It’s always a festive atmosphere for the homecoming football game at the University of Iowa, with thousands of alumni returning to Iowa City to reconnect with friends and classmates.
For this week’s tailgate of the week, Hawkeye Headquarters takes you to a spot where each game is a mini-homecoming for the players who used to wear the black and gold.
“Every week is a different reunion of some sorts,” said Hap Peterson, an Iowa defensive lineman from 1981-85 and a board member of the club.
Before every home game, generations of former Hawkeye players gather here at the Iowa Football Club’s tailgate.
“Hayden Fry said it best,” said Jim Molini, an Iowa defensive lineman from 1976-80 and president of the club. “He said, ‘Once a Hawk, always a Hawk’ and we all bleed black and gold.”
At the center of the gathering is an old school bus void of any bells and whistles.
“It’s kind of like how the Hawks are. We’re kind of down and dirty a little bit and we like to get after it. We don’t need anything prim and proper,” said Scott Helverson, an Iowa wide receiver from 1981-85 and currently an NFL back judge.
But with a unique Iowa connection.
“It was the old former Livestrong bus,” Peterson said. “It was signed by all the survivors that would ride with Lance Armstrong… little bit of nostalgia because we’re big RAGBRAI fans.”
The pregame spot attracts hundreds each week. Peterson says a central location was needed when former Hawks return to Iowa City.
“There would be people that would be in town, ex-players, former teammates, ‘Hey, I didn’t know you were in town.’ Well, you had nowhere to go, so we decided to start this tailgate,” Peterson said.
Connecting generations of Hawkeye football in the process.
“The more you talk to these individuals from decades ago, the more you see how much you have in common,” Peterson said.
“And we all have similar stories and gone through some of the same experiences, so we’ve got a common bond there…a band of brothers I guess you could call it,” Molini said.
A fraternity of Hawkeyes who look forward to the fellowship the Iowa Football Club provides each week.
“There would be a void, because it’s something that we look forward to every year, coming back and seeing the guys,” Helverson said. “Sometimes you see the same guys every year and other times you see guys you haven’t seen for 10 or 15 years.”
The tailgate is just part of the way the Iowa Football Club connects with newer alumni.
The organization is also heavily involved with providing grants that support various children’s charities across the state of Iowa — including the Quad Cities — as well as networking and the job search when the current Hawkeye players graduate from the university. We’ll have more on those efforts in an upcoming story.
For more Hawkeye coverage, follow @AdamJRossow and @HawkeyeHQ on Twitter and Facebook — and Hawkeye Headquarters on OurQuadCities.com all season. We’re the only Quad-Cities station to follow Iowa at home and on the road, so travel with us to Penn State, Purdue and Illinois to finish off the season.