His name is Bill Iffrig, a retired construction worker and volunteer truck driver for a food bank in Lake Stevens, Wash.
He was the elderly man you saw shaken to his knees and crumbling to the pavement about 15 feet from the finish line when the bomb detonated Monday at the Boston Marathon.
Iffrig is 78 years old. He was born during the Great Depression and raised a few years behind the Greatest Generation, our noble and selfless World War II forefathers known for their toughness and moral standards. Kids growing up in the 1930s and ‘40s spent their childhoods getting up after getting knocked down.
“The force from it just turned my whole body to jelly and I went down,” Iffrig told the Seattle Times hours after the explosion.
Iffrig did not answer calls to his home Tuesday. It was no surprise to his neighbors that he insisted on finishing the race Monday amid the chaos and horror around him. He didn’t travel 3,000 miles to Boston to run 26.19 miles. He gained his feet, dusted the skin from his knees and completed the marathon. He refused treatment knowing others needed more assistance than he did.
“He takes care of himself, mows his yard once a week, walks with his wife,” his neighbor, Jim Larson, said by telephone Tuesday. “He’s very quiet, to himself, a very nice gentleman. He’s just a great neighbor who would do anything for anybody. He’s a very generous man and very caring.”
Funny, but it seems three-quarters of the people from his generation are described precisely the same way. They weren’t pure or innocent, as our history books suggest, but they didn’t kill one another with the ease and indifference you hear about today.
The country struggled with race relations, treatment of women and working conditions but still seemed to have greater respect for people. They could send their kids to school and movie theaters and sports events without worrying about whether they would return. In many respects, Iffrig came from a world when innocence was intact.
It wasn’t stolen Monday, as some suggested. It’s been absent for decades. It just happens to be getting worse as killers become bolder. It’s no longer the country Iffrig knew when he was a kid.
Terrorists marred the 1972 Olympics in Munich and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. The threat was palpable during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. It has been just beneath the surface at every event since Sept. 11, 2001. And now, with terrorism becoming a growing problem, we have become a cold, cynical and suspicious nation.
Now, it has stolen the sanctity of the Boston Marathon.
It was a major sports event of a different nature, a celebration of people more than a race to the finish line. It was a slice of America that coincided with a Red Sox game, a festival that snaked through storied neighborhoods in one of our most historic cities.
The marathon had winners, but no losers, before Monday. It was a test of commitment, sacrifice and discipline. Others ran to promote clean and healthy living or a singular cause or just because they enjoyed running. Their biggest opponent was their own resolve. In the darkest moments, the strength of the human spirit emerged.
It was obvious Monday in the face of death and destruction after the explosion. It wasn’t just cops, firefighters and emergency medical crews who ran toward the wounded without fearing the possibility of more violence. Race volunteers, fans and several runners also raced to the scene to assist them.
Iffrig did what came naturally to him. Amid the chaos, he stood as a symbol for the United States as it moves forward. He showed how one man could travel a long way, get knocked down, get back up, refuse to back down and complete his mission.
It might take a while, but here’s hoping everyone else can do the same.
It’s not easy being thrust into the spotlight when it’s unexpected.
A family in the State of Washington that took over Bill Iffrig’s son’s previous telephone number was bombarded with telephone calls Tuesday. A woman who answered the phone said she had Mark Iffrig’s old telephone number for years. She lives near Bill Iffrig in a small community but didn’t know him.
“We keep getting calls,” she said Tuesday morning. “We had someone call from Australia. We had people call from Toronto, The Associated Press, you name it. It has been interesting having this number. If we didn’t know the situation, it would be an annoyance. This situation is different. We’re just glad he’s OK.”
Woods should have walked
You’re not going to hear anyone argue whether Tiger Woods suffered a terrible misfortune in the second round of the Masters when his approach on No. 15 clanked off the pin and rolled into the water. It was a tough break, but the right decision after he broke the drop rule was to withdraw.
For me, it came down the sequence of events more than the rules committee’s decision. He made a mistake on his drop. The rules officials didn’t identify a problem, which led him to believe he correctly signed his scorecard. No problem there.
The end for him should have come after his news conference. Woods admitted dropping 2 yards behind his original spot, which technically meant he gave himself an advantage. Weekend hackers, let alone the top player in the world, know that’s a no-no. The rules officials handed him a two-shot penalty.
In essence, Masters officials reached a compromise with Woods. And when they did, they compromised the rules. Woods should have pulled himself out of the tournament once he realized he made the mistake. Ignorance is not an excuse. The tournament’s decision to keep him and his decision to stay set a bad precedent.
Darcy’s status shakier?
It could be nothing, but the tenor of Darcy Regier’s job security sounded like it changed in recent days. Last week, word was that Regier would keep his job for the next several years. This week, in an unexpected shift, several sources indicated that owner Terry Pegula could be changing his mind.
“I have nothing for you,” Sabres President Ted Black said Tuesday. “Have a good day.”
Regier remained through the trade deadline and has made other decisions, so everything still points to him sticking around. It could change if (when) the Sabres are officially eliminated from the postseason. It’s not exactly clear.
This is clear: Pegula’s top advisers did him no favors before his news conference announcing HarborCenter on the Webster Block. Pegula’s off-color joke, which had several people around the league shaking their heads, was bad enough. Cracking inside jokes at a news conference is rarely a good idea.
Almost as poor was Pegula’s mishandling of basic hockey questions. The Sabres don’t determine which questions are asked. The team can choose to answer them or not answer them. But if Pegula wasn’t prepared to handle easy questions about Lindy Ruff’s firing, he shouldn’t have been there.
It doesn’t take much to say, “Lindy was a good guy and a good coach. We were hoping the change would spark our team.” Instead, he said, “You figure it out.” I’m not sure of the message he was intending to send, but it was not well received among the many in attendance. By the way, I was not there.
Classic HR turns 60
Today marks the 60th anniversary of Mickey Mantle’s famous 565-foot homer in Griffith Stadium in Washington, which led to the phrase “tape-measure home run.”
Mantle hit the homer right-handed off Chuck Stobbs in the fifth inning of a 7-3 victory over the Senators. The ball landed in the front yard of a house behind the stadium. It led to Yankees public-relations man Red Patterson to suggest it should be measured.
As the story goes, a 10-year-old kid standing outside the stadium showed him where the ball landed. Patterson didn’t use a tape measure. Instead, he walked off the distance and later handed Mantle a tape measure for him to pose for pictures.
According to themick.com, the shot was the seventh-longest homer Mantle hit in his career, well behind a homer the website claimed would have traveled 734 feet if it didn’t hit the top of Yankee Stadium in right field in 1963.
26 – Percent more viewers than last year who watched Adam Scott’s playoff victory in the Masters, according to Nielsen.
28 – Years since Bernard King led the NBA in scoring, making him the last Knicks player to accomplish the feat. Carmelo Anthony led the league with a 28.7 points per game with one game remaining.
19 - Runs batted in after 35 at-bats for Mets slugger John Buck, who needed 177 at-bats before having 19 RBIs last season.
• Carlos Quentin sounded like he had a legitimate beef with Zack Greinke, but he shouldn’t have been expecting the Dodgers pitcher to be throwing at him on a 3-2 pitch in a 2-1 game. Rather than make his point, Quintin helped Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly make a stronger one. “That’s just stupid, is what it is,” Mattingly said.
• Cody Zeller should rethink his decision to enter the NBA draft. The 7-foot center had no problem dominating in certain situations with Indiana, but he was exposed in the loss to Syracuse in the NCAA tournament. He would be better off developing his game for at least another year. It would improve his stock and lead to more money.