Ask most fans in Louisiana what they know about Iowa and they’ll tell you about a mystical baseball diamond, covered bridges or the little strip of the state you drive through from the Omaha airport to get to the new College World Series ballpark downtown
(the Iowa-Nebraska state line follows an old bend of the Missouri River). What most people don’t know much about is Iowa’s football team, which LSU will play New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
So, strap on your Radar O’Reilly granny glasses (the fictional “M*A*S*H” character was from the real town of Ottumwa, Iowa) and get reacquainted with the Hawkeyes.
1. The catch
The only football game ever between LSU and Iowa resulted in a frustrating 30-25 loss for the Tigers and a play for the ages for the Hawkeyes. LSU rallied from 24-12 down with two touchdowns in the final 8½ minutes to take a 25-24 lead with 46 seconds left on a JaMarcus Russell pass to Skyler Green. On the ensuing drive, Iowa got to its 44 with 14 seconds left, from where Drew Tate threw a 56-yard pass to a wide open Warren Holloway on the game’s final play. It was the one and only touchdown catch for Holloway, a Hawkeyes senior that year. The play, simply referred to among Iowa fans as “The Catch,” is immortalized with sequential photos of the play from pass to catch in many an Iowa home, restaurant and bar. It was the final play of Nick Saban’s five-year career at LSU.
2. No, we’re No. 1!
While LSU finished No. 1 in 1958 in The Associated Press media and United Press International coaches’ polls (the forerunner of the USA Today coaches’ poll), the Tigers weren’t a unanimous choice for the top spot. Though LSU went 11-0 and Iowa was 8-1-1 with a 13-13 tie against Air Force and a 38-28 loss to Ohio State, the Hawkeyes were the Football Writers Association of America choice as its national champion. Iowa finished No. 2 behind LSU in the AP poll, while quarterback Randy Duncan finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting behind Army’s Pete Dawkins and just ahead of LSU’s Billy Cannon.
3. Nile Kinnick
“He was in every respect the All-American boy,” former Iowa sports information director Phil Haddy said. Iowa’s greatest sports legend, Kinnick was Billy Cannon and Alex Box all rolled into one while also finding time to be school president and a Phi Beta Kappa student. Kinnick won the 1939 Heisman Trophy, then met a tragic end while serving in World War II. On June 2, 1943, flying a training mission off the U.S.S. Lexington, the Adel, Iowa, native’s Navy fighter plane crashed into the Caribbean. Streets and untold numbers of Iowans are named after Kinnick, even an American high school in Yokohama, Japan, and a high school stadium in Omaha, where Kinnick graduated in 1936. Like LSU, which named its baseball stadium for Box after he died in 1943 while fighting in North Africa, Iowa named its football stadium (capacity 70,585) after Kinnick in 1972.
4. What’s a Hawkeye?
The name comes from the state of Iowa’s nickname (The Hawkeye State). The inspiration for that was Hawkeye, the name of a scout in James Fenimore Cooper’s classic novel, “The Last of the Mohicans.” Iowa’s costumed mascot is Herky the Hawk, who made his debut in 1948.
5. Famous alumni
The late Alex Karras, runner-up for the 1957 Heisman Trophy, went on to long careers in the NFL and as an actor, starring with fellow Iowa alum Gene Wilder in “Blazing Saddles.” Former Grambling coach and Baton Rouge native Eddie Robinson earned a graduate degree from Iowa. Singer Al Jarreau found his voice at Iowa, as did longtime Houston Astros broadcaster Milo Hamilton and famous writers such as playwright Tennessee Williams and novelists Flannery O’Connor, John Irving and W.P. Kinsella, whose book “Shoeless Joe” was the basis for the movie “Field of Dreams.” The baseball field built for the movie still draws tourists to Dyersville, Iowa. It ranks as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iowa. Don’t believe us? Ask the Gallup Poll, founded by Iowa grad George Gallup.
6. No. 1 vs. No. 2
In the only 1-2 showdown in Iowa’s history, the No. 1 Hawkeyes hosted No. 2 Michigan in Iowa City on Oct. 19, 1985.
Iowa wasn’t able to crack the end zone all day, scoring on just three Rob Houghtlin field goals to trail 10-9 in the closing moments. With two seconds left, Iowa sent the walk-on transfer from Miami of Ohio out there again. With wind and rain in his face, Houghtlin converted the 29-yard game-winner for a 12-10 victory. Iowa’s reign at No. 1 wouldn’t last, though. The Hawkeyes lost 22-13 at Ohio State two weeks later and finished 10-2 after losing to UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
7. Hayden Fry
Before Fry arrived in 1979, Iowa football failed to post a winning record from 1962-78. Fry changed the Iowa culture, copying the uniform style of the NFL’s most dominant team at the time, the Pittsburgh Steelers, changing the helmet to its current style and making the Hawkeyes winners. In 1981, he led Iowa to its first Rose Bowl since 1958. By the time he retired in 1998, giving way to current coach Kirk Ferentz, Fry was Iowa’s winningest coach with 143 victories. He was also the inspiration for the lead character in the TV series “Coach,” whose producer Barry Kemp is also an Iowa grad.
8. Coaching tree
Perhaps even more impressive than Fry’s record is his legacy of football coaches. Among those who played or coached under him are Ferentz, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and the Stoops brothers: Bob (head coach, Oklahoma), Mark (head coach, Kentucky) and Mike (former head coach at Arizona, now defensive coordinator at Florida State), Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, Nebraska coach and former LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, former New Orleans Saints coach Bum Phillips and former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez.
9. That’s some pig
Trophy games are big in the Midwest, and Iowa plays in its (state) fair share. The Hawkeyes play four trophy games, including the Cy-Hawk (Iowa State), the Heroes Trophy (Nebraska) and the Heartland Trophy (Wisconsin). But the biggest by far is the bronze statue of a pig known as Floyd of Rosedale that’s up for grabs every time Iowa plays Minnesota. The teams began playing for a real Floyd of Rosedale in 1935, a champion pig whose brother Blue Boy starred in the Will Rogers movie “State Fair.” Iowa beat Minnesota 23-7 on Sept. 28, a score that joins the other scores from the series on the trophy’s base. Iowa won the Cy-Hawk and Heroes Trophy, as well, but lost to Wisconsin.
10. Think pink
Kinnick Stadium has probably the most famous visitor’s locker room in the country — not for its opulence or lack of amenities, but because it’s pink. A former psychology student at Baylor, Fry learned that the color pink has a calming influence on people. So he had the locker room painted pink right down to the, ahem, bathroom fixtures. “When I talk to an opposing coach before a game and he mentions the pink walls, I know I’ve got him,” Fry wrote in his memoirs. “I can’t recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the color and then beat us.”