Ahhh, you smell that? It’s the fresh, clean, crisp fall air of a college town in the heart of America. There’s nothing quite like waking up on a fall Saturday in Iowa City and making the march to Kinnick Stadium to soak up a Big Ten showdown with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Whether you come to town every game, every year or you’re looking to make your first trip, there’s always something new to learn about the town, the school and the game day experience. So we’re running down the list of 25 (as in the 25 points per game the Hawkeyes need to score to get Brian Ferentz his contract renewed) things you should know about making a game day visit to Iowa City.
25. Iowa Stadium
What’s that? You wanted to go to Kinnick? What about Iowa Stadium? The Hawkeyes’ current stadium opened in fall of 1929 and was named Iowa Stadium - a name which stuck for 43 years until it was renamed in 1972.
The stadium took only seven months to build with a total cost of less than $500k. Groundbreaking and construction began on March 6, 1929. Builders worked around the clock using lights by night with horses and mules used as the primary equipment movers. The first game in the stadium was played on October 5, 1929, when Iowa defeated Monmouth College 46–0.
Why not Kinnick to begin with? Easy - nobody knew who Nile Kinnick was in 1929.
24. Nile Kinnick
Speaking of the stadium’s namesake, Nile Kinnick will forever be remembered as the greatest Hawkeye of all-time. The school’s only Heisman Award winner, Kinnick came to Iowa City eight years after Iowa Stadium opened in 1937, but really left his mark in 1939.
Iowa finished that season at #9 in the AP Poll at 6–1–1. Kinnick threw only 31 total passes for 638 yards (21 yards per attempt) and 11 TDs while rushing for 374 yards and 5 more scores. He was involved in 107 of the 130 points that Iowa scored on the season and played 402 of a possible 420 minutes. Kinnick set 14 school records that season, six of which still stand. He was ultimately named 1st Team All-America, Big Ten MVP, Maxwell Award winner, Walter Camp Award winner and Heisman Award winner.
23. Tragic Ending
Kinnick left Iowa as a living legend. But his legend only grew with his post-Iowa life. During his Heisman acceptance speech, which still plays before every kickoff, Kinnick acknowledged the growing war in Europe in 1939.
Drafted by the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939, Kinnick turned down an opportunity to play professional football and enrolled in law school in 1940 and joined the Iowa coaching staff. But he dropped out after Pearl Harbor was attacked and enlisted in the Navy.
On June 2, 1943, Kinnick was on a routine training flight from the USS Lexington off the coast of Venezuela when his aircraft developed an oil leak. He followed protocol and executed an emergency water landing, but died in the process. He was 24 years old.
23. The Statue
So what does all this mean for your trip to Iowa City? It means you need to make some time before the game to make your way to the south entrance of the stadium. Ideally, you’d be able to carve out some time in your tailgating to get over there around 2 hours before kickoff when the players enter the stadium through the south gates. On their way in, they will walk past the Nile Kinnick Statue that stands just outside the stadium.
Tradition dictates that each player and coach should touch the base of the statue for good luck as they enter. Most fans choose to do the same. This is Iowa and the Hawkeyes could always use a bit more luck.
22. Athletics Hall of Fame
If you were interested in Nile Kinnick’s story or the history of the stadium, chances are there might be something for you at the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame. Located just a little over a mile west of Kinnick Stadium along Melrose Avenue (across Mormon Trek Blvd from Finkbine Golf Course), the Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame is a great place to spend an hour or half a day depending on your schedule and level of interest. Admission is free and the walk to Kinnick is doable, though not ideal. Here’s what the UI has to say about the museum:
The University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame is the ultimate fantasy for a Hawkeye fan. The UI Athletics Hall of Fame has three floors of Hawkeye memories; from the National Championship trophies to the Orange Bowl to Nile Kinnick’s Heisman trophy. The UI Athletics Hall of Fame is a must see destination for friends and fans of the intercollegiate athletic programs at the University of Iowa.
I’ve been a number of times and you genuinely can learn something new each time. It’s a bit of a shame the HoF isn’t closer to Kinnick and Carver. If you have the time, it’s worth the trip.
21. The Pentacrest & Old Capitol
Speaking of history, did you know Iowa City was once the capitol of Iowa? If you’re an Iowan or a Hawkeye fan, probably so. Either way, the Old Capitol remains the heart of Iowa City and the dead center of the University’s campus. It’s surrounded by four nearly identical buildings which together form the Pentacrest.
