Pick any of the nation’s top college football programs and they probably have some tradition or lore tied to them.
For Penn State, it’s the White Out. For Wisconsin, it’s “Jump Around.” For schools like Oklahoma, Colorado or Auburn, live animals are often involved.
And then there’s Iowa, where the tradition — the Iowa Wave — seems to at least momentarily transcend whatever’s going on on the field in Kinnick Stadium and has almost nothing to do with the game itself.
At the end of the first quarter, fans — all roughly 63,000 of them — turn and face the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hopsital, which directly overlooks the stadium and collectively wave to patients and their families watching the game from the hospital.
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This weekend, Iowa fans will do it for the fourth time this season as the No. 3 Hawkeyes welcome No. 4 Penn State to Kinnick Stadium, a place Penn State is familiar with and has had success.
But still, Penn State’s coach, James Franklin, isn’t taking the environment or the tradition lightly.
“It’s a tough environment. There’s no doubt about it. We’ve got a lot of respect for that school and that community and the support that they give their football program,” Franklin told the media Tuesday.
“Obviously, the wave to the children’s hospital is, I think, one of the better traditions in college football. Whenever you can support people in challenging times, you want to do that. It’s something that I think is very unique to college football and very unique to the University of Iowa.”
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What is the Iowa Wave?
The Iowa Wave occurs at the end of the first quarter of every home game played at Kinnick Stadium.
At that point, everyone in the stadium turns and waves to the top floor of the hospital, home to the Press Box Cafe, which has floor-to-ceiling windows and directlly overlooks Kinnick Stadium. It’s from there that patients and their families often take in Hawkeye games.
The wave isn’t just done by Hawkeye fans and players, but by everyone in the stadium, usually with an announcement from Iowa’s PA announcer, who then directs fans to turn and wave.
How did the Iowa children’s hospital tradition start?
The tradition is actually one of the newer ones in college football, getting its start in 2017.
Iowa was taking on Wyoming to open the 2017 season and at the same time, the children’s hospital had just finished completion.
It was at that point that Krista Young, a Hawkeyes fan, posted in an Iowa Facebook group to suggest the idea.
“I think with the new U of I hospital addition open,” the post read, “Kinnick should hold a “wave to the kids” minute during every game.”
“It wasn’t a big drawn-out process,” said Young. “I just kept seeing the photos when they opened up the addition. I just kept seeing sweet little bald heads staring down. I just thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t this be cool.'”
Almost immediately, the tradition was born and caught the attention of nearly everyone, quickly becoming lauded as one of the best traditions in sports.
It won the 2017 Disney Spirit Award and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz made it known how special the tradition was to him and his family. Networks and news outlets across the country quickly latched on to the tradition and partook in it as well.
The Iowa wave just celebrated its fourth birthday last month and since its inception, Iowa is 22-6 in home games.
Iowa wave song
In 2003, country music singer Pat Green released an album called “Wave on Wave,” which featured a single of the same name.
At the time, the single charted at No. 3 on the Billboard Country charts.
It reemerged to prominence over a decade later when it became the official song of the Kinnick Wave and Green even performed the song with the Iowa band a few years ago.
How big is the Iowa football stadium?
With a capacity of 69,250 people, Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium is the seventh-largest in the Big Ten and one of the top-20 largest in the country.
Named Iowa Stadium up until 1972, it got renamed for former World War II hero and the Hawkeyes’ only Heisman winner Nile Kinnick, who died during the war.
Currently, it’s the only college football stadium in the country named for a Heisman winner.
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Iowa children’s hospital donations
People can donate to the Iowa children’s hospital in many ways, some of which have even been inspired by the wave.
Since the hospital’s opening in 2017, shirts were made that raised over $400,000 and sever GoFundMe’s have been set up to raise money for the hospital as well.
One 9-year-old even donated all of his life savings — $34 — to the hospital and wanted to inspire others to do the same.
Another person, Iowa State alum Carson King, originally held up a sign on ESPN’s College Gameday program asking Busch Light for beer money. He got his beer money, and then some, raising over $1.1 million for the children’s hospital in the process.