Hawkeye Hauler keeps on truckin'

BY BEN ROSS | OCTOBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Maybe you have seen it.

On game days, the Black and Gold 18-wheeler can be found nestled near the tailgate lot between Kinnick Stadium and the Bubble. The trailer reads, "It's great to be a Hawkeye," a diesel-chugging celebration of Iowa football past and present. The truck is owned by Lone Tree's Mike Riggan, and it is used to transport Iowa's football equipment to and from away games.

And here's the kicker: Riggan doesn't charge the university a dime. The 60-year-old Vietnam War veteran doesn't even claim his service as a donation to the Athletics Department.

"We do this for the football team," he said. "We bleed the Black and Gold — always have."

Riggan owns and operates TanTara Transportation Corp., a trucking company in Muscatine that transports metal products across the continental United States. He has 50 trucks in his fleet, and for the most part, they all look the same. But Riggan has one truck that stands out from the rest — his pride and joy.

That is the Hawkeye Hauler.

If the Tigerhawk and the Swarm are part of Iowa football, so, too, is the Hauler. Riggan has sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into it — he said the truck itself cost $200,000, and he spends at least $10,000 a year on fuel and upkeep — all for the pleasure of transporting the football team's equipment.

Riggan said the friendships he and his son, Jeff Riggan, have developed with Hawkeyes over the years have more than paid him back; last week, for instance, he said former kicker Brion Hurley (1993-96) and former All-Big Ten punter Nick Gallery (1993-96) stopped by the truck to chat.

"It's the memories, the friendships," Mike Riggan said. "I consider Kirk Ferentz and the other coaches personal friends of mine. I can give [Ferentz] a call, and he'll pick the phone up and talk to me. And for an old truck driver from Lone Tree, I'm pretty proud of that."

Hawkeye football appears to be more of a religion than sport in the Riggan family, which is emphasized by Jeff Riggan's son's names — Hayden and Walker (his wife wouldn't let him name their second son Kirk). Jeff Riggan said he and his father aren't the only Hawkeye fans in the family; he thinks his entire family supports the Black and Gold as much as they do.

"The Iowa Hawkeye football program is top-notch," he said. "So it's pretty neat to be able to be a part of it. My family loves it, just as much as [me and my dad]. My family is all the same when it comes to their feelings about Iowa football"

Hawkeye Hauler history

The Hawkeye Hauler has been around since 1983, when Mike Riggan's friend and fellow trucker Ed Huff offered to haul the program's equipment. Huff became sick two years later and asked Riggan to take over. He soon became obsessed with the truck and its purpose.

"[Huff] is the one that came up with the idea originally," he said. "There are a lot of football teams now that have their own trucks; every team in the Big Ten has one that I'm aware of."

The truck that Jeff Riggan will drive to Minnesota this weekend is the fifth the family have used in the 26 years they have transported football equipment. The newest addition to the Hauler family was unveiled on Oct. 15 prior to Iowa's game against Northwestern, and it took its maiden voyage for the team on Thursday night as it drove to Minneapolis for the Hawkeyes' contest with the Gophers.

Riggan's only compensation comes in the form of football. He gets to be on the sidelines of every Hawkeye football game, home and away, and receives passes that give him and his guests access to the locker room before the game, at halftime, and after the final whistle.

The Hawkeye players and coaches understand the service Riggan does for their program, and the praise Ferentz gives Riggan is a testament to the appreciation he has for his work.

"It's a great benefit to us," the 13th-year coach said. "Those guys take a lot of pride [in the truck]. They drive down to Arizona, Florida for bowl games — they're unbelievable. Mike Riggan is totally out of his mind, in a good way. You could perform surgery in that truck, it's so sterile and clean. He's phenomenal. They don't have to do it; they take a lot of pride … Mike goes above and beyond, [and] he drives that thing hard."

'It's something I associate with Iowa football'

The truck itself is something to behold.

The side of the trailer is splashed with the Hawkeye logo, and a cartoon Herky wearing Nile Kinnick's retired No. 24 jersey strikes the Heisman pose nearby. Another tribute to Iowa's only Heisman Trophy winner is more subtle; the outline of an F4F Wildcat airplane — the plane Kinnick was flying when he crashed at sea during World War II — is hidden between Herky and the Tigerhawk.

Iowa's football field is painted on top of the trailer, a feature Riggan said he guarantees is one of a kind. Also unique are the truck's vanity plates — which are no longer possible to obtain for semis — which read "HAWKONE."

A scene of a packed Kinnick Stadium at night is depicted on the back of the tractor. Cheerleaders circle the field holding I-O-W-A banners, followed by Herky waving the Tigerhawk flag. The officiating crew is gathered at the 50-yard line, waiting for the Black and Gold as they swarm out of the tunnel.

A hawk watches from high above the stadium, accompanied by ghostly outlines of Nile Kinnick and Sharon Huff, Ed Huff's wife, who passed away in 2004 after battling cancer. Riggan said he decided to include the ghosts of the two people because of their affiliation with Iowa.

"Sharon was a very, very close friend of the family," he said. "Nile Kinnick was the greatest Hawkeye ever, and Sharon was the greatest Hawkeye fan ever. She went to every sporting event — football, basketball, baseball, you name it."

Below the Tigerhawk on the side of the truck sits the phrase, "It's great to be a Hawkeye," followed by the America Needs Farmers logo and logos from every bowl game in which the Hawkeyes have appeared since 2001. Riggan plans on adding every Iowa bowl symbol before the end of the truck's lifespan, and he said he takes extra pride in his emblems because they aren't decals. Everything that appears on the Hauler was painted by Jim Hetzler and his wife, Chris.

Hetzler, who is from Muscatine, has made a name for himself in the world of custom paint jobs. He received the 2011 Prestigious Painter Award by House of Kolor, a paint company owned by Valspar. He has worked on all of the previous versions of the Hauler; he said he thinks this one is the best.

"This is heads and tails above the old one we did 11 years ago," Hetzler said. "There's a lot more detail in this one. It took a good four and a half weeks to paint … Recreating the design to large scale was the biggest challenge."

Hetzler's work through the years has paid off. Quarterback James Vandenberg said people such as Riggan and Hetzler play a large role in Iowa's identity, and the truck has become synonymous with the Black and Gold.

"I remember seeing the truck growing up," said Vandenberg, a Keokuk native. "It's something that I and a lot of fans definitely associate with Iowa football. It's awesome we have people who support us like that; to drive to the places they drive, through the nights, shows how closely knit our community is with this team. [Getting off the plane and seeing the truck] is awesome. It says that it's time to go, that we've moved our home base down to wherever we may be.

"That's definitely one of the things we all notice first, is that truck."

DI Sports Editor Seth Roberts
contributed to this article.

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