REPLAY: Tom Arnold: Hawkeye Fan Born and Bred

Most Iowa fans know by now that entertainer Tom Arnold is an avid Hawkeye fan. If you have watched his television show <i>The Best Damn Sports Show Period</i> on Fox Sports, you have probably seen an Iowa helmet strategically placed from time to time. Arnold never misses an opportunity to mention Iowa or show his love for his childhood team. HawkeyeNation.com is proud to have been able to interview Arnold, but as you will find out, he always makes time for fellow Hawkeye fans.

This story first appeared on HawkeyeNation.com on 10/1/2003

Most of us can remember a time or two during our childhood where we climbed upon our grandfather's knee and he would show us a thing or two about the world that we didn't know about prior to that moment.

For some of us, that could have been how to Texas rig a plastic worm on a fishhook or how to shift gears on an old Ford 8N tractor.

For actor/entertainer Tom Arnold, his grandfather showed him a world awash in black and gold.

"I was able to go to Iowa games with my grandfather, Tom. It was a big deal," said Arnold from his offices in Beverly Hills, CA.

"Once my grandfather started taking me to games, the Hawkeyes were very important to me from then on."

Tom Arnold, 44, is Hawkeye born and Hawkeye bred, even though his zip code reads 90210, just like the TV show.

Arnold has 35 motion picture credits on his resume, in addition to being a writer and executive producer on one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, Roseanne.

Even though he has worked in the Hollywood entertainment industry in each of the last three decades and has won critical acclaim and success beyond what he may have imagined on those trips from his home town of Ottumwa to Iowa City back in the 1960's and 1970's, Arnold still waxes poetic when he recalls his ‘formative' Hawkeye years.

"Our football teams were not so good for many years, but it was just the whole deal of driving to Iowa City, watching the game and seeing all of the people. It was a great thing for a kid to do."

As the oldest of six children grew into his late teen years, he made his way to the River City and attended the University of Iowa.

"I was a true fan. When Hayden Fry came and turned things around it just made it even sweeter. There is not a lot to do in Iowa, so going to the Hawkeye games and hoping for wins was the thing to do. Because every year or two we would upset someone and that would be exciting." Arnold said.

"Something would happen every season and it was still exciting, still worth the trip and still worth listening to the games on the radio. We don't have a pro team in Iowa, so you have to support the Hawkeyes. We had had glory in the late 1950's, before I was around, so you knew it was possible (to happen again)."

As we all know now, it did happen again. Hayden Fry led Iowa to three Big Ten Championships and eight straight bowl games over ten-year span and 15 bowl games in his brilliant 20-year Iowa coaching career.

But for much of Arnold's childhood, the Hawkeyes did not play winning football, a fact that did not deter him from cheering on the Hawks.

"It's like if you marry a woman and she gains some weight; you are not going to love her any less, in fact you might love her even more, because she needs you. So that is what being an Iowa fan was like back in the 1960's and for most of the 1970's." Arnold said.

"That is what made the late 70's and early 80's so miraculous, and the miracle is continuing still today. Some people didn't think that Kirk (Ferentz) could do the job, but he has done it better than anybody could have."

One of the things we wanted to know was if he is still able to keep tabs on his Hawkeyes even though he is a world away in Southern California.

"Well, I work on a frickin' sports show buddy, so of course I have a chance to keep up on them," joked Arnold.

The sports show that Arnold is referring to is called The Best Damn Sports Show, Period and it airs on the Fox Sports Television Network each and every day. (Check your local listings for the time and channel in your area)

And if you tune in, there is a good chance that you will see the Hawkeyes represented in some fashion, be it a football helmet that is strategically placed in view of a camera or through mentions from Arnold.

Of course, we knew that he could follow the scores and highlights, but that is not what makes a person a Hawkeye junkie. We wanted to know if he still followed the team day to day via online newspapers or websites like www.HawkeyeNation.com .

"Websites suck," quipped Arnold, again dipping into his comedic roots. "But yes, I do keep up with them. I keep up on things, as I have a lot of friends in Iowa."

"I was at a golf tournament recently with Steve Alford. Wherever I go, people are keeping me informed and I do read a lot of stuff. I still read the Ottumwa Courier, which is the paper that I grew up with."

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Most of us will never know the crushing effects of celebrity. Arnold cannot leave his Hollywood home without someone confronting him and asking him questions due to his visibility as an actor and television talk show co-host.

But if you are an Iowa fan, he will make some time.