The east end is adjacent to downtown Iowa City, making it a perfect spot to grab a quick picture before you head across the river for the game.
If you get into town early, you can scope out the Museum of Natural History at Macbride Hall. It’s not what you came for, but if you’ve got kiddos you can kill an hour checking out the sloth and other various artifacts (if you’re in Coralville killing time with the kiddos, the Iowa Children’s Museum at the Coral Ridge Mall is also a great option). The capitol building itself is also open to the public most weekdays.
Head down the hill to the west of the Pentacrest and you’re facing the Iowa Memorial Union, Main Campus Library and about a three-quarters of a mile walk to Kinnick.
20. Pedestrian Mall
Just as the Pentacrest is the heart of the UI campus, the Ped Mall is the heart of downtown Iowa City. Just southeast of the Pentacrest and bounded by Clinton Street to the west, Washington Street to the north, Linn Street to the east and Burlington Street (OK, the Graduate Hotel) to the south, the Ped Mall is where all the non-football action is.
This is the main hub for bars and restaurants, and on gameday it will be overflowing with black and gold-clad fans. There are a number of places to grab your last-minute Hawkeye gear or gameday supplies.
If you’re looking for something to do, somewhere to eat or drink, or just some good people watching, this is the place to be any day of the week in Iowa City.
On the topic of places to eat, we won’t play favorites or take the time to call out all the places worth checking out, but Hamburg Inn gets a special call out for being a special place. There are dozens of great places to try and we recommend trying something new every time you’re in town.
But, if you’re looking for iconic Iowa City, Hamburg Inn is it. The food is nothing special - your classic diner with good breakfast, good burgers and great pie shakes. That’s not why you’re here. You come to Hamburg for the ambience, which includes wall-to-wall photos of every major (and minor) politician and celebrity to come through Iowa City for generations. And they all come when they are in town. You never know, if you’re in town in an election year, you may find yourself sitting next to a presidential candidate. If not, you can still cast your ballot in the bean poll.
Other tremendous breakfast options include Bluebird Diner, which sits less than a block away from Hamburg in Iowa City’s Northside district. Closer to downtown, Pullman Bar and Grill is a tremendous breakfast spot. If you’re looking for something even more unique, try the Dandy Lion.
Since we’re talking food, let’s go ahead and knock out lunch and dinner next. Your choices here are going to be dictated by game time and obviously your taste buds. If you’re looking at an 11am kick, obviously we’re skipping lunch anywhere but the stadium. Maybe you grab some of that Hamburg breakfast and some tailgate food, but your lunch is likely going to be some combination of pizza, hot dog and pretzel served inside Kinnick.
If you’re looking at a 2:30 or evening kick, you have some more options. For that afternoon kick, a brunch or early lunch. The aforementioned Pullman is a great option. If you’re looking for a burger, Short’s Burgers and Shine is another great choice downtown. Closer to the stadium, Stella’s has the same menu as Short’s and is right next to Kinnick (which comes with obvious pros and cons).
However, while Iowa City is a tremendous college town with loads of local options for food and drink, on game day it’s likely a mistake to spend too much time away from the action. Your best move is truly to make your way toward the stadium and grab a bite from one of the street vendors and/or your tailgate spot.
The flip side of the coin when it comes to earlier and later games is obviously dinner. Those early kicks give you lots of time in the evening and opens your options for dinner. For a night kick, stick to the advice above re: food around and in the stadium.
If you do have an evening for food, here are some thoughts.
- Pizza - Iowa City is a college town and there is pizza of every style and at every price point imaginable. Pagliai’s is an Iowa City staple, much like Hamburg (and also in the Northside District), and offers thin crust pies in the same setting they’ve had for nearly 70 years. On the other end of the spectrum is Wig and Pen just across the border into Coralville, which offers not-quite-Chicago-style deep dish pies of their famous (at least here) flying tomato style. Downtown, the Airliner is another staple offering your traditional crust and a wide variety of toppings. If you can’t find anything wild enough for you there, try Mesa’s pizza by the slice a few blocks away.
