|COLLEGE FB PACKAGE: Hoeppner's wife finds solace by staying close to Indiana football|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 26 September 2007 11:18|
She cheers passionately for the Hoosiers with her children, as is the family tradition, embraces players and coaches afterward and sometimes turns understandably wistful at what's missing from this scene - her husband, Terry, the Hoosiers' late coach who died from complications of a brain tumor in June.
For Jane Hoeppner this season has already been a tug-of-war between the joy she feels over Indiana's promising 3-1 start and the sorrow that her husband isn't here to enjoy it.
``I love the excitement of game day. There's just something about the sound, the feel of it, it's magical,'' she told The Associated Press at halftime of last week's game. ``But it is hard, too, because of the fact that I don't get to see his sweet face down there.''
Those closest to the Hoosiers' program understand.
From the moment Hoeppner was hired as coach in December 2004, Jane Hoeppner instantly became more than just the supportive wife; she was more like the team mom.
She routinely attended her husband's midweek and postgame news conferences. She was a regular at practice. She invited players to their house and let them soak in the family's hot tub. If a player needed advice or encouragement, she always had something to offer.
That part hasn't changed.
``She is one of the best women I've ever met,'' junior receiver James Hardy said. ``Just like us, I think she thinks about him every single day, but she's always there for us.''
Hoeppner is more than just a zealous supporter, she's steely tough.
For 18 months she watched her husband wage his battle publicly, enduring two brain surgeries, three medical leaves of absence and countless questions about his condition.
Yet hours after Terry died at age 59, Jane attended the scheduled groundbreaking for a renovation at Memorial Stadium, a project her husband lobbied hard for.
Days later, with tears flowing all around a public memorial service at Assembly Hall, she stepped to the podium and urged the team to fulfill her husband's biggest goal, seeing the Hoosiers reach a bowl game for the first time since 1993.
``Her strength is just unbelievable,'' said coach Bill Lynch, Hoeppner's successor and longtime friend.
Admittedly, though, there have been times over these past three months that Jane Hoeppner, like anyone else mourning the loss of a best friend, struggles with the thoughts and memories.
But after sharing her husband for so many years with the sport he loved, football has given her some help in coping, too - an outlet, a support group, a team that she loves and a team that loves her back for all she's endured and all she's done for them.
``I know how hard it is for me because every place I look, I see him,'' she said, her voice cracking. ``It has to be that way for them (the team), too. But the seniors are setting the tone and the character in this team is apparent.''
Hoeppner and the Hoosiers have been working through this together.
Two weeks ago, on her birthday, she invited the team to the house and reveled in the team's laughter and youthful spirit. She called it her birthday present.
Athletic director Rick Greenspan often embraces her on the field, continuing Terry Hoeppner's tradition of post-practice and postgame hugs, and Lynch said she's still a regular visitor at the team offices.
Players, too, have reached out. Kicker Austin Starr used a break during the team's first fall practice to chat with her, and Hardy said he makes weekly calls just to check in.
``She's a spiritual woman, a very blessed woman and that's why I call her on a weekly basis,'' Hardy said. ``She's great.''
Yet everywhere she turns, it seems there's a reminder of what her husband meant to this university.
There's a large white sign hanging in the north end zone with the word ``Hep'' imprinted in the middle of a crimson football. On the back of Indiana's helmets is a sticker with two of Terry Hoeppner's favorite sayings ``Play 13'' and ``Don't Quit.''
Some tailgaters even taped Terry Hoeppner photos to their coolers, and virtually every week, players and coaches answer questions about their perseverance in the face of tragedy.
Jane Hoeppner welcomes it all.
To her, there's still nothing like the optimism and excitement of game day - even if it includes a tinge of sadness.
``It's like I feel completely embraced by people who are introducing themselves to me,'' she said. ``People come up with 'Coach Hep Got Me' T-shirts and I love it. I want them to know that coach Hep got me, too.''