Iowa's Background Player

Oct. 5, 2005

The Hawkeyes needed to get something – anything – going. In two drives, No. 17 Iowa hadn’t even posted a first down against ninth-ranked Wisconsin. In fact, quarterback Drew Tate had thrown two interceptions to start the game that would determine the 2004 Big Ten Championship.

It wasn’t looking good.

Wide receiver Ed Hinkel, then a junior, knew what was going on. It was a third-and-2 play out of the shotgun from Iowa’s own 42-yard line. Make the catch and the Hawkeyes are still in it. An incomplete and the game would be in the air with the tide shifting to the Badgers. Another pick and Iowa might as well hand the championship over to the visiting team.

Pressure? Just a little.


Fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes are encouraged to wear black on Saturday, Oct. 22, when the Hawkeyes entertain Michigan in the first-ever ‘Black Out Saturday” event at the UI.

With the hopes of a capacity crowd at Kinnick Stadium riding on his shoulders under the dramatic lights of a rare night game in Iowa City, Hinkel connected with Tate for a 12-yard gain to the Wisconsin 46 before the Badgers’ Brett Bell finally pulled him down.

The catch enabled the Hawkeyes to make the first touchdown of the game and pull out a 30-7 upset for a share of the Big Ten title with Michigan and a trip to the 2005 Capital One Bowl.

“We needed a play to get everybody settled down,” Hinkel recalls. “(Tate) threw one that was pretty high, and I went up and got it. It was one of the better catches I’ve ever made.

“It really helped our team turn the corner because we weren’t doing much of anything on offense.”

The play is Head Coach Kirk Ferentz’s favorite Hinkel memory.

“To me, that was a big play in that game,” he said. “If we hadn’t converted there, I don’t know what would have happened. It would have been a totally different story.”

That play, however, didn’t make the front cover of any sports section. It didn’t even make the box score. But look at the buried detailed statistics of any Iowa game in the last three years and you’ll see Hinkel’s signature.

You’ll see the 58-, 54-, and 49-yard punt returns, which also happen to be three of the longest punt returns in school history. You’ll see the catches that enable his teams to win.

“The first thing I’d say about Ed is that he does all those things that go unnoticed by the average person,” Ferentz said. “That’s the beauty of Ed. When I look at Ed, I see all the little things – the dirty work, if you will, that really allows a team to be successful in football games.”

And that observation fits with the Erie, PA-native’s outlook on the game, which may be very valuable going into Saturday’s 3:35 p.m. CDT contest at Purdue.

“I just go out and do whatever I can do to help us win,” Hinkel says. “That’s the approach I’ve always taken, whether it’s going in to block someone or returning punts or kicks – whatever – I’m going to do whatever I can do to help this team.”

That same philosophy has made Hinkel one of the most successful players in the Iowa program. By his own recollection, he’s lost just 13 football games since the fifth grade, including the nine losses incurred as a Hawkeye, which means the senior has more than 110 victories under his belt.

“The guy’s a winner,” Ferentz said. “He’s a flat-out winner.”

A 2004 permanent team captain and a team captain for all but one of the games so far this season, Hinkel is first to credit his teams for such a winning record.

“It just means that I’ve been on some good teams,” he said, “and I work and I really care. I hate losing. There’s nothing worse than losing. I’m competitive in anything I do: board games, PlayStation, whatever. I hate losing, and I think that’s one of the reasons why people say I’m a winner.”

There more obvious reasons why Hinkel is so well-respected on the Iowa team. There are the acrobatic catches and the contortionistic leaps into end zones, like the jump he took over Illinois’ Sharriff Abdullah during a 20-yard reverse-play touchdown last Saturday, which was the wideout’s first running score of his career.

“The first thing I’d say about Ed is that he does all those things that go unnoticed by the average person. That’s the beauty of Ed. When I look at Ed, I see all the little things – the dirty work, if you will, that really allows a team to be successful in football games.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz on Ed Hinkel

“Some way or somehow he’s going to come through for you and help your team win,” Ferentz said. “But it’s not always, `Oh wow, did you see Ed Hinkel?’ He’s had a few of those, and that’s what everybody thinks about, but I think about the stuff that maybe isn’t quite as apparent.”

Quarterback Drew Tate, a year younger than Hinkel, thinks about his receiver mainly as a team leader.

“Ed is a great leader,” he said. “He’s been around. He’s got a lot of experience and he knows the offense real well. Having a guy in there who knows the system really helps out.

“He’s smart, and he knows what to do. And when stuff breaks down, he knows where to go and what to do.”

It’s hard to look at Hinkel in any other way than as a leader. His 114 catches for 1,257 yards and nine touchdowns in his career puts him alone in 22nd place on the all-time career chart at Iowa. This season, he has 19 catches for 187 yards and one touchdown.

But despite his three letters and impressive statistics, Hinkel has only been honorable mention all-Big Ten and he’s not on any preseason watch list.

“It doesn’t bother me one bit,” Hinkel said. “That’s kind of how the team is, too. I like being in the background and doing my own thing.”

Iowa’s greatly benefited from its quintessential low-key player and will need his subtle, but important, workmanship in three days time at Ross-Ade Stadium.

“His teams win,” Ferentz says. “His teams always win, so it’s good to have guys like that on your team.”

Barry Pump,