- A Bit Nicer - While the college kids guarantee a variety of pizza options, the university employees provide a variety of nicer, local options. Basta is a great option for Italian. Right next door is St. Burch with a variety of American options. A block or two away is 126 with excellent French food. And if you’re looking for a relaxing place to let the kids run and enjoy an adult beverage, Big Grove Brewery is ~a mile south of downtown.
16. The River
Something to note on the campus itself is everything is divided by the Iowa River. Kinnick Stadium and the entire athletics complex, as well as several dorms, are located on the west side of the river. On game day, you’ll be here unless or until you choose to visit downtown Iowa City for bars, restaurants or anything else. All of that is on the east side of the river.
The river itself is long and winding. If you take a gander on the north end of town, you may well catch the rowing team holding practice in the river. As you approach downtown, however, there should be nobody in the water as the Stanley Hydraulics Lab sits just off of Burlington Street with a several foot drop in the river which makes for good fishing south of the lab but certain death for anyone in the water approaching the lab from the north.
17. The Bridge
Whether you start your game day on the east or west side, you’re likely going to be crossing the river at some point. The Burlington Street bridge is the most likely spot for that and if you’re going by car, that’s pretty uneventful.
However, walking across Riverside Drive on the pedestrian bridge just west of the river is an event. If you’re approaching from the east pre-game, you’re likely to catch a fair number of co-eds who have embraced all Iowa City has to offer that morning. If you’re coming from the west post-game, same story plus several thousand out of towners who did the same.
Either way, that pedestrian bridge is likely to feel for a few seconds like it’s about to collapse. It is not. But when you get a few thousand people moving in the same direction, the bridge begins to sway as it was designed to do. Fun times.
16. Melrose Avenue
So it’s game day and every college in America has some place where all the action is. A lot of places, it’s a handful of parking lots. In Iowa City, it’s Melrose Avenue. The east-west street that runs adjacent to the stadium is home to 100,000 Hawkeye fans on most gamedays. You’ll find groups tucked into every driveway and cul de sac along the way and vendors lining the entire street from Grand Ave to Golfview. This is where you want to be on game day. It’s also where you’ll find all those food options if you skipped grabbing a bite on the east side before arriving.
Iowa City, like most college towns, has a parking problem. On a normal day with students in town, there is very limited parking. On game day, those options expand to accommodate tailgaters, but continue to come at a premium.
The best locations, close to the stadium, are reserved for contributors to the I-Club. But there are eight publicly available lots that come at a cost, as well as three lots that are further out and offer free parking plus a complimentary shuttle to the stadium.
Here’s a look at those options.
14. Digital World
Ticketing is now entirely digital. Yours truly sure liked the physical tickets and the ability to keep the ones from key games (say, Ohio State 2017 or the first game my son attended with me), but now you’ll need to snag a screen shot of your phone or something if you want to turn that into a keepsake. You’ll also want to make sure you’ve got your ticket downloaded and added to your mobile wallet before you’re anywhere near the stadium given the spotty cell service when 100,000 people end up within a few blocks of each other.
13. Cash Isn’t King
Speaking of going away from the paper, Kinnick is officially done with paper money this year as well. If you’re typically the type of person that carries cash (I’ve been told cash is king), feel free to leave it at home in 2021. All concessions and parking will be cashless going forward. It’s also probably safe to assume that means lines are going to move a little slower than in years past given each transaction now has to process on a card reader.
12. We Drink it Here
We’ll get there in a bit, but any loyal Iowan knows that in heaven there is no beer. That’s why we drink it here. And as of a few years ago, here officially included Kinnick Stadium. So stop stuffing your hidden drinks into your pockets and enjoy a beverage inside the stadium.
Kinnick offers an assortment of Anheuser-Busch products, as well as several local craft brew options. If you really want to support the Hawkeyes, might we suggest a Swarm Golden Ale from Exile Brewing in Des Moines? Proceeds from Swam Golden Ale sales go to the Swarm Collective, which distributes monthly stipends to Iowa football and men’s and women’s basketball players in exchange for their participation in a minimum number of hours of community service during the month.
Here’s a look at the University of Iowa’s official policy on tailgating:
Alcohol Policy: On Iowa football game days only, beer and wine are allowed in UI parking areas. State law prohibits hard liquor consumption or possession of an open bottle of liquor in UI parking lots and ramps. Possession of an open container (including beer, wine, and hard liquor) while walking/driving to University property on the public sidewalks and roads are subject to citation, and the beverage will be confiscated.
