Fallen Leader: To Downey peers, Hyde was 'Superman'

To Downey peers, Hyde was 'Superman'

March 13, 2009 

Brian and Glenda Hyde, the parents of a fallen son, have heard these words more than once.

"He was Superman to me," Deshon Benton said.

"My hero," Tyler Finch said.

"A bigger-than-life figure," Derek Cole said.

Army Lt. Daniel Hyde, killed last weekend in Iraq when his Humvee was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, always insisted on being one of the guys. But deep inside, the guys knew that metric was not in play. The trio of Downey High football teammates sat on a bench this week at Chuck Hughes Stadium, clutching Hyde's jersey and framed photograph, remembering their friend.

Listening nearby, the Hydes nodded and smiled.

"We're superfortunate," Brian Hyde said, "because we got to hear a lot of this when Daniel was alive. It's just been ramped up so many degrees."

Yes, death to a hero at 24 will ramp up the words. Hyperbole normally steams into overdrive at such moments, only in this case, it's not hyperbole.

It's not hero worship when you're the quarterback of an 0-10 football team and your friends think you're Hercules. It's not hero worship when you're the only two-term student body president in school history, a three-sport athlete armed with a 4.2 GPA. It's not hero worship when you graduate 23rd out of 968 at West Point. And it's never hero worship when, nearly six years after your graduation, Downey faculty members file into classrooms with broken hearts.

It is why the testimonials were voiced long before that grenade snuffed out a hero's life.

Hyde, you see, was the real thing. He didn't need a marketing campaign or spin doctors or a persuasive agent. His legacy was his life.

"He worked long and hard for 24 years," Glenda Hyde said. "I honestly feel he did more than some people do in an 80-year life span."

But in the fall of 2001, Hyde -- a Downey junior -- was trapped by a teenager's curse. He called the signals for one of the weakest football teams in school history, a band of 22 underdogs asked to trudge through a painful and thankless 10-game gantlet.

Regardless, Hyde always believed the next first down would lead to victory. He wore No. 13, after all. Even as the misery played out, he thought bad luck was the other team's problem.

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Benton, a sophomore that year, was worried that he would not be accepted by the upperclassmen. He fretted needlessly. Hyde took him aside and said, 'If anyone gives you a problem, I'll deal with it.' "

Small wonder that Benton, who would become one of Downey's best-ever running backs, idolized Hyde.

"He would take the worst pounding. I felt so bad that we couldn't protect him," Benton said. "He got up bleeding, his head busted up, and said, 'Let's go.' " The next day, he had a little limp. You knew he was hurting."

Accomplishments aside, there always was a star-crossed quality to Hyde's life. In 2002, Downey appeared on the verge of victory versus Beyer when he caught a long touchdown pass with less than a minute to play (he switched to wide receiver as a senior). He actually celebrated the score, shocking his teammates, by slowly moving his head back and forth.

And then Beyer kicked a field goal with 5 seconds left to win.

Four weeks later, Downey ended its 17-game losing streak by defeating Modesto. Hyde wasn't on the field, however. He had broken two fingers during the first half. The rest of the season, the Knights wore No. 13 decals on their helmets.

Hyde didn't return to action until Week 10. Predictably, he snagged a scoring pass in his final high school game.

"He wasn't the smartest guy or the best athlete, but he would work you underneath the table," Cole said. "He was the best leader you could ask for. He came into the huddle with a big smile on his face no matter the score."

Isn't that the highest praise, really, to greet life's knockdown pitch with a grin and a line drive up the middle? Hyde's 24 years will be celebrated next week for those reasons.

Because what else do you do when Superman dies for his country?

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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