Posted by: marcmwm | July 17, 2009

Matt Roth story from August 2004

Matt Roth a senior at looks at a wall of personal memorabilia in his bedroom at the family home in Oak Brook, Ill., Friday, August 6, 2004. The figure of a football player was a gift from his mother on his 21st birthday. (AP Photo/Stephen J. Carrera)

Matt Roth a senior at looks at a wall of personal memorabilia in his bedroom at the family home in Oak Brook, Ill., Friday, August 6, 2004. The figure of a football player was a gift from his mother on his 21st birthday. (AP Photo/Stephen J. Carrera)

Matt Roth visit story:

OAK BROOK, Ill. – The craziest thing was the chairlift fight on a Colorado mountain.

Dangling 50 feet above the runs and lodges of a Breckenridge ski resort, Matt and T.J. Roth decided to settle the argument the only way teenage brothers know how.

Right then and there.

Sitting inches apart with nowhere to go but down, who’s the best skier in the family?

Ding, ding.

“It was like two cats with their tails tied together,” T.J. Roth said. “It was over who was the better skier. We got into an argument on the way up, one thing led to another, and then we caused a riot at the ski resort.”

Kelly Roth, the mom, shakes her head. She doesn’t like this story.

Matt Roth, the middle brother and University of Iowa defensive end, sits at the kitchen island, stuck in a rumble of a baritone chuckle.

“I think a lot of these stories have grown over the years,” Kelly Roth said.

“Mom, it’s the truth,” said T.J., the oldest of Tom and Kelly’s four children.

Snug in your earplugs. Zip up your HazMat suit. Cinch up your goggles.

Before Matt Roth was an all-Big Ten and preseason all-American defensive end for the Iowa Hawkeyes, he was a rung in the ladder in the Roth household.
Tom and Kelly’s four kids were born one year apart. T.J. is 23, Meghan is 22, Matt is 21 and Nick is 20. With siblings so close, you know competition was a constant.

These kids turned Saturday morning breakfast into an Olympic event.

“You could see it early, when he was young,” T.J. Roth said. “I’d do something and he’d just want to do it better, be better. We kind of built a competitive
nature in each other.”

Who’s the best water skier?

“Matt,” Nick and Meghan say right away.

T.J. jumps in, “Me.”

Matt laughs.

Matt was the first to handle getting up on one ski at the family’s home on Lake Delavan in Wisconsin.

“He’d blame it on everything,” Matt said. “The ski, the weather, the boat. He couldn’t take it that he just couldn’t get up. On the slopes, it was the
snow. If he missed a 3-pointer, it was the shoes.”

The Roths live in OakBrook, an upscale Chicago suburb. Tom, 47, who runs Innerspace of Illinois, a construction company, took 18 months building their 2-year-old home, tucked on a quiet street between I-88 and the OakBrook Mall.

The kids did most of their growing up in Villa Park, a blue-collar suburb a few minutes from Oak Brook. Their lives revolved around sports. The three-stall garage was chopped to maybe a half stall because it was stuffed with equipment. Instead of washing all the gear, Kelly, 45, sprayed on Febreze so the boys didn’t smell like a sweaty locker.

From the time when a 4-year-old Matt won a Jim McMahon look-alike contest at the Villa Park mall to the next family golf game, sports has been a natural with the Roths.

“Sports is pretty much all the three boys did,” Tom said. “It was like a fraternity.”

Their Oak Brook home doesn’t show the scars.

Matt’s room is an immaculate grotto of his days as a Hawkeye.

One wall has team pictures of the three bowl teams Roth has played for – the Alamo, Orange and Outback. There’s an empty spot for . . .

“Has to be the Rose Bowl,” Matt said. “That means you’ve won the Big Ten and you’re playing for something. Plus, it’s the Rose Bowl. Everyone around here
knows the Rose Bowl. It means a lot. It’s the one my grandpa knows about. It’s sacred.”

Another wall is dominated by the bracket from Matt’s heavyweight state wrestling championship his senior year at Willowbrook High School. He has a team picture of his days as an all-American linebacker at Willowbrook.

On the floor is the “Little Matt Roth,” a bronzed football player, about 3“ feet tall, decked out in a mini Hawkeye helmet and uniform, complete with Matt’s No.-31 jersey.

Matt breaks into that baritone chuckle.

“Mom had it made for my 21st birthday,” he said. “She said I had something big coming.