"I am always willing to talk about Hawkeye sports. I don't want to talk about my other marriages, but when they say ‘How about them Hawkeyes?' the wall goes down instantly for me," said Arnold, who got his ‘break' on the silver screen as Arnold Schwarzenegger's foil in the 1994 movie True Lies.

"Because when you are well known, a lot of people want to talk to you, and you have to put up a little wall and keep moving. But if someone wants to talk about Iowa sports, it makes things a lot better for me. It reminds me that I have something in common with people; that it's not all about show business. It is something in common with people on something that I grew up with, so it is pretty comforting. I like that a lot."

Given the fast-paced Hollywood lifestyle, it might be easy to get swept away by the glitz and glam that goes with the territory. But that is not the case for Arnold, as he still comes back to Iowa and visits family and friends.

"Whenever I come back to see my family, it scares the hell out of me," joked Arnold.

"But I miss it. I miss Iowa right now. I am coming back this week for the Michigan game. (Arnold will host a broadcast of his sports talk show from the Vine on Friday). When you grow up there and you move away, you think about it and you realize that you need to go back there and spend some time, so that is what I am going to do."

"Keeping grounded is easy for me, and that is probably because I grew up in Iowa; you just don't take yourself too seriously. You work hard and do the best you can, but you don't take yourself too seriously. That is the Iowa way."

Those of you familiar with his TV show will recall his return trip to Iowa last September for the Iowa State game. Arnold performed a remote broadcast at an Iowa City bar and spoke to the Hawkeyes during the ISU game week.

What he learned was that you can take the kid out of Iowa, but you can't take Iowa out of the kid.

"It was fun. I had done it before in years past when Hayden Fry was there. I have always felt some sort of responsibility (when speaking to the team)." Arnold said.

"First of all, I am not a college student, I am an older person. And then I always feel the responsibility to be mildly entertaining, but it is a huge honor if you think about where I came from."

"It is a huge honor to be entrusted to speak to these fine athletes and good young men for a few minutes. Even though they lost that game that has nothing to do with their effort or my effort."

"I went to two games last year, and those are the two games they lost. But like I say about that, any fan can go to the games they win. It takes some loyalty and passion to go to the games where they don't win and yet to you still love them."

Arnold made the trip to Miami in January along with nearly 50,000 other Hawkeye fans to watch Iowa take on Southern Cal. But Arnold traveled farther than most of the Hawkeye faithful in order to watch the Hawks.

"I had flown in from Maui to get down there. My wife was a little upset because she had wanted our vacation in Maui to go longer, but I said ‘No, I have to go see this game.' And then the kickoff…things were rocking. I was thinking ‘this is perfect'."

During the course of the interview, Arnold had mentioned Hawkeye coaching legend Hayden Fry more than a few times. During his entertainment career, he has had the chance to meet some of the biggest names in the Hollywood glitterati scene, but when you grew up in Iowa during the lean years and were in Iowa City for the first ever ‘Miracle on Melrose', it's hard to top an encounter with John Hayden Fry.

"I think that when you look up to someone as much as I did and do to Hayden, it's sometimes better not to meet them. It can be too much to take." Arnold said with more than a hint of ‘everyman' in his voice.

"It's sometimes better to respect someone from afar. I have gotten to know him a little bit better since he retired. First of all, he is more relaxed. He was always funny; you could always tell that there was something else there. He is doing a lot of work for cancer research now. So I have gotten to see the man in a different way."

"But when you hear from former assistant coaches and players…I talk to Bobby Stoops once in a while and I talk to a lot of the old guys; there is just a reverence for Hayden when they bring his name up. Bobby Stoops is doing great, just like a lot of the old players and coaches are, but when they talk about Hayden Fry, it's on another plane."

"That is something that we all have in common, too. He changed the state of Iowa, as far as I am concerned. He made it a better place. That is a pretty cool thing to do."

Tom Arnold the entertainer has received several accolades and awards for his work, including a Golden Globe and a Peabody award.

But when asked if he would trade in those trophies to witness his Iowa Hawkeyes win a National Championship on the gridiron, the Iowa native didn't have to give it a second thought.

"Absolutely. No doubt about it." Arnold said.

Should that day come, Arnold will be like the rest of us: giddy, overjoyed and gratified. He will no doubt think about his grandfather and all of those trips across Highways 34 and 218 between Ottumwa and Iowa City.

"I would do that in a second."

Tom Arnold was Hawkeye born and Hawkeye bred, and when he dies, like the rest of us, he will be a Hawkeye dead.

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