IOWA CITY, Ia. – Four decades ago, it was unheard of to think a college football team would consider wearing special uniforms to honor military personnel.
Back then, specifically in 1970, many college students protested the United States’ invasion of Cambodia so aggressively that National Guardsmen were placed on campus violence red-alert.
It happened in Iowa City to the extent that students were given the option to cut short their spring semester and take grades already accumulated, or finish out the semester.
All that’s changed, and tune into Saturday’s 11 a.m. Purdue-Iowa football game at Kinnick Stadium for proof – a game in which the Hawkeyes will wear special uniforms honoring military personnel serving overseas.
“What the Iowa football team is doing on Saturday shows just how far everyone has come since then,” said Iowa National Guard spokesman Col. Greg Hapgood. “We had National Guardsmen who responded to the riots in Iowa City back then, and it wasn’t only happening in Iowa City. It was happening on a lot of campuses.”
Forget, momentarily, that 4-5 Iowa needs two wins during its final three regular-season games just to have a six-win season. Saturday isn’t only about reaching bowl eligibility or about ending a three-game losing streak.
“It’s about honoring and remembering people who keep us safe,” said center James Ferentz, whose grandfather served in the Army. “It’s an opportunity for us to give thanks to the real heroes of this nation, the men and women who have put their lives on the line for us.
“Hopefully the servicemen and women of this country understand how much we appreciate them.”
The jerseys will be black with gold numbers. Helmets will be silver. That’s information supplied by the players. Iowa officials want the uniform to be a surprise.
“My only question on the whole thing was whatever we do, I don’t want to offend anyone in the military,” coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Quite the opposite.
“If you look back historically about what was happening in the 1970s . . .and to realize what the Iowa football team is doing on Saturday . . .it’s remarkable in a lot of ways,” Hapgood said. “We’re absolutely honored that they would think about our men and women soldiers.”
Iowa has honored past teams and eras by wearing throwback replica uniforms. Saturday will be the program’s first special uniform military observation.
“Certainly the mindset has changed,” said Dave Triplett, an Iowa football player in 1970 who now works for the University’s Foundation. “I’m a 20-year old kid back then with the draft lottery coming up. When you saw the protesters and realized what they were talking about – it brought some things to the surface.”
Times were so tense back then that seemingly every college-aged person was on edge.
One night during a stroll toward downtown, Triplett and a friend saw something they’d never before seen in Iowa City.
“It wasn’t uncommon to see police or campus security, but that time, we turned a corner and saw guys in military uniforms holding rifles with loaded bayonets,” Triplett said. “It was serious stuff.”
It was so serious that classes were cancelled.
“What that meant for us directly was that spring football was cut short by about two weeks that year,” Triplett said.
“We’ve come a long way since then. I’m not sure that wearing a special uniform honoring the military is something that teams would have even considered in 1970.
“This day and age, though, it’s a nice tribute.”
SATURDAY’S IOWA GAME
WHO: Purdue (3-6, 0-5) at Iowa (4-5, 2-3)
WHERE: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City
TIME/TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
LINE: Iowa by 4
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football