The Hokey Pokey: One of Hayden Fry's many indelible stamps of Hawkeye lore
It has always been a source of amusement, and perhaps mystery.
Why, after big victories, would a collection of behemoths otherwise known as a major-college football team engage in a dance normally saved for small children?
There’s nothing macho about doing the Hokey Pokey. It isn’t the kind of thing a college-aged male generally would do in public, at least not those who fear looking foolish.
But like the Tiger Hawk, the Swarm, and the infamous pink visitors’ locker room at Kinnick Stadium, the Hokey Pokey is an established part of Iowa Hawkeyes football lore. All of those things began with perhaps the program’s No. 1 icon, someone who never was afraid to turn convention on its ear.
That would be Hayden Fry, entrepreneur, raconteur, and Hall of Fame coach.
Fry will be the conductor as (he hopes) over 4,431 people come together at the Iowa River Landing in Coralville Friday at 6 p.m. to form the world’s largest-ever Hokey Pokey. The current record was set in Toronto seven years ago.
That will be part of FRY Fest, which was extremely popular in its debut last year. You know why. It featured Fry.
But for all of Fry’s innovations in 20 years as Iowa’s coach, introducing the Hokey Pokey to the Hawkeyes’ locker room after big wins wasn’t among them.
“My first couple of years there,” Fry said last week from his home in Mesquite, Nev., “wins were few and far between. I tried to pick up on certain positive things after games. All I could do was compliment them.
“Then we started winning big games. I’m not for sure, but I think it was Mel Cole (a linebacker on Fry’s first three Iowa teams, from 1989-1991) who said ‘Let’s do the Hokey Pokey’ after we had a big win.
“From then on, we did it after every big game we won, particularly ones where we weren’t favored.”
While it wasn’t Fry’s idea, he ran with it. One, it was like a lot of the things he came up with in giving his program an identity. Which means it was original, at least for college football. Two, it was fun.
“We worked our players hard,” he said, “so I’d always try to loosen them up before games in the locker room. So much of the game is mental.”
Eric Thigpen was a defensive back on Fry’s final four Iowa squads, from 1995-1998. The Hokey Pokey is a subject dear to his heart.
“Coach Fry would say “At the end of this game we will be doing the Hokey Pokey!’ For my teammates and I, doing the Hokey Pokey was the icing on the cake after a big win. It made you feel like a kid at a birthday party eating cake and ice cream.
“Those locker room moments, doing the Hokey Pokey with your teammates, coaches, trainers and equipment staff all being kids again, were priceless and will never be forgotten.”
Iowa’s 26-23 double-overtime win at Penn State was the Hawkeyes’ first true “big win” under Kirk Ferentz. It snapped Iowa’s 12-game road losing streak, and was a sign of better days to come. After that game, Ferentz’s team did the Hokey Pokey in its dressing room.
But the tradition has pretty much faded, though Ferentz had his freshmen players do a rendition of the Hokey Pokey after last Friday's practice to be shown at FRY Fest.
Ferentz, who has never used the term “exotics” to describe anything in his Iowa playbook a la Fry, has his guys sing the Iowa fight song hard and fast after notable triumphs.
Here we are, though, entering the 12th football season since Fry retired, and you don’t have to explain the meaning of the Hokey Pokey to many Hawkeye fans.
It was a quirky, funny thing that put a lot of smiles on a lot of players’ faces over the years.“Isn’t that what life’s all about?” Fry asked, knowing the answer.