Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series featuring each of the Illinois FCS head coaches. This series, which will run every other Wednesday, focuses on each coach’s favorite teams and athletes as he grew up.
Growing up in Rockford, Brock Spack followed sports almost from the time he could walk or pick up a ball. Yet, his early sports heroes didn’t always have something to throw or dribble or shoot.
“I grew up loving Dick Trickle as a stock car driver. I got to watch him as a kid at the Rockford Speedway,” the 56-year-old Illinois State head coach told Prairie State Pigskin.
That early love of racing never disappeared from Spack’s life.
“We went up to southern Wisconsin to watch Trickle race,” Spack said.“Matt Kenseth is from Cambridge, Wisconsin where we have a lake place and my parents have lived the last 30 years. I knew his dad a little. He used to own a video store in town when people rented movies. Those are my stock car guys.”
Since it falls in a more relaxed time of a football coach’s year, Spack has attended the Indianapolis 500 “34 or 35 straight times.”
“Love Indy car racing. There are a lot of guys I enjoyed watching race, so many of those guys,” Spack said.
Later, at ISU’s annual media day in August, Spack sought me out and said, “Mario Andretti, he was my guy.”
‘Boxing was a big deal‘
Another of the young Spack’s favorite athletes came from yet another sport that doesn’t use a ball.
“I really enjoyed Muhammad Ali,” Spack said. “In fact, I got in fights in my neighborhood because you either loved him or you hated him. I was one of those guys that loved him. I remember the Foreman and Frazier fights. I went up and down the street (when Ali won) yelling, ‘I told you so! I told you so!’ Those other guys were throwing stuff at me. That was kind of cool.”
Times may have changed, but Spack’s memories and perspectives remain vivid and clear.
“I remember when boxing was a big deal, when the heavyweight championship was a big deal. MMA is popular now and it’s a brutal sport. My grandfather always said you never hit a man when he’s down. It just seems not sporting to hit a man when he’s down. Boxing was a skill as well as a physical game,” he said.
And yes, there’s football
“The Bears (were my team), even though my family has some people that are Packer fans. We would watch the Bears (on TV); we got their games more often in Rockford,” he said. “I liked the Packers. I wasn’t one of those who hated them as rivals like everybody else seemed to be.
“So, it’s the Bears. Loved the Cubs. The Blackhawks. Those were my teams professionally.”
What about individual athletes in those team sports?
“When I was a real little kid I watched (Dick) Butkus and loved seeing him play. Gale Sayers, obviously Walter Payton. Those were the guys I was really fond of,” he said. “As I got older, Michael Jordan. He was a great competitor and player.”
Spack has made his living as a college coach. He played linebacker for Purdue in the early 1980s.
“Watching college football while I was growing up, I didn’t have a team. I watched the Big Ten. I liked those teams. I guess I saw Wisconsin more because we were close to the border. When I was growing up they weren’t as good as they are now, but they always had a great fan following,” Spack said. “Big Ten college football was how I spent a lot of Saturdays.”