Aug. 31, 2009
Editor’s Note: The following was written by former UI sports information director George Wine, who was member of the UI Athletics Department staff when Hayden Fry arrived in Iowa City some 30-plus years ago. Note, too, that Bill Colbert, the subject of this editorial, will be a participant in Friday’s inaugural FRYfest activities. Bill will be sharing his memories of Hayden and their collaboration on the creation of Iowa’s “Tigerhawk” at FRYfest’s “World’s Largest Hawkeye Tradeshow & Tailgate Party” at the Coralville Marriott Conference Center. Bill will be available between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and again from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — When Hayden Fry came to Iowa in December of 1978, he found the football program in disarray. The Hawkeyes had not had a winning season since 1961 and he was their fourth head coach in the nine years.
A lot of things needed to be changed, including the image. One way to do that was to change the uniforms. At the time, the best team in professional football was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their colors happened to be black and gold, the same as Iowa’s, so Hayden dressed his Hawkeyes like the Steelers.
But Hayden wanted a different, distinctive decal on the helmets. I was Iowa’s sports information director at the time, and he asked me to spread the word that he wanted a new helmet decal.
One person I asked for help was Charles Edwards, whose firm Pepco Litho printed our media guides and worked with a lot of commercial artists. Edwards turned to Bill Colbert, the art director for Three Arts Advertising in Cedar Rapids.
Colbert recalls that he was very busy at the time and about to leave on a business trip. But he was a Hawkeye fan and the challenge intrigued him. On a plane trip home from the Twin Cities he pulled out his pen, and on a paper napkin sketched out a rough design of a helmet decal.
“I wanted to design something that had the head, eye and beak of a hawk,” says Colbert. “I wanted it to have simplicity, yet have a striking effect.” When he got home he polished it up and called it the Tiger Hawk.
Colbert asked me to get him two new Iowa helmets, which were black with a gold stripe. He put his gold Tiger Hawk on the sides of both helmets and on June 11, 1979, I took Colbert and Edwards to the Iowa football office, where Colbert presented his newly decorated helmets to the head coach.
“I wanted to design something that had the head, eye and beak of a hawk. I wanted it to have have simplicity, yet have a striking effect.”
“I like that!” exclaimed Hayden. “A real splash of sunshine!” He expressed his appreciation to Colbert for taking the time to design the helmet decal and told him that he needed some time to think about it.
But Iowa’s new coach didn’t have to think long. Shortly after Colbert and Edwards headed back to Cedar Rapids, Hayden told me to pass the word that the decision had been made. Iowa’s new helmet decal would be the Tiger Hawk.
Iowa’s new uniforms and headgears featuring the Tiger Hawk were well received. The fans approved and the media made note of the distinctive helmet decal. Fry and Colbert formed Hawkeye Marketing Group, which put the Tiger Hawk on caps, T-shirts, cups, playing cards and many other items, promoting Iowa football.
When Colbert moved to Chicago to join the Leo Burnett advertising agency in 1982, the UI licensed the Tiger Hawk and took over the marketing program, opening a Hawk Shop to sell Hawkeye merchandise.
Today the Tiger Hawk is the icon for all Iowa sports. It appears on the fields and courts on which the Hawkeyes play, and on the uniforms they wear. Thirty years after Colbert created it, the Tiger Hawk is one of the most recognizable logos in all of college sports. It’s worth noting that Iowa football teams have won five Big Ten championships and played in 21 bowl games while wearing the Tiger Hawk on their helmets.
Colbert will be honored at events surrounding Iowa’s football opener with UNI Sept. 5. He will have an autograph session at Fryfest on Friday and be recognized at the UNI game the next day. Bill is now retired and living in Aurora, Ill., with his wife, Gayle. They have two grown sons, and he has four children by a previous marriage. He is an avid Hawkeye fan and enjoys watching their games on TV. And when he sees the Tiger Hawk on the football helmets, he’s glad he took time on a plane ride 30 years ago to sketch it on a paper napkin.