Forever Waving: The inspiration behind one Hawkeye fan's unique Iowa Wave tattoo
Every Saturday afternoon Iowa is playing a home game at Kinnick Stadium, fans will turn to the overlooking University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital and wave. For most of us, that still-blossoming tradition lasts only a few moments on a handful of weekends in the fall. But for Jason Kay, the Iowa Wave has become a permanent fixture in his life.
Around the time the Hawkeyes were putting a bow on a 10-3 record to end a memorable 2019 season, Jason settled on an idea for a new tattoo. In February, after finding the artist he thought could bring the idea to life, Jason scheduled an appointment with Juan Alvarez of Red Owl Collective in Davenport, Iowa.
On June 19, 2020, just two days before Father’s Day, the ink was on Jason’s left arm.
From afar, the tattoo doesn’t appear to be much more than a standard Tigerhawk logo. Look closer, and what you’ll see is the Stead Family Children’s Hospital at the crest of Iowa’s iconic emblem. Inside the Tigerhawk is the image of a capacity crowd at Kinnick Stadium standing and waving, just as it does at the end of the first quarter every weekend the Hawkeyes are in town.
The inspiration for the tattoo is deeper than the passion of a lifelong Iowa fan and a cool tradition. Jason’s motivation dates back to 2012 when his son, Kruz, was born.
On August 12, 2012, Jason welcomed his first son into the world. As happy as the first-time father was to meet his newborn baby, Kruz’s arrival was earlier than expected.
“My son was born three months premature and he was 2 pounds 4 ounces when he was born,” Jason told Saturday Tradition. “He was born in Davenport but immediately transferred to Iowa City to the children’s hospital. He spent his first 89 days of life there in Iowa City.”
Panic, worry and any other imaginable emotion set in for Jason and Kruz’s mother Jenn Zogg. With so many uncertainties after their baby boy’s early arrival into the world, the first 30 days were incredibly nerve-wracking for the new parents.
“It was pretty traumatic,” Jason said. “The first month, you just didn’t know what to expect and then once we got past that point, it was basically letting him grow. He didn’t have a ton of complications after the first month, but it was still tense all the time.”
The Stead Family Children’s Hospital wasn’t just Kruz’s home during that time. Jason and Jenn spent all day and every night in the hospital during that first month, as well. Even when work called Jason to the fields for harvest — part of the rigors of being a farmer in the state of Iowa — he managed to make it back to Iowa City every other day to be with his only son.
Jenn was there around the clock.
After several weeks in Iowa City, Kruz was improving. He was finally breathing on his own after being on a ventilator. He was learning how to bottle field. The three-month-old was growing.
Finally, in late November and after 89 days of hell, Jason and Jenn were bringing their newborn baby home.
“It was an amazing feeling, but I was also very nervous, too,” Jason said. “Now, you’ve had a kid who the doctors have been watching over every single day for his first three months of life and then you go home.”
Modestly, Jason said he imagined the way he felt on that November day is probably the same for most first-time parents.
“I don’t think that’s too different from what anybody else bringing home a child for the first time feels like.”
A little over five years after Kruz was born, a new tradition in college football gained national attention. On September 2, 2017, Kinnick Stadium launched a new, heart-warming tradition that captured a national audience.
When the first quarter of Iowa’s season-opening game against Wyoming came to an end, the 70,000 fans at Kinnick Stadium turned to the Stead Family Children’s Hospital and waved. Standing in the windows in the towering structure across the street were dozens of children, families and healthcare workers waving back.
“I thought The Wave was amazing,” Jason said after first seeing it in 2017.
Attention flocked to Iowa that year. It wasn’t just fans who took time to show their support for the children overlooking Kinnick Stadium. Players, coaches, officials, members of the media and anyone else near the field also took part in what has been dubbed “the best new tradition in college football.”
Just two years after the inauguration of The Wave, Jason was mulling over a new tattoo design.
“I’ve had this concept in my head of what I’ve wanted for quite a while,” Jason said. “Probably eight months or so I’ve had a firm idea on how I wanted to do it. Then it was trying to find [a tattoo artist] who could do it.
“I could just tell in Juan Alvarez’s work the attention to detail was unbelievable. I knew I wanted him to do it.”
Jason’s unique concept and Juan’s attention to detail resulted in one of the most creative sports-related tattoos ever to be designed. Not long after it made its way to Twitter, the image of the new ink went viral.
Hawkeye fans shared the short video Jason posted in masses. It quickly received over 200 retweets, nearly 3,000 likes and dozens of comments. The attention was not something Jason anticipated, admitting that it might be something that only a few hundred people would see.
What most people sharing that video might not realize, though, is that this isn’t just a die-hard Hawkeye fan showing loyalty to a football team. It’s about a father-son bond that was formed in the Stead Family Children’s Hospital in 2012, and an appreciation for the doctors and nurses who spent so much time caring for Kruz during his first three months of life.
“For me, it has a lot to do with my son,” Jason said. “[The Wave] has always had a lot of meaning to me, just what they do for kids — there’s just a lot of amazing people out there. They’ve always been great to us even since he’s been out of there.
“They’re amazing people. Not just that they’re amazing doctors and nurses, which they are, they’re also amazing people. They’re very strong to be able to do what they do every day. To deal with what they have to deal with every day. And they still have to go home and live a life, too. It’s pretty amazing what they can do.”
As Kruz has continued to grow physically over the last eight years, his fandom for Iowa athletics is also sprouting. He enjoys watching the Hawkeyes on television, listening on the radio and making the trip to Iowa City for games and events when possible.
“He loves the Hawkeyes,” Jason said.
Kruz had a thrilling introduction to Iowa hoops last year. Jason took his son to his first basketball game in February 2019, a conference matchup against Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That night, Jordan Bohannon drilled a three-point shot with less than a second remaining to lift the Hawkeyes to an 80-79 victory after trailing the Wildcats by 13 points in the second half.
Jason’s picture on his Twitter profile is a photograph of he and his son from that special night.
Last fall, Kruz was able to make the trip to Kinnick Stadium for Kid’s Day. He was able to meet with some of his favorite Hawkeye players, getting plenty of pictures and autographs throughout the afternoon. Those experiences have only helped grow his love for Iowa.
Unfortunately, the adventures Jason and Kruz have shared together do not include an Iowa football game at Kinnick Stadium since The Wave’s inauguration in 2017. Those clear, blue-sky afternoons in Iowa City are ideal harvesting conditions on a fall Saturday in Iowa.
“I’ve actually never been to a home game for The Wave because I farm,” Jason said. “In the fall, if the weather is right, I’m not able to get to games. But even watching it on TV, it’s extremely emotional for me. It gets pretty dusty in the room if I’m watching the game by myself.”
Jason has been to Kinnick Stadium numerous times in the past, and attended a half-dozen bowl games. He’s seen the Hawkeyes live plenty in his life.
As eager as he is to get back, Jason admits that his next trip might be a tearful one.
“Even without experiencing it myself, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “I’m a bit nervous to do it in person because I know my emotions will get the best of me.”