Watch a big-spot Iowa Hawkeyes football or basketball game, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a towering man in a black wig, shades, and a sequined black-and-gold jumpsuit, finger guns blazing, whipping up Hawkeye fans into a frenzy and mugging for the BTN or ESPN cameras.
Hawkeye Elvis, as he’s known, has become a fixture in the greater University of Iowa community—from the occasional football or basketball game, the character has spread into the worlds of bowl games, gymnastics, marching band, and even small-town Iowa events and the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. I’ve had the pleasure of serving as his “Colonel Tom Parker” for a couple Northwestern-Iowa basketball tilts in Carver-Hawkeye, and it’s fascinating to behold just how much Hawkeye Elvis has become a celebrity in his own right at Iowa sporting events—hobnobbing with local sportswriters, chatting with Athletics Department figures, and even a quick word or two with the coaches.
Hawkeye Elvis was gracious enough to take a little time and tell us about how the character came to be. Give him a follow on Twitter @hawkeyeelvis, too!
OTE: What’s the origin of Hawkeye Elvis? Take us through the early years and where the costume came from.
Hawkeye Elvis: My mom is a huge Elvis fan and so I became a fan of The King when I was a kid, listening to all of her old records. So on Halloween Day back in 2009, I’m in Iowa City watching us play Indiana (the Tyler Sash pinball interception game). Everyone in the stands had costumes on. A lot of them were Hawkeye-themed ones. I went to my mom’s after that game and said: “Mom, can you make me a Hawkeye-themed Elvis jumpsuit?”
Of course she can. My mom can sew anything.
So fast forward to October 30, 2010 and Iowa is playing Michigan State (the Tyler Sash-to-Micah Hyde interception). And I show up in the full jumpsuit with the wig, sunglasses, the whole works. And people really enjoyed it. So then I wore it to one basketball game that season. And then to a couple of football games the next fall. And then when I wouldn’t be dressed up, the people around me would ask: “What, no Elvis today?”
After that mom decided I needed a new jumpsuit so she made me one. Still black and gold, but just with a little bit of a different design. The third jumpsuit debuted at the Taxslayer Bowl (the only good thing about that game) and the most recent one was unveiled last year. Rumor has it mom is working on a new one which would give me five total.
OTE: I vividly recall the picture of you from your trip to the Iowa at North Carolina basketball game in 2014, along the with media attention you grabbed in the aftermath. Would you say that’s when the Elvis persona really took off, or has it been a steady build?
HE: I think up until that point it had been fairly steady. My seats at Kinnick and Carver are down pretty low so the camera always seems to find me.
But yeah, that picture from Chapel Hill is when it really took off. My friends and I were walking to the bars from the Dean Dome and one of them pulled it up on his phone and went: “Oh my God. You have to see this.” I will be forever grateful to Bob Donnan of USA Today Sports for capturing that moment.
OTE: What does an average day at a Hawkeye sporting event look like for Elvis? When will you add a pink Cadillac to the gameday repertoire?
HE: For home football games, how early I get into character is driven by weather. The hotter it is, the less time I am inclined to spend in black polyester. But once I’m dressed, I’m in it for the long haul.
I will typically spend some time in my tailgate area just down the street from the stadium. Then I will work my way down Melrose. The pre-game fellas from WMT-AM 600 in Cedar Rapids broadcast on the street out there and they usually have me on for a brief segment. Then I will usually stop by a few tailgates where some Twitter followers have requested me. I always stop for everyone who wants a picture. Even if you are for the other team.
Then it’s in my seats in the North End Zone, and I’m there until I hear the final gun. Elvis does NOT leave the building early.
For hoops, I will typically get to the arena when doors open. I like to hang out down by the floor and watch warm-ups and then make some rounds to say hi to friends.
OTE: What are some of your favorite memories, appearances, and moments as Hawkeye Elvis throughout the years? How has the role changed over time?
HE: Well the trip to Chapel Hill was a blast. One of the best things was when the Hawkeye Marching Band said they were going to do an Elvis-themed performance for Homecoming and would I be interested in participating. Hell yes! I only had one condition and that was my mom got to join me on the sidelines for the game. I even practiced with the Hawkeye Dance Team as we came up with a whole routine.
(Side note: It was pretty intimidating walking into rehearsal with this room full of really talented women who could dance. And then there was my 40+ year-old ass up there schlepping around trying to keep up.)
But being able to watch a whole game from the sidelines and then be part of the halftime show was amazing:
Going to the Rose Bowl as Hawkeye Elvis was also outstanding (the game result notwithstanding). I stood on the steps under the marquee for an hour and did nothing but take pictures with people. It was amazing.
And for hoops, going out on the floor after beating Michigan was great because everyone was having so much damn fun. Plus heading out on the town in full garb in Iowa City is pretty entertaining as well.
The biggest thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is when people ask for me to show up at non-sporting events. It started with this car show down in the little town of Stuart, Iowa. A guy asked if Hawkeye Elvis made appearances. I said: “Ummmm...sure?” Then he asked me what I charged. I said nothing. We finally agreed that we would take donations for the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. It was fantastic. It was so much fun I went back the next year to do it again.
A friend of mine in Northwest Iowa raises money for the Special Olympics, so I did an appearance there as well. For the Outback Bowl this year, I ended up doing appearances at Beach Day, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Hawkeye Huddle and then finally the game (which we FINALLY won with Hawkeye Elvis in attendance).
The most meaningful appearance I’ve made was this past winter when I was invited to the U of I Dance Marathon, which raises money for the Children’s Hospital. I got to meet a kid named Will, who is a cancer survivor and a big rock and roll fan. It was truly humbling to see these kids and their families having to deal with that stuff.
OTE: Any plans to take Elvis on the road for a few games this year?
With the Big Ten’s addition of the Las Vegas Bowl to its every-other-year slate, are you lobbying Gary Barta and Kevin Warren to place Iowa there so you can achieve your fullest Hawkeye Elvis potential?
Funny you should mention going on the road and Las Vegas. I’ve only taken Hawkeye Elvis on a true road game to Minnesota Football. The only other non-Iowa City places that I go are tournaments and bowl games. Those two environments are especially fun. People in Johnson County aren’t that surprised to see a 6’6” Elvis impersonator walk in the door. They certainly aren’t expecting it in Chicago, Tampa or Sioux Falls.
And while I would certainly entertain a trip to Sin City to watch the Hawkeyes play football in the Raiders new stadium, the world is not going to have to wait that long to see Hawkeye Elvis debut in Vegas.
You see, Iowa will be playing in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational this year along with Creighton, San Diego State and Texas Tech at the Orleans Arena. You can bet your ass Hawkeye Elvis will be sitting courtside for all of the Hawkeye Hoops action.
No seriously, I have seats on the baseline. I bought them when they went on sale back in January.
As an added bonus for me, the second day of the tourney, Black Friday, just happens to be my 50th birthday (I’m old. Shut up.) The Black and Gold party will be rolling for three days straight in the Entertainment Capital of the World. Looking forward to seeing as many of my fellow Hawkeyes out there as I can.
OTE: Thanks so much for the time, King. Anything you want to leave us with?
HE: The one question I get a lot of is: “How long are you going to keep doing this?”
I started doing this and continue to do it because it’s fun. And people seem to enjoy it. So as long as those two things are happening, I’m gonna keep rockin’ and rollin’ baby.
Thanks to MNWildcat for having me on as a guest. Or should I say....
Thank ya, thank ya very much....