IOWA CITY — Eight minutes to kickoff before Iowa’s homecoming game, Iowa seniors Mike Daniels, Marvin McNutt and Jordan Bernstine lead the Hawkeyes from their locker room to the field.
Within steps of their walk down a long, twisted tunnel, the first guitar chord of “Back in Black” — E — blasts from the Kinnick Stadium speakers.
Immediately the crowd responds and students slap wall coverings that line the field. The next chords of the timeless AC/DC song — D-D-D, A-A-A — fill the stadium to thunderous roars.
Twenty-five seconds into the opening riff by famed guitarist Angus Young, the players approach the field. The song blares in the background muffled by the continual second-by-second barrage of slaps from students.
“It gets us excited,” Iowa sophomore linebacker James Morris said. “It’s a Hawkeye tradition. We love it.”
The “Back in Black” riff lives in heavy-metal lore as a 1980 tribute to late AC/DC vocalist Bon Scott. To many Iowa fans, the song has became a boisterous first impression to the gameday experience.
“It almost gives you goose bumps,” said Mike Riggan, owner of Muscatine-based TanTara Transportation. Riggan use a black-and-gold semi to transport Iowa’s equipment to road games.
“Back in Black” also is a relatively new tradition at Iowa. In 2005, Kinnick Stadium received new video boards and locker rooms as part of an $89 million renovation. Iowa’s multimedia and football staffs combined with local freelance producer Jim Berg to discuss how they could transform a rudimentary part of the game into a powerful pregame entrance. They wanted to connect fans with a visual tunnel walk from the locker room to the field.
“We walked it off a couple of times with a small group of people and we got a camera up there,” said Berg, who serves as gameday director for Hawk Vision. “Then there was a conversation about what music to use.”
This is where the detail gets fuzzy. The song that seems so obvious today was among many bantered by several people. Some credit Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle for the suggestion. Others tout swim coach Marc Long. Nobody seems to take ownership, and nobody seems to care.
“I honestly don’t have a real clear, like if somebody said “Back in Black” — I don’t remember that moment,” said Berg, who owns Iowa City-based Focus Productions. “But somebody suggested and everybody knows that song so we went and found a copy, we played it and I thought, ‘That would be really cool.’ Then we tried it, and it worked and people loved it.”
“It makes sense when you see them come out in black that song is loud and it’s a great stadium song,” said Mike Moriarity, Iowa’s director of video services. “It just seemed to be one of those ‘of course’ songs.”
But building “Back in Black” into gameday takes perfectly timed choreography. Ten minutes before kickoff, Iowa’s mascot Herky takes the field as videographer Dave Sibert waits outside Iowa’s locker room. Berg sits next to Nick Carlton in a video control room, closely watching Sibert’s camera. When the locker room door opens, usually two minutes after Herky’s entrance, Sibert’s camera airs the scene live. Carlton then pushes the music button. Only the pregame music comes from the control room; the rest is played from the press box.
Berg said he works in concert with the football program to orchestrate the “Back in Black” presentation. He recalled one instance in 2010 when the team left the locker room at least a minute earlier than planned, which shredded the pregame symmetry.
“They’re very cognizant of this part of the show and its importance, the emotion and anticipation of it,” Berg said. “They want to get it right, too. They do a really good job of trying to stay on time so we can get it right.”
Morris said “Back in Black” adds to the game’s buildup for himself and other players.
“It sort of maybe sets the tone hopefully for what the game’s going to be like,” he said. “I guess we could correlate the sound to the style of play, maybe that’s how we’d want to play.”
“Back in Black” isn’t the only song incorporated into Iowa’s pregame environment. Only seconds after “Back in Black” trails off, the video crew ramps up the second heavy-metal portion with a 35-second “Enter Sandman” snippet.
The second sequence has roots at Arrowhead Stadium, where Iowa faced Kansas State to open the 2000 season. Kansas State featured a video opening of a train blowing past an opponent. Iowa decided to incorporate a similar opening sequence with Riggan’s black semi-truck, which hauls Iowa’s equipment to each game.
Before the 2002 season, Moriarity and fellow Iowa videographer Jerry Palmer filmed Riggan’s truck driving across Highway 22 between Muscatine and Nichols. The montage ended with Riggan’s truck smashing the opposing mascot and feeds into the “Iowa Fight Song” when the players swarm the Iowa sideline. It’s now an animated sequence.
“I was a little leery at first when they did that because a big truck like that has a bad reputation anyway and here we are running over people,” Riggan said. “It seems to have gone over big. When that truck comes along and hits the mascot, the crowd just goes nuts at the same time the players take the field.”
When the new video board was introduced in 2005, music was incorporated. Palmer said former Iowa center Brian Ferentz — son of Coach Kirk Ferentz — recommended Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” The pulsating, heavy-metal anthem is a classic at numerous college football stadiums, notably Virginia Tech, and the same holds true at Kinnick Stadium.“If you ever go up in the weight room, that’s mostly the kind of music that you’ll hear coming out of there,” Moriarity said. “I think the thinking was, have the music sort of relate to the kind of stuff they play, the football players are used to hearing. I don’t think those are things, we like the consistency. We’re not going to change that stuff.”