Bands / Amplified Sound: Live musical bands and other live performances are not allowed at tailgating sites or on campus without prior approval from Iowa Athletics. Amplified music must be confined to your tailgate area and speakers must be directed into your tailgate party. This policy is intended to protect the enjoyment of other fans. Musical tastes and tolerable noise levels vary greatly from tailgate party to tailgate party.
Grills / Wood Fires: Liquid Propane (LP) and charcoal grills and LP heaters are permitted in parking lots when temperature warrants, but are prohibited in parking ramps. Please do not place used charcoal, embers, or ash in trash cans, under trees, or leave it in the parking areas. LP grills or heaters are limited to one 20# LP cylinder per device; no spare or additional cylinders will be allowed. Open wood fires or wood fires enclosed in a portable fire pit are not permitted.
So yes, alcohol is allowed in the UI parking areas near Kinnick, but the UI’s official stance on that alcohol on public property (ex-the UI property) is that it is prohibited.
While that may be true, the fact remains there will be in excess of 100,000 fans wandering the streets and not nearly enough law enforcement to truly enforce that stance. In my experience you’ll be perfectly fine if you crack one open on your way to the tailgate provided you’re on or near Melrose Ave and are being reasonably responsible about it. If you’re under the legal drinking age, all bets are off. This is a prime time for the city to make some money on citations. [Editor’s note: We do not condone breaking laws. Drink responsibly.]
If you don’t have a place picked out ahead of time, make your way to Melrose Avenue and just soak it up. Yes, there are plenty of parking lots full of tailgaters, just like most other major universities not named Northwestern. Yes, there are tons and tons of houses with yards full of open tailgates and Hawkeye fans imbibing. What makes Iowa unique is the mixture of those things with the mayhem of the surrounding streets with their street vendors and people getting ready for Hawkeye football. If you get that far, you’re sure to have a good time. Just wear black and gold.
10. Stadium Policies
As with tailgating, there are some notable policies to be aware of in the stadium itself. For starters, once you’re in the stadium, you cannot leave and re-enter. Those tickets on your phone can only be scanned once, so be aware if you are sending/receiving tickets from friends or family, or buying from a third party.
It’s also worth a reminder that bags are prohibited in the stadium. You can bring in one 12”x12” clear tote, a clear 1 gallon bag or a 6.5”x4.5” clutch. If you have a larger bag or purse, you’ll be refused entry or forced to leave the bag at the gate (not in a secured storage area - you’ll be losing your personal items).
9. Carver-Hawkeye Open Practice
This one isn’t a guarantee for every home game, so be sure to check social media or your favorite Hawkeye-related message board, but there’s a long-standing tradition of open practices and informal pick up games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena a few hours before Iowa football games. Things have been on and off since the pandemic, but if it’s on when you’re in town this can be a great way to get some hoops (or wrestling!) with your football game day.
The basketball team has, for years, held regular shirts/skins games without coaches present, but with the doors to the arena open to the public. You’ll see a mix of current players as well as prospects mixing it up on the hardwood. Often times official and unofficial visitors will be going up and down with the current Hawkeyes, giving fans an opportunity to play scout.
But it isn’t just the hoops team taking advantage of Carver-Hawkeye on football game days. The Hawkeye Wrestling Club also hosts open practices/workouts some Saturday mornings. It’s a great way to get an inside look at some of the Hawkeye greats practicing their craft. Just be sure to bring a towel and don’t get too close to the mat.
8. The Band/The Boom
If you’re looking for something a little more buttoned-up before kickoff, head to the UI Recreation Building just northwest of the stadium. Beginning 75 minutes prior to kickoff, the Hawkeye Marching Band plays for roughly 30 minutes. The pep rally includes the cheerleaders and Herky to get you ready for the game. Doors open 2 hours ahead of kickoff.
From there, the band marches across the street (and parking lot) to Kinnick where Iowa fans can “get ready for the boom.” The signature line leads the band onto the field as they prepare to welcome the team.
7. The Combine
As you’re making your way into the stadium or if you happen to be tailgating close to the stadium, it’s worth making a stop by the combine for some food, drink and a photo op. For the last five years, some Hawkeye fans have been leaning into the stereotype of Iowa farmers with the use of a Hawkeye-themed combine harvester parked right next to the stadium. While it’s both huge and quite the spectacle, the tailgate itself is incredibly well done and worth the pit stop if you have time.
