WAYNE SPORTS LEGEND AND FORMER COLLEGE FREE SAFETY NOW BATTLES INSURANCE COMPANIES FOR PATIENTS' RIGHTS
Wayne high school graduate Tork Hook covers a University of Minnesota wide receiver.
25 years ago this fall, Tork Hook drifted in front of a desperation pass from ISU quarterback Bret Oberg, securing an interception to seal a 10-3 victory for the University of Iowa football team. Hook went on to lead the defense with four pickoffs his senior year despite missing three games due to a leg injury. He still holds the school record for interceptions in a bowl game, with two against North Carolina State in the 1988 Peach.
His athletic career was a surprise to former babysitter Rhonda Bennett.
“He was a sweet kid,” Bennett says. “But he was accident-prone, uncoordinated. I always thought Tork would be the brainy one and his brother Trever would be the athlete.”
Tork proved her wrong. He played and excelled at many sports as a student at Wayne. Football was not his favorite, but in the end it was what he was best at. As a sophomore he played wide receiver, making all-state, but in former head coach Paul Epperly’s run-first offense, the team could not take full advantage of Hook’s skill. He got stronger. So in his junior year Epperly moved him to running back. In both his junior and senior years, Hook was named first team all-state. He also played defense as a free safety.
Though he has no regrets from his performance on the field, Hook laments the seeding process that prevented Wayne from making the playoffs two straight years—despite only losing one game combined during those seasons, and being ranked second in the state his sophomore year. And the only game they lost, to Southeast Warren, was in overtime. In the early 80s, fewer teams made the postseason. There were fewer divisions. Wayne was one of the smaller schools in 2A.
Tork Hook leaves a defender flat.
Hook believes they would have won the state championship his sophomore year, at least. The team went undefeated again his senior season, finally made the playoffs and won two games before being eliminated. Hook was honorary captain that year.
He enjoyed playing all sports—enjoyed the camaraderie and competition. Wayne experienced unprecedented success during his time in school. The baseball and basketball teams were exceptional, winning conference in all sports. Tork played for the basketball team that went twice to state.
“We had a lot of big rivalries back then,” Hook says. “Southeast Warren was one of our biggest rivals. I still have friends from Southeast Warren and some of the other schools I still talk to today.”
Hook holds the school record for the 100-meter dash at 10.8, and in the long jump at 22 feet 3 inches. He placed 3rd at state in the 100-meter dash in 1985. In the long jump, he placed second at state twice and was state champion in 1983. He was a three-time all-state guard and owns the school record with 1,504 career points. Hook was also an all-state pitcher his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons.
He received offers to play football from Iowa, ISU, Stanford, Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota. In the end, his choice came down to Iowa and Stanford.
“Most schools recruited me as a defensive back. A couple schools recruited me as a wide receiver—Northwestern and Stanford.”
At the time, Jack Elway was head coach of the Cardinal. Tork recalls his trip out to California, spending an evening being wooed by Jack and his son John Elway, longtime quarterback for the Denver Broncos.
“[John Elway] was very thoughtful about the whole experience of going to Stanford and the quality of education and everything. He had a really pretty girl with him while we were eating. I was thinking wow if everybody looks like this here, [Stanford] might be a good place to go.”
Though he could not call himself a stalwart life-long Hawkeye fan, Iowa had just been to the Rose Bowl in 1981. Like many kids his age, he rooted for the team. While Iowa’s football program was on the rise and not far from his family, and Stanford was experiencing some lean years, the choice remained difficult. Tork wanted to attend a school with a strong academic reputation, and Stanford is sometimes called Ivy League West. Many of his friends were going to Iowa, and when he combined this rationale with the season tickets his family would receive to watch him play, only three hours away, Hook chose Iowa.
IOWA FOOTBALL CAREER
Hook started college with a broken collarbone as a freshman. He did not see the field that fall. That was Chuck Long and Ronnie Harmon’s senior year. Some of his most memorable moments were watching number one Iowa defeat second-rated Michigan on a last-second Rob Houghtlin field goal, and traveling with the team for the 1986 Rose Bowl—though he did not get to play, he dressed for the game. Hugh Hefner hosted a party every year for the qualifying team from the Big Ten. Hook rubbed elbows at Hefner’s mansion with Playboy bunnies, late Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss and Vanna White.
As a sophomore, Hook saw the field as a nickel back on passing downs and played special teams. An injury to the first-string punt returner Peter Marciano, nephew of boxing great Rocky Marciano, led to perhaps Hook’s most harrowing experience at Iowa. For a few games, he returned punts. He recalls the feeling of isolation as eleven defenders hurled downfield while he waited to catch the football.
“You’re waiting for that ball to come down. 350 pound guys are coming after you.”
His ambition wasn’t to dash for a touchdown. It was not to fumble or muff a punt. He was successful at this goal. He gladly relinquished those duties when Marciano returned from the disabled list. His junior and senior seasons, he served as the up-man blocking for the returner, occasionally calling for fair catches on shanked punts.
Because of the collarbone injury as a freshman, Hook only lettered three years. But by his junior and senior years he’d earned the starting free safety position. He missed a few games as a junior due to injury, but played a big part for a team that won ten games and defeated Wyoming in the Holiday Bowl. That season set up high expectations for 1988.
