IOWA CITY, Iowa — These days, the TigerHawk hangs everywhere on the University of Iowa campus.
It’s big and black in the front foyer of the football operations building. It’s built into the wall in the All-American room, which doubles as a mess hall and staging area. It’s at midcourt at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and nearly every gate entrance in Kinnick Stadium.
But for generations, the only TigerHawk between the goal lines at Kinnick Stadium adorned the Hawkeyes’ black helmets. Fans clamored for one at the 50-yard line, but the traditionalists won that argument back in 2009. Now, with a new artificial turf at Kinnick Stadium, the TigerHawk officially has joined the Hawkeye field party at midfield.
“When we went over there for our team picture, I took a long look at it,” Iowa senior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg said. “It’s pretty cool.”
In Iowa football history, there’s very much of a B.C./A.D. line with former coach Hayden Fry’s hiring in 1978. Not only did he change the on-field performance, but he disrupted the university culture.
Fry wanted to create a new uniform and logo for the program. The Hawkeyes hadn’t had a winning season since 1961 and Fry wanted Iowa to look like a champion. Fry changed the helmet color to black, which gave a similar appearance to the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Initially he had University of Iowa students sketch logos but none of the drawings stood out.
Former sports information director George Wine asked Cedar Rapids, Iowa printer Chuck Edwards if he knew of anyone who could design a logo. Edwards contacted Bill Colbert, art director of Cedar Rapids’ Three Arts Advertising, for input.
According to a display at the UI Athletics Hall of Fame, Colbert drew sketches on napkins while on a flight from Cedar Rapids to Minneapolis.
“I wanted something impactful and contemporary,” Colbert said according to the display. “A lot of schools have cartoonish-type characters. I felt this one should be stylish, something that would separate it from the rest of the schools.”
Colbert applied the simplicity of the CBS and Nike logos. He finished it within a week. Colbert and Wine opted to silkscreen the logo on a couple of helmets and met with Fry on June 11, 1979.
Fry loved the logo and called it, “A splash of sunshine.” He approved it that day, and the TigerHawk instantly was embedded into the Hawkeye way of life.
“Where I come from, it’s called selling the sizzle before the steak,” Fry said at the time.
By 1981, Iowa had suffered through 19 consecutive non-winning campaigns, the nation’s longest streak. Then Fry coached the Hawkeyes to a share of the co-Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth that year. A new era was born.
From 1981 through 1990, Iowa earned three Big Ten titles and its 55 league victories tied Ohio State and Illinois for second-most over that span behind Michigan. The TigerHawk became synonymous with winning.
“The TigerHawk is who we are,” said Matt Henderson, Iowa’s senior associate athletics director for revenue and external relations. “It’s one of the most recognizable brands.”
In a 2016 Bleacher Report story, Iowa was listed as one of 10 college football teams that never will need a uniform redesign. Iowa dabbled in a few uniform modifications in the mid-1990s but never changed the TigerHawk. In March 2000, the school announced a new TigerHawk logo that featured a more ferocious version. That plan quickly was scuttled after fans revolted.
The classic TigerHawk remained. It continues to thrive.
“From Hayden to here, it hasn’t changed,” Henderson said. “There was one blip there; it didn’t last long, thankfully. Overall, that TigerHawk and that brand hasn’t changed.
“I think that reaction of the fan base, they’re passionate about it. They’re passionate about the program. They’re passionate about the players. They support those things. The TIgerHawk means a lot to them. That was a reaction and I can’t say that I didn’t expect necessarily, but clearly showed again that don’t mess with the TigerHawk.”
That passion was extended to Iowa’s playing surface. Kinnick Stadium boasts TigerHawk logos outside the stadium and throughout the video boards. But the neither the grass through 2008 and the artificial turf from 2009 onward featured a logo at midfield.
Fans clamored for the TigerHawk logo on the 50-yard line, but Iowa’s administration preferred a traditional look. Even players wondered why the logo wasn’t on the field.
“I did when I first came here,” VandeBerg said. “Then when they built the new facilities outside, and I heard a little murmur about it.”
When the outdoor practice field received new turf, the TigerHawk was added. Same with baseball’s Duane Banks Field. With the administration resurfacing Kinnick Stadium this summer, officials engaged in those negotiations. It became an easy decision.
“This made sense,” Henderson said. “I think the pulse that I got from fans, all of us, they would like that. Now you’re going to have debates whether it’s big enough or the color. I get that part of it. In general we thought this one was going to be well received. There are some traditionalists out there that want a clean field. I understand that. We’re not going to please everyone with every decision, but hopefully over time people learn to trust that we do listen and we try to react.”
Kirk Ferentz enters his 28th season at Iowa coaching on the surface, including 19 as the head coach. His opinion mattered, and he approves of the TigerHawk at the 50.
“I think it looks really good, and we’ve been out there a couple times,” Ferentz said. “It’s like being a grandparent. I haven’t heard anybody complain about it yet. Nobody complains about being a grandparent, and seems like this one — I’m not going to say unanimous, but it seems like it’s been pretty popular — so I’m all for it. Hope it makes us play better; that would be even better.”
All that’s left now for Iowa is to paint a TigerHawk on the water tower that overlooks Kinnick. But that’s an Iowa City structure and it remains the TigerHawk’s Holy Grail.
“I was fully in control of what went in the middle of the football field,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said. “I have zero input and zero control of what goes on the water tower. I’ll leave it at that. If I had a vote, I’d vote let’s put it up there.”