Gazing at early construction photos of Kinnick Stadium,
it’s hard to envision the swarms of contemporary
Hawkeye football fans milling outside the wrought-iron
gates on game days, not to mention the swarm of University
of Iowa student athletes taking the field inside.
Vacant space surrounds the site. UI Hospitals and
Clinics and its familiar Boyd Tower landmark look
tiny, even distant, in the background.
Such early images are almost unfathomable today.
Missing are the mammoth parking garages, the water
tower, and the numerous hospital pavilions which
now crowd the adjacent stadium.
The home of Hawkeye football is celebrating its
75th anniversary this fall. While Kinnick’s
surroundings have changed significantly over the
decades, some things have remained the same: the
athletic facility’s looming brick and stone
exterior and telltale arches, the east and west stands
that dip 30 feet into a former ravine and rise 45
feet above ground level, and the reverence with which
Hawkeye fans—including many UI employees—hold
artist’s rendition of the planned renovation
of Kinnick Stadium—slated to begin this
year and be completed in August 2006—highlights
a new grand entrance on the south side of the
stadium. Rendering by Neumann Monson Architects.
adjunct professor of management and organizations
in the UI Tippie College of Business
and Iowa graduate, has been going to Kinnick since
her first year as UI undergraduate. She used to enjoy
games from the grassy areas, often called “knotholes,” that
once anchored the corners of the stadium.
“I’d go with a bunch of my friends and
we’d sit on blankets. It was a blast. As far
as I was concerned, going to games at Kinnick was
part of being a student at Iowa,” she says. “I’ve
had season tickets all but two years since 1987.”
Frey now brings her family to Kinnick, and she even
made it to the stadium for a game the day she was
due to have her first child.
Other fans, like Ken McCaffrey, are able to enjoy
the action at Kinnick from behind the scenes. McCaffrey,
also an Iowa graduate, has been recording rushing
statistics from the press box for 35 years. He is
employed by the UI athletic department and also is
a volunteer at the UI Athletics Hall of Fame.
Eiffert, a member of the athletics grounds
crew, mows the stadium’s field in August.
Eiffert and a small staff are responsible for
grooming Kinnick’s turf. They mow the
grass three times a week during the season
and paint the gridiron before each home game.
Photo by Tom Jorgensen.
“If so-and-so just ran for five yards, I write
it down,” explains McCaffrey, who came to campus
as a journalism student in the 1950s and took a job
assisting the late Iowa City Press-Citizen sports
editor Al Grady. “Back when Hayden Fry first
became coach and Iowa was ahead of No. 1 Nebraska
by one point, I was so excited I forgot to put in
the stats. I don’t think I missed another play
The stadium, which has welcomed thousands of fans
like Frey and McCaffrey each year for more than seven
decades, was built in just seven months at a cost
of $497,000. Plans for the new stadium were announced—out
of the blue—by the University athletic director
during the 1928 Homecoming pep rally. Construction
began the following spring, and that fall the Hawkeyes
hosted their first contest in the new location—a
46-0 rout of Monmouth College. The stadium could
accommodate 42,500 spectators, some 20,000 more than
the previous field located between the Iowa River
and the Main Library.
Workers labored around the clock to get the stadium
completed, says Charlie Smith, a volunteer at the
UI Athletics Hall of Fame and a 1940 Iowa graduate.
“We didn’t have steam engines or fancy
equipment to use back then. The crews worked 24 hours
a day at first, using scoops along with horses and
mules that were kept in a nearby pasture. Some mules
died in the process and were buried in the north
Smith was a classmate of Nile Kinnick, the 1939
Heisman Trophy winner whose name now graces the stadium.
The popular UI athlete, honor student, and senior
class president was killed in 1943 when the plane
he piloted went down in the Caribbean Sea during
a Navy training mission.
In 1945, the student council sponsored an unofficial
vote on what to name the stadium—then known
as Iowa Stadium. The ballot offered several options,
including Robert Jones Stadium (the University’s
first letter winner to die in World War II) and Memorial
Stadium (after 14 UI athletes who had perished in
the war). Among the write-in candidates were Franklin
D. Roosevelt Stadium, Ironmen Memorial Stadium, and
Corn Stadium. More than half of the nearly 2,000
votes cast favored Kinnick.
“The name is ideal—I wouldn’t
want to lose it. Kinnick was so outstanding. I was
in several business classes with him, so I knew him
better than some,” Smith says. “And he
came from a tremendous family. His father didn’t
seek publicity at all—he bent over backwards
to be modest—and when he was approached about
naming the stadium for his son, he declined, reasoning
that many wonderful sons had died in the war.”
In 1972, however, the elder Kinnick succumbed to
public pressure and the University renamed Iowa Stadium
to Kinnick Stadium.
For some on campus, Kinnick Stadium means work.
Ted Thorn, director of grounds, has sat in Kinnick’s
seats only a handful of times. Most of his energy
is spent preparing the grass playing field for action.
For the past 25 years, he has supervised facilities
mechanic Larry Putney and a crew of three that maintain
the University’s outdoor sports fields. During
home games, they are in the facility’s tunnels
or on the sidelines, primed to patch any holes in
the sod caused by tackles.
Thorn knows firsthand how special Kinnick is for
“A former student employee of ours had a friend
whose grandfather had died and who wanted to disperse
the ashes on the field. I said ‘no,’ since
the University has a policy against it,” he
says. “We also get a lot of calls from people
who want photo opportunities on the field. And then
there are the occasional romantic interludes—we
find evidence on the field periodically.”
Head football coach Kirk Ferentz, meanwhile, claims
to have the best seat in the house. He remembers
vividly his first day of work at Kinnick Stadium.
“It was the season opener against Nebraska
in 1981,” recalls Ferentz, who at the time
was an assistant coach under former Iowa head coach
Hayden Fry. “The crowd was enthusiastic and
electric, and that energized us as we came out of
the tunnel. Kinnick Stadium has a lot of charm and
character, and the proximity of the fans to the field
is a great advantage for the Hawks. The stadium is
great when it’s empty, but it’s even
better on game days.”
An $87 million facelift slated to begin this year
will rebuild the press box and the stands in the
south end zone, create a grand entrance to the south,
upgrade and expand restrooms, and widen individual
seats. Private donations and the leasing of private
suites and club seating in the new press box will
fund the project.
Ferentz is looking forward to the upgrades.
“New stadiums are very nice, but to me there’s
something special about the history of Kinnick,” he
says. “The renovation will blend the best of
the new and the past—it will be the best of
by Sara Epstein Moninger