Ex-Bees star Jurevitz in battle of life

2011-05-08T02:00:00Z 2011-05-09T05:01:32Z Ex-Bees star Jurevitz in battle of lifeCraig DeVrieze The Quad-City Times
May 08, 2011 2:00 am  • 

More than a quarter century beyond a legendary career in a St. Ambrose football jersey, Bob Jurevitz still holds every SAU scoring record and remains the school's second-leading all-time rusher.

If the statisticians charted yards-gained-with-back-turned-and-legs-still-churning, Jurevitz's Bees blocking back of four season said, the big guy from Riverdale High School might yet own a national record.

"The one thing about him is he never went down easy," remembered Dan Burich, the blocker in coach John Furlong's Fighting Bees backfield from 1982 to 1985. "He got hit and he would always spin and dive for that extra yard.

"He never went down on first contact, and I'm not exaggerating when I say never. He would spin, turn around and literally run backwards to get the extra 3 yards. I've never seen anybody get hit in the back more as a running back.

"He was tough as nails," Burich said. "And he ran like he was."

Tough.

It is a consistent theme when talking to or about Bob Jurevitz, the country kid who pinned his way to the 167-pound Illinois Class A state wrestling crown as a Riverdale senior in 1981, the chiseled father of four who became a Tugfest legend over two decades of pulling rope across the Mississippi River.

Sadly, though, tough won't be enough to help the now 48-year-old Jurevitz overcome the ugly truth that he is dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

ALS.

Lou Gehrig's disease.

"This ALS, I hate it," Tracey Jurevitz, Bob's wife of 21 years, said of an incurable disease doctors say will take her husband in a matter of months. "I just wish it was another disease so we could try something.

"You've got four teenagers. Life is great. We're such a close family and your husband is dying of ALS and you can't do a thing but watch him wither away, and it just stinks."

Burich knows plenty about muscle disease, having served as a local host of the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association's Labor Day Telethon for 12 years and having worked as an MDA volunteer for the same amount of time.

"It is one of the sickest, toughest things to see that take anybody down," the well-known former WQAD sports anchor said of ALS. "Lou Gehrig was the Iron Horse and it took him down."

The debilitating, muscle-eating disease eventually will take Bob Jurevitz down, too.

But, true to form, the toughest tailback ever to take a St. Ambrose handoff isn't going down easy.

Bob Jurevitz? Are you kidding?

"I'm not done fighting yet," he defiantly said last week.

Determined

Farmboy tough. That's how John Furlong remembers the 215-pound running back who walked into the rookie SAU coach's office in August of 1982.

Jurevitz said he hoped to follow a slew of fellow transfers from Ellsworth Community College into Furlong's fledgling program.

"I said, ‘How did you do in football there?'" Furlong remembered asking. "He said, ‘I never got a uniform.' So you think, ‘OK, what kind of player do you have here?'"

Four years, 5,126 rushing yards and an SAU-record 64 touchdowns later, Furong had his answer.

A tough football player.

A good football player.

A determined football player.

"He just had an awesome career," the coach said. "He was just a gameday guy. I can't think of a game when he played poorly."

Jurevitz led all of NAIA with 27 touchdowns in 1985, a single-season school record no other Bees back has come within eight of since. His 64 career scores remain the school standard by 12 and his 414 career points are 96 more than the next leading total.

The day Jurevitz took off his jersey, those 414 points ranked seventh all-time among NAIA running backs. Three of the names in front of his: Wilbert Montgomery, Carl Garrett and some kid from Jackson, Miss., named Walter Payton.

"Yeah, kind of proud of them," Jurevitz said of his Fighting Bees marks. "To be honest, there were some long pass plays to the 1-yard line and they'd let me run it in the end zone."

That's not quite the honest truth. But it is typical of his old teammate, Burich said.

"When he set the rushing record," Burich said of a mark since broken by Lionel Porter, "one of our big linemen came rushing over to high five him and Bob goes, ‘No. No. That's OK. Don't draw any attention to it. Here take the ball and get away from me.'"

Chest-pounding just wasn't the country kid's style.

Burich remembered congratulating Jurevitz once on the state wrestling title the latter collected as a prep. Jurevitz told him he'd gotten lucky.

