FanFest: A 'One of a Kind' Hawkeye Experience

<p>The 300-plus Iowa football fanatics that attended FanFest 2004 were once again treated to a Hawkeye version of ‘Black and Gold Heaven' this weekend. This year's events were held at the Collins Plaza in Cedar Rapids, and from the minute the festivities began at Friday's evening's registration, it was evident that the Iowa Sports Marketing staff had ‘one-upped' themselves from the inaugural FanFest of 2003 that was outstanding in its own right.

Fans mingled with more than 20 Hawkeye players and a few coaches that evening, getting their pictures taken with the players while also having an opportunity to get an up close look at Floyd of Rosedale, The Outback Bowl Trophy and the CyHawk trophy.

Grown men and women had the look of children on Christmas Day as they engaged in conversation with the men whom they root for each and every Fall Saturday, and the players were most accommodating and enjoyed spending time with the fans.

I was honored to emcee several of the ‘Chalk Talk' sessions, where Iowa assistant coaches explained in great detail several of the nuances of their craft; giving those in attendance a unique insight into how the ‘Bullies of the Big Ten' go about their business.

Special teams and linebackers coach Darrell Wilson led things off on Friday evening, breaking down Iowa's punt return team for more than 45 minutes.

On the surface, that might not sound like such an exciting or interesting presentation. But Wilson broke down film on Iowa's ‘special' unit, and the fans looked on with rapt amazement as they were taught several of the nuances of one of the most important aspects of Iowa's football team.

Attendees left that session mightily impressed with the details and preparation that takes place at the Iowa football practice facilities to say the least…

Day two of the event saw Iowa Running Backs coach Carl Jackson and Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker take the dais.

Jackson has coached all-pro's, Heisman Trophy winners and multiple 1,000-yard backs in his 40-plus years in football, and he provided his expert insight into the running backs that will dot Iowa's roster for the 2004 season and beyond.

One interesting note that he shared was that Fred Russell had the football in his hands nearly 300 times during the 2003 season, and he only had one fumble. Jackson underscored the importance of hanging onto the football in Iowa's offense; something that if a player does not do well, they do not see the field.

Parker held court with the FanFest attendees and he had them rolling in the aisles while at the same time handing on the edge of their seats as he talked about Iowa's defense.

After detailing some of the finer points behind his job and then taking some questions from the audience, the group took a brief break and then reconvened as Parker let them experience what the Hawkeyes go through on game day mornings.

He shared the actual notes that the Hawkeyes reviewed prior to October's 30-27 win against Michigan in Iowa City.

At the conclusion of the session, the ‘Hit Tape' was played on a big screen, much to the enjoyment of the fans in attendance. This was the actual tape that the Hawkeyes saw just prior to boarding the bus from the hotel they stay at in Cedar Rapids on game week Friday's. Iowa's Video Staff compiles a highlight tape each and every week, set to music that the players select.

The tape is meant to inspire and ‘pump up' the players as they put on their game faces and prepare to do battle on the gridiron.

The fans then boarded a bus of their own and several hundred of them sat together in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and watched Steve Alford's Hawkeyes fantastic victory over the Michigan Wolverines.

After the game, the attendees were bussed over to Iowa's Athletics Hall of Fame center on the corner of Mormon Trek and Melrose Avenues.

It was my first experience inside the complex and it is a sight to behold. There is more memorabilia stored in this complex than one can imagine, and several interactive displays makes a tour of the facility a ‘must see' activity for Hawkeye fans young and old.

The ‘Flying Herky' that adorned center court at the old Fieldhouse is back in place on the third floor, and children can shoot some hoops on a regulation basket. Adults are welcome to take some shots as well, and let's be honest: what Iowa basketball fan could walk past the old hardwood without being tempted to hoist a few jump shots?

Were it not for several youngsters thoroughly and completely enjoying themselves, I would have been right there with them.

After touring the facility and taking part in auctions for Hawkeye collectors items, plus having the chance to get autographs from Jared Clauss, Nate Kaeding and Sam Aiello, the fans were bussed over to Iowa's Indoor Football Practice Facility, affectionately known as ‘The Bubble'.

An ‘Outback Barbeque' was set up inside the premises, and nearly all of the members of the 2004 Iowa Hawkeye football team were available for autographs and to speak with the fans. Each player was decked out in their Outback Bowl jogging suit and they had name tags so the fans could identify their favorite players.

Nearly every member of Iowa's coaching staff was also on hand to mingle with the fans, including Strength and Conditioning coach Chris Doyle and the ‘Voice of the Hawkeyes' Gary Dolphin.

Attendees were given the run of Iowa's weight room and the entire Hayden Fry football complex, in addition to getting the first crack at purchasing equipment in advance of the annual Spring Game sale.

I couldn't resist taking part in the amazing deals that they had on some clothing items, including jogging suits worn by the Hawkeye players when they travel to road games.

Special thanks to equipment manager Greg Morris for correctly sizing me up with a 2-XL. It just goes to show you that each person associated with Iowa's football program knows what they are doing.

And that's one of the best aspects surrounding FanFest: the events are intentionally set up so that the attendees feel like they are a part of the program for the entire weekend.

Mission accomplished.

On Sunday morning back at the Collins Plaza, Iowa defensive backs coach Phil Parker shared his expertise and humor with the fans during his Chalk Talk session and Gary Dolphin relieved me of my duties as emcee.

The veteran of many an I-Club circuit and a man that has been calling Iowa sporting events on the radio as far back as the early 1970's had the fans rolling in the aisles as he shared his Hawkeye anecdotes as only ‘Dolph' can.

The attendees were then shown the 2003 Iowa football highlight tape that recruits watch when they visit Iowa City.

Then Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz made his appearance and presentation, something that is always one of most enjoyable aspects of this event.

Afterwards, Coach Ferentz spoke with fans and signed autographs until each and every attendee had their chance to meet him.

Lifelong memories were made on this day.

Check that.

The entire event is chock full of black and gold memories that will be cherished forever.

THAT is what FanFest is all about.

If you have not yet experienced this event, I highly suggest that you plan on attending FanFest 2005.

Hawkeyenation.com will inform you of the dates for next year's event once they become available.

I would personally like to thank each and every member of the Sports Marketing Department that makes this event a one of a kind experience and for allowing me to be a part of it for the second year in a row.

The brainchild of Iowa Video Coordinator Matt Engelbert, coupled with the efforts of Iowa Associate Athletic Director Rick Klatt and his entire staff, including Toby Trail, is simply a first-rate production, as is anything that is associated with Iowa Football.


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