Before the start of his senior year, many publications ranked Iowa as preseason number one in the country. Returning were quarterback Chuck Hartlieb, tight end Marv Cook, and a tremendous coaching staff. This included offensive coordinator Bill Snyder, offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz and defensive line coach Dan McCarney. McCarney had a friend from Chariton, and he used to kid Hook because he knew where he was from, a small town.
Other coaches on the staff during Hook’s time were Barry Alvarez, and graduate assistants Bobby and Mike Stoops.
“But I was closest with defensive coordinator Bill Brashier.”
The season started with a game at Hawaii, Sept. 3, 1988, exactly 25 years ago. Opening kickoff was 4 a.m. central time. Iowa was heavily favored.
This game has to be one of Hook’s most painful memories. He recalls the officiating as obviously onesided for the home team, and cites specifically one example of what went wrong:
“We should have won the game but the officials were terrible. [Hawaii] was running an option. I came up—I didn’t tackle the guy with the football, I just grabbed the ball out of his hands. I was running the other way for a touchdown. And the guy fell down as I took the ball from him. The officials thought he still had the ball so they blew the whistle dead. They called the guy down.
“That would’ve been the difference in the game if they had just allowed the play to go on.
“The coaches were mad, I was mad. Of course they didn’t have replay in those days. Hayden Fry was jumping on the sidelines. Afterwards in the press conference I remember him saying something to the effect that he wouldn’t come back [to Hawaii] and play again.”
This took away what would’ve been his only collegiate touchdown. It could also have been the difference between victory and defeat in a game that ended 27-24 in favor of Hawaii. The loss colored the rest of the season—for a good team that did not have fortune on its side. It erased any possibility of a national championship from day one, and took away what might have been the senior’s defining moment.
The officials could not take away Hook’s interception during the Iowa State game, however. This defensive battle was up for grabs until the end, when Hook came down with Oberg’s pass safely in his arms.
“I was thinking whatever you do don’t drop it. Then I started running and I thought don’t fumble it so I just flopped on the ground because I knew the game was over. We were playing man-to-man defense and I was supposed to guard the tight end.
“He stayed in and blocked so I was just roaming around back there. The quarterback threw it to an outside receiver running a slant. I just stepped between him and [Oberg]. It was very exciting—since I was a kid from Iowa, probably more so.”
The team went on to tie Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State, and every defeat was by only a few points, as the team finished with a record of 6-3-3. Iowa lost the Peach Bowl to North Carolina State 28-23, despite Hook’s school record of two interceptions in a bowl game.
“We had a good team. We knew we had a good team. We just couldn’t get over the hump [that season].”
But talking to Tork Hook, one gets the idea he has few regrets. He appreciates the opportunities on and off the field.
As a defensive player, he got to watch the great offenses of the 1980s led by future head coach Bill Snyder, and guided by record-setting quarterbacks Chuck Long, Mark Vlasic and Chuck Hartlieb. Hook said it was quite a show.
“They threw the ball around a lot.”
He played against many talented rivals, including wide receiver Andre Rison of Michigan State and Jeff George of Illinois.
Before future NFL all-pro Merton Hanks switched to cornerback at Iowa, he played the same position, free safety, as Hook. Hook got the chance to compete with the younger Hanks, until the coaches needed personnel at cornerback. Hook also lists Dave Haight and Larry Station as defensive players he played with and admired.
“We had some really good defensive linemen when I was there.”
His biggest complaint was the artificial turf popular in the eighties. He says it was like carpet rolled on top of cement, and players spent a lot of time nursing infections from rug burns. Artificial turf was hard on legs, joints and the entire body and he’s glad it’s gone.
Hook graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in finance. Later he received a Masters in finance at Iowa. He says he never truly had aspirations to play in the NFL, though he ran a 4.52 40-yard dash in college. Football was not even his favorite sport. His original love was basketball, but division I schools had not offered him any scholarships. Besides, he had other plans.
FIGHTING FOR THE LITTLE GUY
Tork Hook has been working in Des Moines for 20 years now. He does not work directly for Mercy Hospital, but Mercy is one of the largest hospitals he serves. For the last eight months, he has assumed a new role in the same department—his current title is Senior National Director. He is in charge of rehab and staff, and helps patients fight insurance companies that have wrongly denied claims or services. He performs the same role for Mercy as before, but his job has expanded to serve more hospitals.
“It’s rewarding to fight for the patients,” he says. “Insurance companies are for profit. They look for ways to cut expense by denying claims. So we just have to be diligent on our side of the equation and make sure they follow the requirements they have set up with their patients and providers.
“It's very frustrating when people have a serious medical condition and the insurance company denies the claim, saying some treatment is experimental or not necessary when the doctor believes it is. It’s very gratifying to be able to assist patients and get that decision overturned.”
His brother, Trever Hook, is an attorney, and on occasion Trever is helping a patient that Tork is also assisting.
“So we’re on the same team,” Tork says.
Hook lives in Adel with his wife Jan and their three daughters, Torrie, Brennan and Jordan. Jan attended archrival Southeast Warren and then the University of Iowa, and she works at Principal Financial Group. Their daughters are in 12th, 10th, and 8th grades respectively, at ADM high school.
Last year, Tork Hook returned home to serve as honorary captain for a Wayne football game.
And finally, Hook’s predictions for this year’s big game: