IOWA Magazine | 08-18-2021

Iowa Icons: Nine Iowa Football Game Day Traditions

4 minute read
In our Iowa Icons series, we’re celebrating the players, moments, and traditions that define Hawkeye football. Here, we highlight nine of our favorite gameday traditions in Iowa City.


From the Melrose Avenue food stands to fan-filled parking lots and front yards, the Hawkeye faithful do tailgating right. Brats sizzle on grills, Tigerhawk flags fly atop black and gold RVs, and the Hawkeye Marching Band fires up fans at the Recreation Building. Hawkeye tailgaters are a hearty breed; even on frigid Saturdays late in the year, you can find pots of chili simmering and games of bags being played outside Kinnick.

Tailgating outside Kinnick PHOTO: BRIAN RAY/HAWKEYESPORTS.COM Fans tailgate before the Iowa-Iowa State football game in 2016 outside Kinnick Stadium.

Kinnick's Heisman Speech:

It's a speech that many Iowa fans can recite by heart. "I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe," Nile Kinnick (40BA) told the Downtown Athletic Club in New York when he accepted the Heisman Trophy in 1939. Today, that memorable speech echoes throughout Kinnick Stadium each game day when it's played on the videoboard before the national anthem.

Nile Kinnick PHOTO: HAWKEYESPORTS.COM Nile Kinnick accepts the Heisman Trophy in 1939 at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York.

The Swarm:

When coach Hayden Fry came to Iowa in 1979, he brought not only his Texas swagger, but a change in team culture. To instill a sense of solidarity among his players, he introduced "the swarm." Instead of simply jogging onto the field before games, Fry had his players lock hands, with the captains leading the way out of the tunnel. Four decades later, the swarm remains an important part of Iowa's pregame routine.

Swarm PHOTO COURTESY HAWKEYESPORTS.COM The Hawkeyes emerge from the tunnel before a 2018 game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium.

Pink Locker Rooms:

In his early days at Iowa, Fry approved a unique color when the facilities crew needed to repaint the visiting locker room. Fry, who had majored in psychology years before as a student at Baylor and was known for his gamesmanship as a coach, hoped a tranquil pink would have a soothing effect on opponents. Famously, Michigan coach Bo Schembechler covered the locker room in butcher paper ahead of the classic 1985 game, and current Wolverine coach Jim Harbaugh covered the walls before a 2016 contest. Both games resulted in Michigan losses.

Pink Urinals PHOTO: UNIVERSITY OF IOWA ATHLETICS DEPARTMENT The visiting locker room at Kinnick Stadium


During the 1985 season, amid a national farm crisis, Fry wanted to call attention to the plight of the thousands of Iowa farmers who faced foreclosure. The coach created a gold decal that was placed on his team's helmet ahead of a nationally televised game against Ohio State carrying a simple message: ANF, short for America Needs Farmers. Ferentz revived the tradition in the 2000s, and the Hawkeyes continue to wear the emblem proudly in a partnership with the Iowa Farm Bureau. Kinnick Stadium is also home to ANF Plaza and the ANF Wall of Honor, which salutes former Hawkeyes with agricultural ties like Jared DeVries (98BA), Robert Gallery (03BA), and Chad Greenway (05BA).

Herky with ANF flag PHOTO: STEPHEN MALLY/HAWKEYESPORTS.COM Herky plants an ANF flag on the field in 2019 in Kinnick Stadium.

Burrito Lift:

Nothing gets Hawkeye fans on their feet quite like hoisting a virtual burrito over their heads. In a longtime promotional partnership with Pancheros, a restaurant chain founded in Iowa City, the Pancheros Burrito Lift sends a bouncing burrito across the videoboard while fans "pump it up," as its accompanying song demands.

Fans doing the burrito lift PHOTO: BRIAN RAY/HAWKEYESPORTS.COM Fans participate in the Panchero's Big Burrito Lift during a 2014 game at Kinnick Stadium.

Rubbing the Statue:

On their way into the stadium, Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz and his team file past the 16-foot tall statue of Nile Kinnick and touch the bronze helmet that sits beside Kinnick's left foot for luck. Many fans also rub the statue, which was installed in 2006 and depicts Kinnick, an honors student and student body president, wearing his Iowa letter jacket and carrying textbooks.

Kirk touching  statue PHOTO: STEPHEN MALLY/HAWKEYESPORTS.COM Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz touches the helmet on the Nile Kinnick statue as the team arrives before a home game in 2019.

Kid Captains:

Since 2009, the Hawkeyes have partnered with neighboring University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital to honor its brave pediatric patients and celebrate their stories. The Kid Captain receives a commemorative jersey, meets with the team in the tunnel, and joins the Hawkeyes on the sidelines during pregame festivities. Hawkeye fans reserve one of their biggest cheers of the day for the introduction of the Kid Captain at midfield ahead of the coin flip.

Kid Captain PHOTO: BRIAN RAY/HAWKEYESPORTS.COM Honorary captain Ricky Stanzi watches as UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital Kid Captain Gabby Yoder waves to the crowd before a game in 2019 at Kinnick Stadium.

The Iowa Wave:

The most heartwarming tradition in college football began in 2017 with the opening of the new UI Stead Family Children's Hospital overlooking Kinnick Stadium. At the end of the first quarter, fans and the two teams turn and wave in unison to the children watching from the hospital's windows and top-floor "Press Box," which hosts game day parties for patients. It's a poignant moment that puts the game into perspective and strengthens the special bond between Iowa football and the children's hospital.

Herky with doing the wave PHOTO: STEPHEN MALLY/HAWKEYESPORTS.COM Herky and Rutgers' Scarlet Knight join fans in waving to patients at University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital between the first and second quarter of a 2019 game.
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