6. The Swarm Collective Tailgate
Speaking of tailgates, a new one popped up in 2022 when the Iowa Swarm Collective launched and brought with it a tailgate hosted at the Courtyard across the street from Kinnick. The tailgate is hosted on the rooftop with an indoor/outdoor space complete with food, drink (again, grab yourself a Swarm Golden Ale and support the Hawks), a dj and visit from current Hawkeye athletes.
The outdoor space has panoramic views of University Heights, including a view of Kinnick. It’s a tremendous place to spend some time on a nice fall day. If weather isn’t cooperating, the indoor space is a good spot to warm up or dry off.
No matter the weather, the Swarm’s tailgate is a great place to meet some great people who are doing all they can to support the Hawkeyes.
5. Back in Black & The Swarm
If you’re not the type to take in warm ups and sit patiently for a half hour before game time, but still want as much of the Hawkeye experience as you can get, I recommend getting there at least 10 minutes ahead of scheduled kick off time. Due to the potential for lines, preferably closer to 15 minutes early.
Around the 8-9 minute mark as the clock counts down to kickoff, the PA system music will cut. The video boards will turn to the tunnel and the sweet sounds of AC/DC’s Back in Black begin to fill the air in the stadium. As the team approaches the end of the tunnel to form the swarm in the southwest corner of the stadium, the crowd attempts to clap along to the beat (with notoriously poor rhythm). The crowd gets louder and louder as Back in Black fades to Metallica’s Enter Sandman. The video board transitions to video of the Iowa Football equipment truck making the journey to Kinnick. As it approached, the opponents logo stands in the way (cheesy, I know), and as it plows through the logo, the swarm takes the field, led by the classic I-O-W-A flags and the music fades out as the band blasts the fight song.
4. Kinnick’s Speech
Shortly after the team takes the field, and prior to the singing of the National Anthem, fans are asked to turn their attention to the south endzone where they can see footage from Nile Kinnick’s acceptance speech for the Heisman Award in 1939. The audio and video are only a snippet of the full speech, but given Kinnick’s sacrifice in World War II, his place as the school’s only Heisman winner and the stadium’s namesake, it’s a great tribute to Hawkeye history.
From here, it’s game time. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the best (hopefully) the Hawkeyes have to offer.
3. The Wave
This is it, college football’s greatest new tradition. In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a quick rundown of what to expect.
Between the first and second quarter, the PA announcer will ask the fans to direct their attention to the video board for a message from the UI Children’s Hospital. An incredibly touching video will play and almost nobody will actually pay attention. Not because they don’t care, but because they’ll be busy already turning to the tower standing across Hawkins Drive and waving like crazy.
Look at nearly any window in the tower and you’ll see kids, families and friends waving right back, most with signs ranging from “Thank You” to “Go Hawks!” and everything in between. But it’s not just the fans waving to the kids, it’s the players, the officials, everyone. It truly is incredible and it’s difficult to describe until you see it live.
Don’t worry about the dust in your eye, everyone else has it too.
And while you have the feels, it’s always a good time to consider doing more than just waving. You can support the children and families in the Stead Family Children’s Hospital with a gift of any size. Every donation truly makes a difference.
Remember those I-O-W-A flags I told you about? Hopefully they get some work in the game as well. Following each Hawkeye score, cheerleaders in each corner of the stadium lead a chant by raising their flags in succession: I-O-W-A. The fans split the stadium into quarters and follow their closest flag.
Students (the “I”) tend to be loudest, for obvious reasons. They also tend to not really need the flags to keep things rolling. Kids these days.
1. The Victory Polka
If all goes according to plan, the game ends with the band playing and the fans singing the Hawkeye Victory Polka, more commonly known as In Heaven There is No Beer. If you didn’t embrace the beer band the night before and hear this one a million times, here’s a look at it in action.
There’s a longer version of the song, but here’s what you need to know to fit in:
In heaven there is no beer. That’s why we drink it here. And when, we’re gone, from here..... Our friends will be drinkin all the beer.
Obviously, there are dozens and dozens more things to know about attending a game in Iowa City. Please share your own thoughts and experiences for others in the comments below!