This week in 1988, a dear friend of mine passed away unexpectedly while undergoing heart surgery. Jim Watt was the General Manager at KSTT radio in Davenport, Iowa. Jim gave me my first program director job, when I was at the ripe young age of 23. Jim was well known as the Voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes, doing the play-by-play of Iowa football games on KSTT, and a network of other stations.
I left KSTT in 1969 and moved to Madison, Wisconsin to become program director at WISM. I’d return to Iowa City for the Iowa-Wisconsin games; and each time the Hawkeyes came to Camp Randall, to beat up on the Badgers, I would join Jim Watt in the broadcast booth.
On the day of Jim’s funeral I was unable to travel to Iowa, so I decided to pay tribute to my friend in a special, personal way. I drove to Camp Randall stadium at the exact time of the funeral. I found a maintenance guy who let me inside the massive, deserted stadium. The playing field was covered by a fresh coating of snow. Alone, I walked onto the field and shuffled my boots through the snow writing Jim’s initials, “J.W.” stretching between the two twenty yard lines. The temperature was near freezing, but the wind chill was not so bad down on the field, as I plodded along forming the sixty yard wide set of initials.
As I climbed up the stadium stairs toward the top of the upper deck, I could almost hear Jim’s voice, obscured by the wintry wind, “Touchdown, Iowa!” I was nearly frozen by the time I reached the top row, and when I turned to look down at the field, I saw that someone had been there several days before me, on Valentine’s Day, I’m sure. The few days of sun had melted just enough snow to reveal something I could not have seen while down on the field. A huge heart shape had been trudged into the snow, perfectly encircling Jim’s initials.
A tear froze to my cheek as I slowly walked down from the upper deck, along the winding concrete ramp back to street level. I won’t forget that frigid day at Camp Randall. And I will hold Jim Watt’s memory dear, even though Iowa beat Wisconsin every single game I attended with him.