“Sometimes before I go to bed, I’ve got to hide it. I think it’s going to come to life and come after me. It freaks you out a little. Kinda weird. But she meant well and it was kind of cool.”

Their OakBrook home is new. Stone fireplace. Wood floors. And no major drywall “incidents.”

It hasn’t lived through four kids, four years apart. The old house in Villa Park? Not so lucky.

“There were broken walls, furniture, pool sticks, cabinets, doors,” Matt said.

Who’s the best basketball player?

“Oh, man, it’s not even close,” said T.J., a football and basketball standout in his days at Willowbrook.

“Yeah, we’ll give him that one,” said Nick, who started at strong safety alongside Matt for a season at Willowbrook.

Video games, baseball, cards, no one got off easy.

“I never let Matt win. Still won’t. Never. Never will, either,” said T.J., a Western Illinois graduate who works in sales and helps coach youth football.
“I’ll take a little bit of credit for his toughness. He got a lot of beatings. But then one day we got into a good fight and then I noticed I might as well retire as the champ, that he was getting maybe a little too big. That was my freshman year in college and his sophomore or junior year in high school.

“I was working out at school. I thought I was getting big. I come home and he’s huge. I couldn’t keep up, I guess.”

You can see where Matt gets it now.

The 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior is the masthead for Iowa’s defense. The sacks, the sack dances, the boundless energy, Roth is embraced by Iowa fans and reviled by opponents.

He’s been among the Big Ten leaders in sacks the last two seasons. He has 22 career sacks, with eyes on the season (18, Leroy Smith in 1991) and career (42, Jared DeVries 1995-98) records.

He’s a player teammates rally around. He lifts fans out of their seats.

A recent thread on a HawkeyeReport.com message board featured grown men professing their “man crushes” for Roth.

“He’s just a hard-charging, reckless, tough football player,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s not Bob Sanders (former Iowa strong safety), but you put guys like Bob and Matt in the same vein. They love to play the game.

“They’d play anytime, anywhere, any rules.”

Roth can’t stand the contrived events that ask him to make nice with opponents. He spent time this summer at a Playboy resort for a photo shoot with the other Playboy all-Americans. This month at Big Ten media days, he sat fidgety doing interviews at tables among his Big Ten peers.

“I’ve never really wanted to hang out with guys,” Matt said. “I’m like my brother, I’m competitive. I don’t want to hang out. I want to dislike the guy
in front of me. I don’t want to hang out with him.

“I don’t want to hear, `how are you doing, Matt?’ Even other guys on other teams, `why don’t you cheer up? Why do you always look mad or something?’ I just think, we’re not out here to hold hands and frolic. We’re here to go at it. I don’t want to be friends.”

The competitive nature built on growing up with three siblings has clearly carried over on the field. But it doesn’t stop there.

Roth has had bets with fellow defensive linemen for sacks and big plays.

“We even thought about putting up our per diem money, winner take all,” Roth said. “We never did that, though.”

Roth wants the center stage on the football field. Off it, he prefers the background.

“He likes the attention,” T.J. said.

“I don’t think so,” Kelly said.

“I know he does,” T.J. said.

Here we go again.

Who’s the best poker player?

“Me,” T.J. said.

“Only because I just started,” Matt said.

Who’s the best wrestler?

“Well, yeah, that’s Matt,” T.J. said. “But one time in Iowa City I took him down.”

“Yeah, but that was at a party. There was no room,” Matt said.

Who’s the smartest?

“Meghan,” T.J. said.

“Meghan,” Matt said.

“Meghan,” Nick said.

“She won when the report cards came out,” Matt said. “That’s one aspect that we weren’t really competitive in. We all did bad, so no one could bring it up and my dad couldn’t ground all of us.”

Meghan, who works as a charity event planner in Chicago, graduated with a master’s degree from Eastern Illinois in four years. Matt is on track to graduate with a degree in health studies next spring. Nick will be a junior at Western Illinois this fall.

How about video games?

That’s Nick’s realm, but, as you’ve probably guessed, video games didn’t have a fighting chance in the Roth household.

“Matt broke them,” T.J. said.

“We all broke them,” Nick said.

All the boys spent time working on their dad’s construction sites. Their favorite job – big surprise here – was demolition.

“Breaking down walls was fun,” Matt said.

“Cleaning up sucked.”

Who was the best worker?

Silence.

“Matt was probably the best,” Tom said.

“But Meghan is the only one with a real job,” Matt said.

Did the boys pick up the trade? Could they go out and build their own house if they wanted?

