Fred Barr was maybe soft spoken for like 15 seconds.
The then 18- or 19-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., arrived in Iowa City with his own set of expectations. The 1999 Hawkeyes were rubble. A coaching change at a place like Iowa takes a toll. Fred didn’t blink.
Ambition. Swagger (ugh that word, but it fits like football gloves here). Confidence. Fred was a stew of everything it would take to move Kirk Ferentz’s nascent program from 1-10 to 10-1 and Big Ten champions in 2002.
The quote everyone will remember is “Yeah, I hate Iowa State.” That blew up. The Cyclones ate Iowa’s lunch for five consecutive seasons. Beyond that, Fred was a blast of reality. Yes, sometimes the Hawkeyes sucked back then, and Fred would be the first to point the finger at the faults. Most players give honest assessments. They know you have eyes. Most players also will look down at their feet and kick pretend rocks when this question comes up in postgames (I’m looking at you, Central Michigan 2000).
Fred didn’t do that. Eye contact is so powerful in those crunched postgame interview spots. Fred locked eyes with you. Real conversations. He felt the pain. Conversely, when the Hawkeyes made their way from crud to ass-kicking machine, Fred reveled. I’d love to say I was a stone-faced totem back then, objective to the bone, but I couldn’t help but want good things for the guy.
Memory might be fading now, but I’m pretty sure Fred was a Bret Bielema recruit. I don’t care where Bielema is coaching, he has what it takes to make it as a Hawkeye tattooed on the back of his eye lids (Illinois will benefit from this, watch). Fred embodied that — sideline-to-sideline, opponents had to drill a stake in his heart to stop him.
I don’t know how many Hawkeyes I’ve interviewed and have gotten to know. Quite a few. Those early personalities bubbled like lottery winners. Feeling the sting of 1-10 and then claiming a Big Ten co-championship (I’ll get accused of homering here, but I do believe that Iowa team would’ve beaten Ohio State in a B1G title game) brought that out. It took some luck, but these teams had a ton of talent and put the work in.
Fred was defacto team spokesman, team captain, everything you need to turn things around.
By now, you know Fred’s plight. Spearheaded by former teammates Edgar Cervantes and Colin Cole, there’s a GoFundMe page (linked here) to help Fred and his family (fiancée Jessica and kids Frederick and Luna) and his fight with trigeminal neuralgia, which causes chronic, debilitating pain to the back of the head, neck and face. It sounds like hell on earth.
Please, donate if you can. Every dollar will help Fred and his family deal with medical and living expenses.
When I was running around the press box, dealing with everything you deal with on a game day, I always was interested in who the honorary captain was. I wasn’t always able to make it down and say hi. I also never believed they’d remember me and figured the guys were insanely busy saying hello to former teammates and fans.
I was so happy when Fred was named an honorary captain in 2017 for the North Texas game. He was still Fred. He put on those ugly ass overalls (you know which ones) and got out on the field and pumped you up. His message to the team was “compete” and carry that into life, not just the game.
Keep Fred in your hearts and prayers. It’s been almost 20 years and I’ll never forget that kid from Florida who had zero “back down” in his body and mind.
(I see that the donations are almost up to $50,000. I don’t have to tell you guys that you’re awesome. You already know. I will say I’m incredibly proud of our community and happy to be a little part of it.)