Last night, I was at church for a meeting. At some point during the meeting — I can't remember how it came up now — I mentioned that my old high school back in Wheaton had recently been demolished and that my dad had gotten me a brick from the demolished building for Christmas. And the guy sitting across the table from me leaned forward and said, "Wheaton? Chuck Long is from Wheaton!" Suddenly, I was 23 again.
Before I explain that feeling, let me present a short list of really famous people who used to live in my hometown, Wheaton, Illinois:
- Harold "Red" Grange, charter member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame
- Edwin Hubble, astronomer and space-telescope namesake
- John and Jim Belushi, actors
- Bob Woodward, journalist
- Billy Graham, evangelist (he went to Wheaton College, but he's not a Wheaton native)
- Chuck Long, 1985 Heisman Trophy runner-up
You might think that Chuck Long isn't famous enough to be on a list of really famous people,* but if so that's because you never lived in Iowa or otherwise had cause to spend a lot of time around Iowans.
I, on the other hand, have lived in Iowa; I spent three years there as a student at Cornell College in Mount Vernon. And when I told people I was from Wheaton, one of two things would happen. The non-Iowans would comment on how my last name rhymes with my hometown, which is something I was pretty well inured to because I'd been hearing it all my life. But I was unprepared for the Iowans. The Iowans would say, "Wheaton? Chuck Long is from Wheaton!"
Which is sad but true. True because, well, he is. It's sad because he went to the high school across town, which was the arch-rival of my high school. We weren't their arch-rival, though, because our athletic teams sucked. We were no more their arch-rival than Community is The Big Bang Theory's, or Calendar Man Batman's. So to me, Chuck Long was a reminder of how crummy my high school football team was.
But to the Iowans, Chuck Long was a reminder of how great the University of Iowa Hawkeyes had been in the fairly recent past. He had a great career there! They loved him! And they were so pleased to meet someone else from the same town as their hero.
Then I graduated and left Iowa, and people stopped mentioning Chuck Long when I mentioned having lived in Wheaton, or under any other circumstance. Until last night. And you know what? 21 years hasn't made me like it any better.
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I was going to say he wasn't in the same league as the others, but then I remembered that as a former professional football player, he and Red Grange were in fact in the same league.