“No, no,” Nick said. “I could go out and sweep my own house.”

Dinner with the Roths comes with beef sandwiches, pizza and chocolate cake from Portillo’s in Oak Brook. It also comes with plenty of barbs.

Who’s the funniest?

“Me,” T.J. said.

“I think Nick is coming up on you,” Meghan said. “Nick is the funniest, but it’s close.”

“Nick is the best at ripping on me,” T.J. said.

“I don’t have to worry about the verbal,” Matt said, “because I have the physical. I just punch ’em.”

Kelly is a land developer. She has three subdivisions in Villa Park, the T.J. Roth Subdivision, the Matt Roth Subdivision and the Nick Roth Subdivision.

“Mine’s the nicest,” T.J. said.

Best eater?

T.J. tried to claim it, but everyone laughed and said Matt, almost in unison. The Chicago Tribune did a story on Matt when he was at Willowbrook. The hook was his gargantuan lunches.

Best tattoos?

“Oh God, you had to ask about those,” Kelly said.

T.J. was the first, but Matt, with flames shooting up one biceps and up one calf, has the most noticeable.

“I won’t get anymore, Mom,” Matt said.

“Thank you, Matt,” Kelly said.

You know, this competition stuff is never going away.

As the boys age, the sports will become slower. They’re already positioning to claim golf.

“Nick is the best golfer, but that’s not saying much,” Matt said. “I blame my clubs.”

The competition stuff is fun to talk about. It’s a rallying point for memories and stories. But don’t think a lifetime of sprinting past your brothers to the chicken wings has built any barriers.

You need to see the smiles and hear the belly laughs. They put their arms around each other for a family photo in front of the fireplace. This is a coziness you can’t fake.

The loyalty they feel for each other is bursting. The pride they feel for Matt is as obvious as the tattoo on Matt’s biceps.

“Where he is isn’t a surprise to me. It’s never been,” T.J. said. “I’ve been calling his shot since his freshman in high school.

“I’d tell my friends, he’s going to go D-I. People would say, no, no, no. And then, he does it. He’s going to be all-American, he does it. I could see it in him. I know he’s driven. I know he’s going to do it. He’s never failed me.”

The Roths immerse themselves in Iowa football Saturdays. It’s not just Matt on the field. Dad, Mom, brothers and sister, they’re out there with him.

“I can’t sit still,” Tom said. “I’ll put some body english into it, start to lean. You feel every sack, every bump.”

That’s the way it will always be.

Matt Roth is on the fast track to the NFL. He’s on draft lists. Scouts have formed a conga line to the Iowa football complex. His production at Iowa, size and speed (4.7 second 40-yard dash), speak for themselves.

This is the time of year when agents start to call. The message on Matt’s cell phone directs agents to Tom and Kelly’s number.

Tom has talked to more than a few since the beginning of the summer. It’s another round of recruiting for Matt, who wants nothing to do with it right now. He’s completely plugged into the Hawkeyes’ upcoming season.

Of course, T.J. is running the point for his brother.

“I talked to a couple agents yesterday in Chicago,” said T.J., who attended the Big Ten meetings with Matt. “One guy came up and had a portfolio of Matt, it had `Kyle Roth’ on it. He was looking at me, I was looking at him.

“I go, `So, Kyle Roth, I haven’t seen him around here.’

“He goes, `What?’

“And I go, `You mean Matt Roth?’

“And he goes, `Oh, let me see that.’ He grabs the book and he calls over the intern and yelled at him. It was weird.”

OK, agents, that’s Matt Roth. M-A-T-T R-O-T-H.

If you get it wrong, you’ll answer to Tom, Kelly, T.J., Meghan and Nick.

Matt Roth a senior at Iowa poses at his high school football field in Villa Park Ill, Friday, August 6, 2004. (AP Photo/Stephen J. Carrera)

Matt Roth a senior at Iowa poses at his high school football field in Villa Park Ill, Friday, August 6, 2004. (AP Photo/Stephen J. Carrera)

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Responses

  1. Well, I am glad that I am an early morning type of person. I honestly like the 11 am games but I want say that too loud.

  2. I’m with you, but I think we’re in the minority. I think a lot of fans prefer the 2:30 p.m. kick and would like to see more night games.

    I love night games . . . that I don’t have to cover.

    This is the pattern, 11 a.m. appetizer, 2:30 main course, 7 p.m. big party on ABC.

    Iowa has played its way into appetizer over the last two seasons.


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