TAMPA, Fla. — Iowa football fans rang in the new year Sunday with a party in the Florida sunshine.
Several thousand Hawkeye supporters packed a courtyard at Channelside, an entertainment area in downtown Tampa, to warm up for Monday’s Outback Bowl game against Florida with a rally that included appearances by the Hawkeye Marching Band, spirit squad and mascots.
The Hawkeye Huddle event has become as much of an Iowa tradition before bowl games as tailgating, and although the festivities didn’t begin until 4 p.m., the first Iowa fans showed up before noon to enjoy a day that featured temperatures in the mid-70s and sun-filled skies.
They watched the Iowa basketball team’s overtime victory over Michigan on televisions perched above open-air bars, made black-and-gold fashion statements, listened to greetings from Hawkeye play-by-play broadcaster Gary Dolphin and university president Bruce Harreld and posed for pictures with Hawkeye Elvis.
“This is the place to be. We’re all Hawkeyes, and everybody is having a blast," said fan Nate Sinnott of Eldridge, who made the 18-hour drive from the Quad-Cities to enjoy the Hawkeyes’ 14th bowl appearance in the past 16 years.
“It’s a great city. The people are very friendly, and we’re getting ready to watch the Hawkeyes win tomorrow. This team is pretty motivated. Getting a few days away from the cold isn’t a bad thing either."
Iowa officials expect as many as 15,000 Hawkeye fans to be part of the crowd at today’s noon game, and so many showed up at the Hawkeye Huddle that the Hawkeye Marching Band ended up serenading the gathering from a second-floor balcony that ringed the courtyard.
Drum major Isaac Anderson, a 2013 Davenport Central High School graduate, led the band from on top of a ladder in the middle of the crowd.
Fans sang along as the band played the school’s traditional songs, "On, Iowa!" and the "Iowa Fight Song," before wrapping up their set with Iowa’s long-time victory song, “In Heaven There is No Beer.’’
“This scene is amazing," said Wendy Prins of Hinton, Iowa. "This is the first bowl I’ve been to, and I’ve never seen anything like this."
The mother of Burke Prins, who is redshirting this season as a freshman offensive lineman, was at the huddle with two younger sons who collected souvenir mini footballs and other trinkets being handed out to fans by the Iowa Alumni Association and Iowa Club of Tampa Bay.
“They’re having a blast, and this whole season has been a new experience for us as a family," Prins said. “The Iowa people, the other parents, they’ve been so good, and look around, this is what being a Hawkeye is about. Everybody is having a great time."
That included Mark Leiserowitz, a Des Moines native who now calls Houston home.
“I get back to a couple of games every year, but the Hawkeyes don’t get to our part of the country too often, so when it happens, I’m there," Leiserwitz said. “It’s like a family reunion. We’ve all got something in common. We’re all Hawkeyes."
Well, almost everyone.
Raymond Gerrard of Tampa was there in a Gators T-shirt, and he’ll be rooting for Florida in the game, but he said he took only a few good-natured barbs from Hawkeye fans.
“All in good fun, all in good fun," he said. “They’re good people, having a good time, and they sure know how to do that."