When the definitive book on the history of college athletics is finally written, it’s safe to assume that the lion’s share of praise will go toward traditional powers such as UCLA and Alabama. However, we should all hope that the authors find time to highlight the tremendous exploits of the Iowa Hawkeyes wrestling program. The grapplers in Iowa City have claimed more than 20 national championships, including a staggering 15 titles from 1976 to ‘97 under the watch of Olympic great Dan Gable. It’s also worth mentioning that the Black and Gold has seen its fair share of shining moments on the gridiron as well.
The university first entered the world of college football in 1899 and couldn’t have asked for a better start. Back-to-back undefeated campaigns and 23 games without a loss may have felt like beginner’s luck, but a second run of 20 straight victories from ‘20 to ‘23 suggested that the Hawkeyes were built to last. There’d be a slight dip in triumphs over the course of the next 15 years, but Iowa roared back in ‘39. Led by Heisman winner Nile Kinnick, the “Ironmen” rolled to a record of 6-1-1 and finished the season ranked in the country’s top ten.
Any lingering doubt regarding the Hawks was firmly buried in ‘56 when the squad won the Big Ten Conference and downed Oregon State at the Rose Bowl. Two seasons later, the club captured a second league title and slayed a second West Coast foe in Pasadena. In ‘60, Iowa cracked the top five in the polls and once again found themselves in the conversation for the top prize in the land. However, the Hawks stumbled mightily the following year to set off a slide that would keep folks in Iowa City from seeing another winning campaign until 1981.
Hayden Fry assumed the head coaching reins in ‘79 and quickly got to work transforming the Hawks back into contenders. Over the course of the next 20 seasons, Fry guided Iowa to 14 bowl game appearances. Kirk Ferentz took over for Fry in ‘99 and continued the steady streak of postseason excitement. In ‘02, Iowa posted 11 wins and booked their first-ever BCS battle. Ferentz took home national Coach of the Year honors, and the Hawks finished in the top 10. Seven years later, it felt like history was repeating itself when Iowa went 11-2 and Ferentz earned yet another Big Ten Coach of the Year title, but the ‘09 campaign had a special twist. This time around, Iowa won the Orange Bowl for the program’s first BCS win.
On Saturdays at Kinnick Stadium, more than 70,000 diehards pack the coliseum to celebrate their resilient club. The opening bars of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” signal that it’s time for kickoff, while the marching band’s rendition of “In Heaven, There is No Beer” means that the Hawkeyes have claimed victory once again. Few schools in the country can match the awesome sight of an ecstatic sea of Black and Gold, and for good reason. With more than 100 years of thrilling conquests under their belt, the Hawks have proven that they’ll never quit.