"I said, ‘Bob, nobody gets lucky and wins a state title,'" Burich said. "He goes, ‘No, I did. I was trailing half my matches and I just pinned them.' That's the type of guy he is. Everybody else is like, ‘I pinned my way to the title.' He was like ‘No. I got lucky.'"

Family legacy

The former Tracey Carter didn't even know her future husband had played football until five months after a "kind of tipsy" Bob asked to buy her a drink one summer night some years beyond his SAU playing days.

"We just ended the night dancing," she recalled.

They married in 1990, bought a vacant hog farm near Cordova, Ill., in 1993 and built it into a 200-acre operation that now has 1,200 hogs and 80 head of cattle.

In 2005, the Jurevitzes bought a house in Bettendorf and, while continuing to operate the farm across the river, Bob spent a season coaching running backs for the Bettendorf program in which son Mitch, now 20, would win a state title as a junior in 2007 sporting the No. 44 his father wore his entire career.

An all-state linebacker as a senior, Mitch walked away from a starting spot at catcher for the Black Hawk College baseball team earlier this year to take over for Bob at the family farm.

Keaton, 17, is readying for his senior Bulldogs football season in that familiar 44 after winning all-conference honors at linebacker last fall and advancing to the state wrestling tournament despite surrendering 20 pounds in the 215-pound division.

Sister Lexy, 15, plays volleyball and softball, while Brandy, 14, is the busiest athlete of the Jurevitz bunch, with a schedule that includes volleyball, softball, basketball and track.

Bob Jurevitz introduced his sons to football and wrestling while coaching junior programs in the Riverdale school district, and while the boys didn't get his running back gene, he made sure they grew up tough.

With the family gathered in the Jurevitz's spacious Bettendorf living room on a recent Tuesday evening, Mitch remembered his father's first and foremost admonition as his youth football coach years ago.

‘"If you lie down in the middle of the field,''' Mitch said he was told, "you had better be dead.'"

Bob Jurevitz smiled sheepishly as Mitch told of the time he crawled to the sidelines with a broken rib and a concussion.

"I didn't want to scare their mom," Bob said of his "better-be-dead" demand.

The rugged old running back's pride in his crew's athletic achievements would be more than understandable, but his pride does not end there.

"They all get good grades, too," he said. "Proud of that."

‘Not afraid to die'

Family time is understandably precious at the Jurevitz home these days, but some semblance of normalcy is essential, too.

Mitch's life has changed the most, but, like his father, he has taken naturally to the farm while working alongside Bob's father, Jim.

Tracey said busy is best for the rest.

"It's when they're not busy doing something that it gets to them," she said of her husband's illness. "We try to always make a family dinner, have time together, play together."

Bob is 65 pounds lighter and battling for nearly every breath only 17 months beyond the October 2010 day his Iowa City neurologists determined the problems that started with hand tremors three years earlier was ALS.

Until that day, the Jurevitzes had hoped for a correctable problem.

Now, Tracey said, they mostly have come to terms with what they can't control.

"I'm just thankful for every day we have him and we just value every day," she said of Bob, who rallied recently after spending six days in a coma. "We cry together quite a bit. At night before bed, we pray together and have our tears shed.

"He's not afraid to die. He's afraid for me and the kids, and he cries because he worries about us. That's just him, though. It's never him. It's always me and the kids."

But the rugged old running back does enjoy the moments he can. One of those will come when old friends from Riverdale, Bettendorf and St. Ambrose come together on Friday night at the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center.

Mostly, he enjoys family moments like when Mitch recently reminded him how he trailed in those state tournament wrestling matches on his way to a state title.

Lucky? Naw. Now the truth can be told.

"I was just setting them up by wearing them down," the tough guy said with a wry, wise-guy smile.

Jurevitz benefit

When: Friday, 6-12 p.m.

Where: Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center, Bettendorf

What: Dan Burich will emcee and Bill Michels and Greg Dwyer will serve as deejays for a party/fundraiser featuring dancing, a live and silent auction, hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar.

Cost: $10 at the door

About ALS

Frequently referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is described as the following by The ALS Association: It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. ... When muscles no longer receive the messages from the motor neurons that they require to function, the muscles begin to atrophy."

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