Dec. 4, 2005
The press box at Kinnick Stadium came tumbling down Saturday, and if you live in the Iowa City area you no doubt heard the implosion. In Coralville, it sounded like a Boeing 707 landing on Interstate 80.
Actually, the press box didn’t tumble — it just fell over backwards, much like a football fan does after too many hours of tailgating. Amazing how some well-placed explosives can neatly bring down a west campus landmark.
The press box was built in time for Iowa’s opening game of the 1958 season, and the construction did not come without controversy. Faculty ruled the Big Ten Conference with an iron fist in those days, and the UI faculty thought that spending $495,000 on a football press box was a foolish waste of dollars.
Why spend that kind of money on something that would only be used a half dozen times a year when the faculty was underpaid? Never mind that the press box was being funded by an athletic department budget surplus (those were the good old days). It just didn’t seem right.
“The underpaid faculty will starve to death in the shade of the press box,” groaned an outraged professor in a letter to the Daily Iowan.
Paul Brechler ran a highly successful – both financially and artistically — athletic department in those years, and he was the target of faculty derision. Many professors took to calling the new press box “The Brechler Hilton.”
Despite the protests, the press box was built because it was badly needed. Coach Forest Evashevski had Iowa in the middle of a five-year run that included three Big Ten championships. His Hawkeyes were among the elite teams in college football.
The old press boxes (there were two, one on each side of the stadium) were one-story wooden structures that were woefully inadequate to accommodate the attention Evy’s teams were getting from the regional and national news media.
And the timing of new press box could not have been better. In 1958 the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten title, routed California in the Rose Bowl and were named national champions by the Football Writers of America.
The press box was built to do what its name implies – accommodate the news media. There were three levels – the first for newspapers and game-management personnel, the second and third for radio and television. There was enormous radio coverage in those days – Iowa had 12 originating stations – and the press box was generally full.
Visit Hawkeye All-Access to watch a free video that explains the demolition of the old press box at Kinnick Stadium.
When I became Iowa’s sports information director in 1968, Evashevski was by then the athletic director, and he bristled when he spotted any “hangers-on” in the press box. He verbally chastised anyone guilty of bringing an outsider into the box, and a reprimand from Evy was not a pleasant experience.
But press box occupants began to change over the years. As radio rights fees were increased, and with many opponents having only one origination, space became available and the third level was turned over to contributors. About 12 years ago two additional levels were built for boosters.
The new structure scheduled to open next season will be four-stories high, stretch from goal line to goal line, and be more than twice as deep as the old press box. The media and game-management personnel will occupy about one-eighth of it, contributors the rest.
For the record, the old press box stood for 48 seasons and 275 games, including 158 Iowa victories. There were 111 losses and six ties. When the press box opened in 1958, Iowa beat TCU 17-0. In the final game this season, Iowa beat Minnesota 52-28.
Seven head coaches stood on the Iowa sideline in the afternoon shadow of the press box. Three of them – Evashevski, Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz – are among the most successful in Hawkeye history. The news media reported Big Ten championships from the press box in 1958, 1960, 1981, 1985, 1990, 2002 and 2004.
For 28 years the press box was where I went to work when Iowa’s football team played at home. It was my office building. My job was to host and service the news media in a professional manner, taking care of their needs while never letting on that I wanted the Hawkeyes to win.
I recall watching a lot of great games. Some that come to mind are victories over Nebraska, UCLA, and Michigan State in 1981; Michigan State, Michigan and Illinois in 1985; Purdue in 2002; and back-to-back routs of Michigan State and Ohio State in 2004.
I salute the outstanding members of the news media who covered the Hawkeyes on a regular basis from the old press box. Reporters like Al Grady, Gene Claussen, Bob Brooks, Gus Schrader, Tait Cummins, Ron Gonder, Frosty Mitchell, John O’Donnell, Jerry Jurgens, Russ Smith, Jim Zabel, Maury White, Bert McGrane, Buck Turnbull, Ron Maly, Ike Skelley and Chuck Shoffner gave fans a colorful and accurate account of Hawkeye football. Full disclosure requires me to say that most of them are – or were when they were alive – good friends of mine.
The old press box is now part of Hawkeye history. A new structure will cast a long shadow over the playing field next season. An attractive plaza will be finished on the stadium’s south side, featuring a bronze statue of Nile Kinnick.
The entire stadium renovation will cost $87 million and has not created a controversy. Progress has been made in many ways.