April 17, 2012
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When Hayden Fry agreed to become the University of Iowa head football coach in December, 1978, the landscape of Hawkeye football changed.
Fry brought a new attitude and demanded a renewed commitment to the program, one that would bring an immediate change to the record on the playing field and a commitment from everyone associated with the university to have a first-class program.
One of the indicators of that campus wide support was the approval and financing of "the Bubble", the indoor practice facility that has been a part of Iowa's football facility skyline since being completed in 1985. When completed, the bubble gave the Hawkeyes a place to practice without worry of the elements. Along with the close of the regular season each November, the Hawkeyes were able to prepare for postseason play indoors, something that wasn't available during bowl games following the 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984 seasons.
Construction on Iowa's new indoor practice facility began last fall, with the facility expected to be completed in time for use early in the 2012 season. As part of the overall construction plan, the original bubble is expected to be deflated later this week so that a parking area that will take over that space can be completed for use in September.
"I remember Hayden was promised this when he came here. Then times got tough, and it kept being put off. Iowa had to practice outdoors for that first Rose Bowl then we won the Peach Bowl the following year. The day after that game, coach Fry had a wrap-up session with the media, and he basically said, 'I get that practice facility or I'm gone'. I think it was approved right after that and completed in a relative short period of time."
Former Iowa SID George Wine
While the air-inflated bubble was not completed until 1985, Fry had planted the seed for an indoor facility when hired. The need for the facility was magnified following the 1981 season in which the Hawkeyes shared the Big Ten title and earned a trip to the Rose Bowl, Iowa's first bowl game of any kind since the 1959 Rose Bowl.
"There was no question we wanted an indoor facility and needed it," said Bump Elliott, Iowa's director of athletics at the time. "In preparing for bowl games, the weather was so bad. Early in the process of getting it done, I wanted a hard-roof building, not a bubble. That didn't pass with some of the people involved, but the inflated structure was still satisfactory to me.
"We didn't have an indoor facility before the bubble. In preparing for the 1982 Rose Bowl, we actually borrowed artificial turf from Northern Iowa and put it down in the Recreation Building for practice. It (the indoor facility) was a major move and very good for our program. It has been put to good use over the years, but the real purpose was for bowl preparation."
One of the key supporters of the project was Darrell Wyrick, the president of the UI Foundation at the time. Wyrick was a supporter of the athletics program and knew the commitment had been made to Fry when he was hired.
"I was very much an advocate that this is something that needs to be done," recalled Wyrick. "We had made a commitment. Mark Jennings and I were traveling with President James Freedman, and my conversation with President Freedman was that this has got to happen. We have a commitment, but it is also a major need for football and the athletics department. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that we would build it.
"As was the case for many things, I worked closely with Bump. He was easy to work with. I had some influence with President Freedman, and he relied on me to advise him on some things. He took my advice under consideration, and working with Bump, we were able to get some things done. He listened to our suggestions and approved a lot of things that Bump recommended."
Jennings was a member of the UI Foundation staff at the time Fry was pushing for the indoor facility, and also recalls the conversation between Wyrick and President Freedman.
"Darrell was adamant that we needed to do this for the football program," said Jennings, who now serves as an associate director within the UI athletics department. "I certainly remember it looked like it wasn't going to happen. Darrell got involved, and was convincing enough that it should happen. He assured President Freedman that fund raising would be handled through the UI Foundation and would not be a problem. We were fortunate that Darrell was a fan himself. He understood that a good football program was essential to the rest of the university. He was committed to helping Hayden anyway he could to be successful."
George Wine served as Iowa's sports information director for 25 years and said the indoor facility was very important to Fry and that it would help the football program move forward.
"I remember Hayden was promised this when he came here," said Wine. "Then times got tough, and it kept being put off. Iowa had to practice outdoors for that first Rose Bowl then we won the Peach Bowl the following year. The day after that game, coach Fry had a wrap-up session with the media, and he basically said, 'I get that practice facility or I'm gone'. I think it was approved right after that and completed in a relative short period of time.
"President Freedman was telling Hayden, you may have the money, but the problem is the need for academic support, this will not look good. Obviously, he reversed himself. It has been a really good thing for the athletics department and the university. As much as the facility is used by so many people, you wonder how we got along without it. But in those days, we weren't going to bowl games and didn't have the need for indoor practice."
Along with the football program, nearly every UI athletic team has used the facility at some point in time, along with UI Recreation Services and countless other organizations within the university and the community.
The bubble has been durable, but not indestructible. An overnight storm of heavy snow collapsed the bubble in December, 1990, leaving the Hawkeyes without an indoor facility to prepare for the 1991 Rose Bowl. That caused the Hawkeyes to travel to California much earlier than anticipated to prepare for the game.
In June, 1998, a wind storm also forced the inflated roof to the ground. For the second time, the fabric was replaced and the bubble was inflated in time for use that fall. The current fabric has covered the facility since 1998.