By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The aroma of cigar smoke takes 59-year-old Andy Unsicker back in time nearly five decades to game day in Kinnick Stadium.
In the early 1970s, with social security card in hand, a 10-year-old Unsicker would arrive at the stadium at 8 in the morning, sell popcorn until halftime and then watch the rest of the Hawkeye football game.
“To this day, when I smell cigar smoke, I am reminded of Kinnick Stadium,” Unsicker said. “It was great because you could get in free, watch the game and earn a few bucks.”
Unsicker lived in Iowa City back then and his father operated Unsicker Dental Lab. After graduating from West High School, Unsicker attended Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho. He met his wife, Natalie, there and the couple soon returned to her hometown of Richfield, Utah, where Andy worked on the family turkey farm.
The change in time zone didn’t alter his affection to Hawkeye athletics. Unsicker continues to attend home football games, making the 1,200-mile trip either by plane or car (“a 17-hour straight shot”). He missed the 1997 NCAA Wrestling Championships, but has attended the last 21 in a row.
“It has always been a part of me,” Unsicker said. “When I got married and started living in (Utah), people would ask where I was from; they wanted to know where I lived now. The correct answer was supposed to be Richfield, but I would always say I was from Iowa. People thought I was nuts, it didn’t compute with them. But it has always been part of who I have been.”
Unsicker makes dentures for a living and his familiarity with the dental profession paid off in a black and gold kind of way. When he needed crowns for his teeth, Unsicker had one designed with a painted and permanent Tigerhawk and another with a block I.
“People freak out about that when they see it,” Unsicker said. “When people are talking about their fan hood, I can always top them.”
“I have collected quite a bit of stuff, I have a little museum. It is comforting to be surrounded by vintage Iowa memorabilia that brings Duke Slater, Aubrey Devine, Nile Kinnick, Burt Britzmann and others back to life each game day.”Andy Unsicker
An avid collector of Hawkeye memorabilia, Unsicker has a Man Cave to be coveted. His preferred items are from pre-1950s and he has objects from the turn of the century. One of the basement walls is decorated by a 12-foot by 4-foot mural of the I-O-W-A flags at a football game.
“I have collected quite a bit of stuff,” Unsicker said. “I have a little museum. It is comforting to be surrounded by vintage Iowa memorabilia that brings Duke Slater, Aubrey Devine, Nile Kinnick, Burt Britzmann and others back to life each game day.”
Natalie thought her husband went overboard when he purchased a Hawkeye Marching Band uniform. To Unsicker, it is all about memories. He explained to his wife about the time he watched The Music Man in Hancher Auditorium, with composer and lyricist Meredith Wilson in attendance.
“At the end of the show, when they did 76 Trombones, the Hawkeye Marching Band came marching down the aisles of Hancher and up on the stage,” Unsicker said. “It was one of the coolest things. That’s why we collect stuff and hang onto old stuff, because there are memories attached to it.”
He isn’t afraid to poke a rival once in a while, either. Unsicker hopes the statute of limitations has passed on a little “sprucing up” he did to the Minnesota Golden Gophers football semi-trailer in September of 2019 on its way to a game at Fresno State. While the semi made a stop in Utah, Unsicker doctored it with a large black sticker with a gold Tigerhawk and the words Fight For Iowa directly under Minnesota’s Row the Boat logo.
“I saw the truck parked in town (we are on I-70),” Unsicker said. “They were obviously parked for the night and I couldn’t resist doing something with the opportunity. I had vinyl already cut to decorate with and I knew in my black and gold heart I couldn’t live with myself if I passed this up. My sticker needed to make the trip to California on that truck.
“I went back that evening and added this touch of Hawkeye love (See photos in gallery slider). We contacted friends in Fresno and asked them to report back when the truck arrived. I was happy to hear it arrived intact. The poor driver probably figured he had driven across the country with that on there.”
Because of a bizarre fall sports season, Unsicker misses hearing the thump, thump, thump of the guitar riff preceding the pre-Swarm song, Back in Black. He misses the band, the spirit squad and the large I-O-W-A flags.
“But they will be able to play football for those kids in the hospital and that is a good thing,” Unsicker said.
Coming from a Hawkeye fan, truer words were never spoken.