When the Iowa football uniforms took wing

Hayden Fry had a vision, and, yes, he meant for the '94 jersey to be wings and not banana peels

October 11, 2019 | 10:14 am
Iowa's Tim Dwight celebrates a touchdown. (The Gazette)
Chapter 1:

The wings are back

IOWA CITY — On a Sunday night in late August of 1994, the Iowa Hawkeyes unveiled new uniforms.

You see the fanfare uniform unveils receive now. Schools make a big deal out of it. Even stolid Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has given in. This summer, Iowa football released what you have to call a “hype” video for the uniform the No. 17 Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) wear Saturday night against No. 10 Penn State (5-0, 2-0).

Hawekeyes A.J. Epenesa, Nate Stanley and Brandon Smith sported the bright gold uniforms with black accents. The video staff even threw in a live hawk. You know, because Hawkeyes.

All three players “held” the hawk, you know, with that thick, leather glove that goes all the way up to the elbow.

“Walked into the locker room and there was just a bird there, and I was like, ‘That’s pretty sweet’,” Stanley said this summer. “There was something mentioned that there was a surprise for us and when I walked in I was like, ‘That’s definitely it, that’s what they were talking about.’”

Iowa head coach Hayden Fry walks with players Richard Willock, left and Vernon Rollins (56) after the Hawkeyes defeated Washington in the 1995 Sun Bowl. (Associated Press)
Chapter 2:

The original reveal

Here’s how Hayden Fry did it in 1994.

The stage for the show was Kinnick Stadium. Show? Yes, show.

Iowa made it a live one-hour television special. KCRG, KGAN and KWWL carried it. All other media was invited.

Team captains Ryan Terry, Harold Jasper, Parker Wildeman and John Hartlieb were the uneasy models, showing up at the end of the TV show with what would be new wave uniforms ... just maybe 10 years too early.

“At the time, it was a huge production,” Hartleib said this week. “We were on a stage. I felt super awkward. We had the traditional — I guess you would call it the Pittsburgh Steelers uniforms. I think we were Oregon before Oregon.”

Yes, the jerseys were the “wings.” Or “banana peels.” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Matters of taste lead only to unending arguments. You get the drift.

 

Consecutive mediocre seasons prompted Fry to try something new with the uniforms, which differed radically from anything else in college football.

At the time. Obviously, since then, Oregon’s ever-changing uniforms and the attention they’ve received have changed the look of college football.

The Hawkeyes’ wings were still black and gold, and the omnipresent Tiger Hawk hadn’t been replaced. But the Steelers look, which Fry instituted when he arrived at Iowa in 1979, was replaced by a look ... Well, let’s see what Fry said.

”They may look a little bit wild,” Fry said, “but today with the way the young people think, they certainly enjoy them.”

Fry was absolutely onto something.

Iowa vs. Northwestern in 1994. (Associated Press)
Chapter 3:

'I thought it was a gutsy move'

You already know that Fry lapped the curve when it came to presentation. He commissioned the design of the Tigerhawk logo. He wore overalls once after beating Minnesota.

Oh, those stripes.

Most prominently featured were four gold, horizontal stripes, resting upon one another from the bottom to the top of the shoulder pads, broken only by the V- shaped neckline. Between the new stripes and the player’s number was a Tigerhawk logo on his left, and Hawkeyes in bold on the right.

“I thought it was a gutsy move by Apex,” Wildeman said this week. “In 1994, that was a pretty flashy uniform, so kind of ahead of the game. I think as we look back at it now, the retro look is probably going to be received pretty well.”

That’s why wings are a topic this week.

The gold uniforms do have stripes on the shoulder pads. They’re black accents on the gold jersey, and they’re much, much more understated. Much, much more.

And, by the way, the 1994 unis were supposed to be wings and not banana peels.

”Those stripes on the top make them look like they’re flying,” Fry said. “What’s really nice is when those linemen get down lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, they look like three rails on a railroad track.”

Marine, quarterback, football coach and, hey, an eye for design.

Wildeman mentioned Apex. The New Jersey-based company, bought by Converse and since dissolved, designed the uniforms. At the time, Apex also had deals with Wisconsin, Nebraska and UCLA, as well as eight NFL teams, including the New England Patriots, who are the last of the Apex designs still out there.

Apex picked up most of the bill because of exposure. Yes, Barry Alvarez, who Fry hired to coach linebackers at Iowa out of Mason City High School, was the coach at Wisconsin. Fry and Alvarez made bank on this Apex deal. Alvarez cashed in $5,000. At the time, Fry had endorsement deals from Coca-Cola, Reebok (shoe contract) and Apex totaling $47,000.

It was 1994.

“We were a little nervous,” said Wildeman, a defensive lineman for Iowa. “Coach Fry always wanted to model the Hawkeyes after the Steelers and since then, (Iowa head coach) Kirk (Ferentz) has brought that back. It’s such an iconic look. To go from that look to a pretty wild look was really something different.

“I would say as captains and seniors, you always want something a little different, a little special for your senior year. I think we all felt super excited about it. There’s not the social media coverage that there is now. They probably would’ve been smashing us on social media.”

Hartlieb, a linebacker for the Hawkeyes, said the look didn’t mean much to him. Fry was their leader and they were all-in.

“If coach Fry would’ve told us to wear pink pajamas, we would’ve worn pink pajamas. It didn’t matter,” he said. “But it was definitely a weird feeling.”

This was a bit of the wild West days with coaches cutting deals for apparel. Fry struck a shoe deal with Pony at one point at Iowa.

 

Here’s a review of the Pony from Hartlieb: “Those Pony shoes we were wearing were 12 pounds apiece,” he said. “As slow as I was, that didn’t help much.”

After Apex, Iowa football struck an apparel deal with Reebok. The wings were grounded after only two seasons. Fry also changed his stance on the deal.

“My only deal with Reebok is tone that sucker down,” Fry said. “I want to get back to the Pittsburgh Steelers uniforms, particularly since they’ve gone back to the Super Bowl. That’s how we built our tradition here.

“But some of these people, they’re trying to sell products and they want something a little more modernistic.”

Fry, now 90, was so far ahead of the curve in so many regards he actually lapped the curve.

“He was in so many different aspects,” Hartlieb said. “That’s why if you talk to anyone who was part of that era there’s so much reverence for him.

“It didn’t matter if it was shoes, jerseys or apparel, but it was game preparation, setting the mindset or tone for the week. Everything about how he approached practice, I don’t think there’s enough people who really understand what he accomplished with the resources he had in Iowa City.

“It was a different place 20 years ago. To get the kind of players and the buy-in, where everyone was headed in the same direction, I think is remarkable.”