Now that Iowa has your attention, here are 10 things you need to know
“Talk to your kids about an undefeated Iowa.”
Writing this column, I wasn’t sure who started that mantra, but I knew when: 2015. I’d have bet on the Go Iowa Awesome guys, but it turns out The Solid Verbal crew gets the credit. They even had a Tumblr blog dedicated to it. I applaud the commitment to the bit. Sadly, it hasn’t been updated since Halloween of that year. But the phrase endures.
A writer from Tosh.0 even had “the talk” with his kids that year and posted it to the Internet. Poor guys. That will probably be dragged out on their wedding days, which we all agree should be only held in the spring and summer, right?
Well, fearless readers, it’s 2021 and it’s time to dust off the playbook for the next generation of youths. Iowa is 5-0 and looking unbeatable (on defense, anyway). Some say the Hawkeyes are even better than that 2015 squad, which finished 12-2 — but started 12-0 and made the program’s first Big Ten Football Championship Game.
Here are 10 things to help young ones (and others) to get to know Iowa football:
The Kinnick wave tradition started organically
Started in 2017 when the new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital overlooking Kinnick Stadium opened, the Hawkeye Wave has been called “the best tradition in sports.” It all started when Krista Young posted a comment on a Facebook page suggesting it.
The first one wasn’t the event that it has become now, with a theme song and scoreboard instructions. (You can even hear someone explaining it to her kids in that video.) But it showcases the best “power of social media,” as Young put it in 2017, something that sometimes is hard to find.
Nile Kinnick won the only Heisman Trophy in school history in 1939, and his No. 24 jersey is retired. His Heisman acceptance speech is played before every game at the stadium named in his honor. Former Chicago Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath wrote that Kinnick “pretty much rescued University of Iowa football during a magical 1939 season that still stirs the imagination.” Kinnick was inducted into the inaugural class of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.
Kinnick attended Iowa law school instead of playing professionally and joined the Naval Air Reserve and died in 1943 during a training flight off the coast of Venezuela. Players touch a statue of him on their way into the stadium before each game.
Duke Slater, a tackle for the Hawkeyes from 1918-21, was the first Black player in school history to earn All-America honors. Iowa had a 7-0 Big Ten record in 1921 and was named national champion by more than one media outlet.
Slater was the first Black player inducted to the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame in 1951 — part of the inaugural class with Kinnick. Slater also is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
After graduating from law school at Iowa, he started a practice in Chicago and became an assistant district attorney, assistant Illinois commerce commissioner and a judge. In 1960, Slater became the first Black judge to serve on the Superior Court of Chicago.
The field at Kinnick Stadium was named in Slater’s honor this year. For many, it was an attempt to right a couple of wrongs:
- Iowa Stadium was proposed to be renamed Kinnick-Slater Stadium in 1972, but instead they named a dorm after Slater.
- That story came back to the spotlight in the wake of the racial disparities report prompted by former players. (A lawsuit brought by former players against the university is still ongoing.)
The Hawkeyes had previously honored Slater by including him in the Wall of Honor and in a relief in the north end zone outside the stadium.
In a show of unity, the Hawkeyes walk through the tunnel to Duke Slater Field as AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blasts throughout Kinnick Stadium.
But the players don’t storm the field. Instead, they walk arm-in-arm in a “swarm” of black and gold and wait for their cue from head coach Kirk Ferentz to take the field as a unified team.
Kinnick after dark
Kinnick Stadium didn’t have permanent lights until 2015. Before that, Musco Lighting from Muscatine, Iowa, which still provides temporary lighting for sporting events across the country, had the honors. The Hawkeyes hosted their first game at night in 1992 against No. 1 Miami.
It didn’t work out that time, but Iowa is 13-7 overall after dark and has pulled off its share of upsets, like a 14-13 win over No. 2 Michigan in 2016 (and some that only end after the sun goes down). In recent years, those are the games when the alternate uniforms come out, which are also pretty rare in Hawkeye history.
2 coaches in 43 years
Kirk Ferentz is in his 23rd season as Iowa’s head coach, the longest tenured active head coach in college football. Ferentz succeeded Hayden Fry, who began his career at Iowa in 1979.
Ferentz passed Fry to become the Hawkeyes’ all-time winningest coach in 2018. Both Ferentz (173, 104) and Fry (143, 96) rank in the top 6 in overall wins and Big Ten wins among coaches while coaching a league program.
Iowa is ‘sticky,’ but not flashy
The Hawkeyes keep games tight, sometimes at the risk of playing down to an opponent, and trust their system to win in the end. The defense-first philosophy works — but it’s not flashy.
Hawkeyes are rarely hyped
Remember when Iowa finished as the No. 8 team in the country for 3 consecutive seasons? If not, you probably figure that’s around where they were in the preseason poll, they were good enough to hang around, but not perfect. Nope.
