Home to one of the most engaged IOWA Clubs in the nation, Tampa gears up for another Hawkeye invasion at the Outback Bowl.
For most Hawkeye football fans, traveling to a bowl game means purchasing flight tickets, making hotel reservations, and packing suitcases.
For Diane Lane and her fellow members of the Tampa Bay IOWA Club, bowl trips often mean tossing on a Hawkeye T-shirt and driving across town.
The Jan. 2 Outback Bowl pits Iowa against Florida and marks the fifth time in 14 seasons the Hawkeyes will bowl in the backyard of the nearly 2,500 UI alumni living near Tampa, Florida. With the exception of Pasadena, where the Hawkeyes have made six treks since the 1950s, Iowa has visited Tampa in the postseason more than any other bowl city.
“The Tampa community and the Outback Bowl are thrilled because our fans show up,” says Lane, a personal trainer who serves as president of the Tampa Bay IOWA Club. “It’s kind of a home game for Florida since Gainesville is just an hour and a half away, but I think there will be a sea of black and gold.”
Hawkeye fans once referred to the old Metrodome in Minneapolis as Kinnick North, given the team’s success against the Gophers and the large number of Iowans in the stands. These days, Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium feels a lot like Kinnick South. Iowa is 2-2 in the Outback Bowl, last playing in Tampa on New Year’s Day 2014 against LSU.
Tampa has long been home to one of the nation’s most vibrant IOWA Clubs. Founded in 1992 and originally known as the Sun Coast Hawkeyes, the club now has 340 members from a four-county area.
Earlier this fall, the University of Iowa Alumni Association named the Tampa Bay IOWA Club as its Large Club of the Year in recognition of its philanthropic efforts and engaged membership. In 2015, the club added a second game watch location in neighboring St. Petersburg, which has led to a recent 22-percent surge in membership. The club also hosted a fundraising dinner this past April that featured an appearance by Hawkeye great Tim Dwight and raised money for a UI scholarship and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Dan Rhoer, 96BS, vice president of the Tampa Bay IOWA Club, said Iowans’ reputation for traveling well to bowl games, plus the Hawkeyes’ strong season finish, made Iowa an attractive selection for the Outback Bowl committee.
“The area is really accommodating to fans traveling here because Tampa is a tourist-driven city,” says Rhoer, a recruiter who serves as vice president of the Tampa Bay IOWA Club. “People from Iowa love coming here because they know they’ll have a good time and be taken care of.”
With Hawkeye fans set to descend on their city over the holidays, Iowa Alumni Magazine asked Lane and Rhoer to name a few must-see Tampa destinations for bowl travelers:
• The beaches: A welcome site for Iowans eager to shed their parkas, Tampa Bay averages 361 days of sunshine a year, and the area offers miles of pristine, white-sand beaches. One of the Outback Bowl week’s highlights is the annual Beach Day in Clearwater on Dec. 30.
• The Riverwalk: This scenic walkway in the heart of downtown Tampa extends 2.5 miles past some of the city’s best restaurants and attractions. The route features waterfront parks, a children’s museum, and local landmarks like the Historic Tampa Bay Hotel.
• The ferry: There are plenty of ways for fans to get around the bay area, including aboard Tampa’s historic TECO streetcar. But a new cross-bay ferry service offers a quick and scenic option to travel from downtown Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg.
• The nightlife: From dining at Channelside Bay Plaza to live music in Ybor City to dance clubs in downtown St. Petersburg, there’s no shortage of options to toast a memorable Hawkeye season.
• The Dali Museum: Mix in a little culture with your football by exploring the whimsical works of artist Salvador Dalí at this awe-inspiring St. Petersburg building and its interactive gardens.
• Hyde Park Village: You probably won’t find any black-and-gold striped overalls for sale, but this upscale shopping neighborhood has about everything else. The historic, open-air district features a mix of local and national storefronts, restaurants, and entertainment options.
• Busch Gardens: Herky won’t be the only bird strutting around Tampa. The area is home to Busch Gardens, which houses more than 12,000 animals alongside its famous theme-park rides and is one of the largest zoos in North America.
—Josh O’Leary, Iowa Alumni Magazine