Book Review: What It Means to Be a Hawkeye

BY SETH ROBERTS | JULY 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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It's generally a good idea to avoid books written by men who have made a living out of taking blows to the head.

What it Means to Be a Hawkeye is an exception to the rule.

Officially written by three Iowa graduates, the book is a compilation of essays written by dozens of Hawkeye football greats, ranging from '60s-era running back Silas McKinnie to contemporary quarterback Ricky Stanzi — and everyone in between.

As with any memoir, the essays tend to venture into the realm of sappiness. This is especially true when the players talk about what it means to be a Hawkeye.

Almost every figure uses some variation of the terms "hardworking," "character," and "blue-collar." Those are the same words the mindless talking heads on ESPN spew whenever they discuss Iowa football.

In other words, don't read What it Means to Be a Hawkeye and expect to hear anything groundbreaking related to the title. That aspect of the book gets old and irritating very quickly.

Instead, read it for its rich detail. The real strength of the compilation is its range of contributors, from the wife of 1930s offensive end Erwin Prasse to Brad Banks, the closest Iowa has come to a Heisman Trophy since Chuck Long. Each author carries memories of his time with the Hawkeyes that are refreshing, novel, and sometimes downright hilarious.

Long, for instance, holds just about every school quarterback record available, is the Big Ten's all-time leading passer, and finished second to Bo Jackson in the closest Heisman vote ever. He also thinks he wouldn't have been recruited out of high school at all in today's environment.

"I was told later that all of the film the Iowa people used to evaluate me fit on one reel," Long said in his essay. "To this day, I don't know how Hayden Fry recruited me to play quarterback."

Fellow quarterback Drew Tate, a Texan famous for his Hail Mary to Warren Holloway in the closing seconds of the 2005 Capital One Bowl, said Iowa City felt light years away from his Houston home.

"My dad and I flew into Chicago and drove over [to Iowa City]," he said. "I remember seeing signs for Minnesota on the way there and thinking, 'Oh dude, that shit is up by Canada. Far away.' "

And before Holloway nabbed the now-legendary 56-yard touchdown strike from Tate to beat LSU, he attended his first-ever college football game at Kinnick Stadium in 1999.

"I remember hearing that trumpet song they play all the time at Kinnick in my sleep that night," Holloway said. "You know the one I'm talking about: da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na … GO HAWKS."

Are these factoids, or any of the countless others sprinkled throughout the book, going to change your life?

No, of course not.

But for a team that has suffered in the public eye of late, What it Means to Be a Hawkeye came at the perfect time.

The superhuman Long's humility, the laser-armed Tate's acute geographic awareness, and the clutch Holloway's dreams of trumpeting fight songs lend a sense of humanity to the players most Iowans revere as gods. They're all normal people, and most of them grew up as Hawkeye fans just like everyone else.

The gods have become relatable, and that's why What it Means to Be a Hawkeye should be read. It's a collection of stories that an Iowa football fan will devour and come away feeling as if he learned something about his heroes.

That's all you can ask for.

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