The legend of the Iowa Tigerhawk began in May of 1979.
As part of a plan to reinvigorate the image of The University of Iowa football program, incoming head coach Hayden Fry announced that the stylish black-and-gold uniforms of the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburg Steelers would be the prototype for his team’s new gear. With shiny black helmets replacing the old gold ones, the coach put out a call for a new logo design to top it off.
Charles Edwards, then owner of the Cedar Rapids printing company Pepco Litho, passed the word to Bill Colbert, Vice President Associate Creative Director of Cedar Rapids ad agency Three Arts, Inc., who had designed the three previous seasons’ U of Iowa football and basketball schedule posters printed by Pepco. But the designer was about to leave for a weeklong business trip, and the imminent deadline gave him little time for creative development. Still, as a lifelong Hawk fan, Colbert couldn’t resist the challenge and agreed to give it a shot.
During his week away, Colbert reflected upon certain enduring logos including Iowa’s beloved Herky the Hawk and Purdue’s Boilermaker which, like many logos of their period, were based upon cartoon caricatures. His goal was to create a contemporary hawk-head design with the simplicity and impact of the time-tested CBS “eye”, the Nike “swoosh”, and the Clemson “paw”.
On the airplane heading home, Colbert flipped down his tray table, took out a pen and made a rough sketch on a cocktail napkin. In his mind’s eye, he saw the head of a hawk as parts of a puzzle: the feather and eye as one part, the two-component beak as another, the side of the head as the third. Together, the pieces shaped the profile of a hawk, with the spaces between each piece creating a “striping” effect – hence the name “Tigerhawk”.
Colbert worried that the power of the design might be lost if presented to Fry as a flat drawing so he prevailed upon Edwards to call former Sports Information Director George Wine, who obliged with two shiny new black helmets on which to silk screen the artwork.
On June 11, 1979, Colbert and Edwards arrived at Fry’s office at their appointed meeting time where the coach and Wine awaited them. Wordlessly, without set-up or preamble, they set the two helmets down on Fry’s desk. Immediately, the coach sparked. “I like that!” he proclaimed in that famous Texas drawl, “A splash of sunshine!” And an icon was born.