PHOENIX - Among the 5,000 or so people who painted the inside of the Phoenix Convention Center black and gold Thursday night were a handful who had a special reason to savor the moment.

Parents of Iowa football players were in the crowd at the Hawkeye Huddle, a combination pep rally and Hawkeye family reunion which proceeds Iowa's game tonight against Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl.

"It's a special time," said Sheri White of Davenport, the mother of junior running back Jason White.

"There will be a lot of nervous energy at the game - that hasn't changed since Jason was playing when he 8 years old - but this is a chance to relax and celebrate. It's been a good season for the team and they earned this bowl trip with a lot of hard work, a lot of hard work."

White's father, Eilee, said his son hasn't given him any hints about who might start at running back for the Hawkeyes in their game against the Sooners.

"I didn't ask him, and he didn't tell," Eilee White said. "I'm not sure if he or any of the guys know. They may have to wait to see it play out, too. We all want whoever is in there to do well; that's the main thing."

Sheri White said parents of players develop friendships over time and many shared tables that filled the ballroom where the National I-Club and the Iowa Alumni Association hosted the event.

"We pull for each other's kids. We're all in it together," she said. "Like everybody else here, we're having a good time."

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The Hawkeye Marching Band, Iowa cheerleaders, dance team members and mascot Herky appeared at the event, and Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta and university president Sally Mason greeted the guests.

"It's a good time, a good way to get everybody fired up for the game," said Kurt Kreiter of DeWitt, Iowa, the father of Hawkeye long snapper Casey Kreiter.

"For a parent, this is a great experience and you learn to enjoy every minute of it because the reality is in four or five years, it's over. We're having a great time, and looking forward to a great game."