always treasure December of 1980 and a holiday visit to my parents in Cedar Rapids. Three years into a 38-year hitch as sports editor of this newspaper, I was looking to fill a job on the sports staff. So, I picked up the phone and invited Steve to my childhood home, which he knew all too well. It was in that basement, my dad’s man cave, where we sat and discussed the opportunity I was offering. Without hesitation, he accepted and starting work here the following month.
If you count the post-retirement columns Steve authored in the last few years, he spent 38 years -- more than half his 74 years of life -- in the quest to help keep our readers informed. He did so quite magnificently.
From the day I arrived at The Journal, I undertook a major overhaul of our sports section. The heavy lifting, though, didn’t begin in earnest until Steve came aboard. When times got busy, he was the one who’d always roll up his sleeves and match the long hours I deemed necessary to help fulfill the mission, if you will. It often seemed as though we never quite got there, but that was only because our old coaches always taught us never to be satisfied.
Let me tell you a few things about this trusty sidekick, a farm kid who grew up near Baxter, located midway between Newton and Des Moines.
I would start with his football career at Wartburg College and William Penn, two stops he sandwiched around a U.S. Army tour that took him to a Cold War outpost in West Germany.
Returning to school at Penn in 1968, he was able to play one season with his kid brother, Stan, the quarterback when the Statesmen were emerging as an NAIA power. Up front on the defensive side was Steve, playing along Wilbur Young, who went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL.
“I was in eighth grade when Steve was a senior (at Baxter High), so that was the only year we were able to play together,’’ reflected Steve’s brother, Stan. “I remember Wilbur was a close friend of Lyle Alzado, who he knew since his high school days in New York City (Young in the Bronx, Alzado in Brooklyn).’’
Alzado, as many realize, made his way to the Siouxland area, starring at now-defunct Yankton College before joining Young as an all-pro defensive lineman.
“I remember Alzado told Wilbur, ‘It’s too bad we didn’t wind up at the same rum-dum college because we’d have had a hell of a defensive line,’ ‘’ said Stan.
This was also a time when the William Penn golf team included Maine native Mike “Fluff” Cowan, who toted his clubs in a gunny sack -- quite the contrast to the bags he’s carried in 40 seasons on the PGA Tour.
Steve’s daughters Elizabeth and Amy were born exactly two years apart on Nov. 15 of 1969 and ’71. Both live now in Boston.
Their dad, meanwhile, embraced Siouxland and all its athletic successes as though he’d grown up here himself. And I’m very proud to say he was one of five members of our staff to be honored with the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s “Outstanding Media Award.’’
My game plan involved the assignment of “beats” for our people, striving to give everyone a special focus in which to take ownership. For all of his years with us, Steve took our wrestling coverage to a level like never before and for most of his years, he also covered the Musketeers in superb fashion. Beyond those busy tasks, he was ready, willing and able to handle any of a wide range of other assignments.
On the personal side, I know memories will come flooding back as the days and weeks unfold. There were so many episodes that I’ve told and re-told for years on end. Nearly all of them involved joy and laughter and a like-mindedness toward giving our headline makers the attention they deserved. He’ll live on for decades through the countless scrapbook clippings he left behind.
Steve is survived by his daughters and his two brothers, Stan, 71, and Stuart, 63, both still living in Baxter. He also leaves behind a loving partner, Sandy Butcher, who went through every step of the painful journey since January -- a nightmare that saw Steve shuffled from Sioux City to Omaha to Missouri Valley and then Omaha again before his return to Sioux City.
Three times he was hospitalized with pneumonia, which probably sabotaged all hope of a recovery. When the end came, it was somewhat merciful to a health-conscious man who’d never have wanted to linger with no quality of life.
With such a strong area following, the family tentatively plans hold Steve’s funeral here at Sunnybrook Church next Friday (May 24) at 10:30 a.m. with a luncheon to follow. I hope many of you will reward that decision by being there to honor this bona fide Siouxland treasure.