Even if you forgive that the 2003 team was unranked because it lost Heisman runner-up Brad Banks and others, a year later after finishing 8th again, they dropped to No. 19 to start the season. Then finished 8th. Again.
The Hawkeyes had to prove it every year, and did. Some teams have the hype handed to them. The Hawks aren’t a perennial preseason Top 10 team even when they are one on the field.
Four rivalry trophies
Iowa has 4 trophy games, and right now all the hardware resides in Iowa City. Three have been there since 2015, the last time the Hawkeyes were undefeated through 5 games, and also the last time they had an 11-game winning streak.
- Minnesota, Floyd of Rosedale: It doesn’t get any better than this. It’s the oldest rivalry, the best trophy (with a backstory) and the trophy games are tied 42-42-2.
- Wisconsin, Heartland Trophy: Iowa just got this one back last season after it had a long stay in Madison. The trophy series, which is much more recent than it should be, is at 8-6 Badgers.
- Iowa State, Cy-Hawk Trophy: The Cyclones’ influence in the state of Iowa is as overstated as their never-won-10-games football team is overrated. Iowa leads 30-14.
- Nebraska, Heroes Trophy: The relative newcomer to the Big Ten gets to play Iowa on Black Friday every year. It hasn’t worked out like the Huskers thought it would. The Hawks are up 7-3.
Turning 3-stars into NFL players
The Hawkeyes have a reputation for developing talent. Iowa had 34 active players on NFL rosters to start the 2021 season, tied for 6th. At least one Hawk has been selected in every NFL Draft since 1978.
Iowa and Florida lead all schools with 5 active offensive tackles. The Hawks are tied with 5 other schools — including Penn State — for the most active tight ends in the NFL with 4. T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, in 2019, became the first tight ends from the same school to be selected in the first round the same draft, and join George Kittle in earning Iowa the recent reputation of Tight End University.
In all, Iowa has had 199 former players (79 draft picks and 120 free agents) in the NFL since 1999, Ferentz’s 1st year as head coach.
It wasn’t until 1975 that Iowa and the Big Ten could go to a bowl other than the Rose Bowl. So the fact that the Hawkeyes have been to Pasadena more than any other bowl would not be surprising.
Not so fast, my friend. The Outback Bowl in Tampa has pulled into a tie at 6 with The Grandaddy Of Them All, quite possibly because the dean of coaches would accept an invitation every year if he could (It’s a New Year’s Bowl, after all, and Iowa has won 5 January bowl games during his tenure.)
If nothing else, we’ve established here that the Hawkeyes embrace consistency. Speaking of the postseason, Iowa has appeared in one Big Ten Football Championship Game, a 16-13 loss to Michigan State in 2015.
Not every team has a victory polka. After every win, players join the band and fans for a rousing rendition of “In Heaven There Is No Beer” (that’s why we drink it here, FYI) and the fight song.
My emoji version of the song after a 2015 win was named “Tweet of the Year” by more than one critic in their year-end roundups. Because it seems only right, in honor of Iowa just sticking to what works, I still quote-tweet it after every win with the final score.
— Ryan Jaster (@Hawkologist) September 26, 2015
So there you have it. … What’s that? You wanted to learn 10 things about the 2021 Hawkeyes? And I just gave you a 6-year-old hieroglyphic of a victory polka.
This is awkward, but thanks for sticking around.
Good thing the coach of Iowa’s opponent this week, James Franklin, did a surprisingly thorough summary in his news conference on Tuesday. We’re running out of time and space — oh, you thought the internet was infinite? — so here are 15 bullet points:
- Kirk Ferentz: “23 years as a head coach, 31 years overall at Iowa”
- “18 starters returning”
- Brian Ferentz: Kirk’s son is the offensive coordinator, “spent some time in New England like his dad” and “does a nice job”
- Tyler Goodson: “Explosive”
- Sam LaPorta: “They always seem to have a tight end who’s a challenge to deal with”
- Iowa does an “excellent job with their play-action”
- Phil Parker: “One of the more respected defensive coordinators in college football — 11 years as defensive coordinator”
- Iowa is “consistent, not simple. Who they are this year is who they were last year and who they were before that.”
- Really good scheme that is challenging
- DE Zach VanValkenberg: “They’ve always got a guy like that”
- LB Jack Campbell: “Active and productive”
- DB Riley Moss: Was apparently a classmate of a Penn State player
- “We’ll need to establish the run.”
- Special teams: It’s obvious this is something Kirk Ferentz invests in and respects. They’ve always got a wrinkle or something you’ve gotta be ready for.”
- Trick plays: “They’re always gonna have a wrinkle in there that you need to be prepared for.”
You can watch his entire breakdown here.
Now you have more than you need to talk to your kids or anyone else about Iowa football. If you still need more, here’s a final link — to the index page for the Hawkeyes at Saturday Tradition.