A college sports program can be so ubiquitous, so all-encompassing for the residents of a state that it comes to define that state above history, industry and anything else.
Rare is it that a program publicly gives some of that attention back to the state itself, acknowledging that the state shapes the school’s identity first and foremost and not the other way around. Iowa and legendary ex-coach Hayden Fry are one such exception.
In 1985, Fry’s Hawkeyes were No. 1 in the country and riding a seven-game win streak heading into a nationally televised matchup at Ohio State. Before the game, Fry had a gold sticker placed on his players’ helmets with the letters “ANF” printed in black. Initials for “America Needs Farmers.”
“A lot of the things I learned on the farm I applied to coaching football,” Fry told HawkeyeSports.com in 2011. “It was amazing the great response we got, not only in Iowa, but across the nation.”
Twenty-seven years later, the brand awareness of Fry’s original initiative is stronger than ever. Just over one year ago, the University of Iowa and Iowa Farm Bureau announced a five-year partnership. The space between the west and north grandstands of Kinnick Stadium were designated as “ANF Plaza.”
Then there was the on-field product. One Iowa home game a year would be ANF Day, with the Iowa Tiger Hawk and ANF logos displayed prominently side by side. (This year’s ANF Day is Oct. 20 against Penn State. The Hawkeyes defeated Northwestern, 41–31, in last year’s inaugural ANF Day game.)
And the ANF helmet sticker that kick-started this whole initiative? It’s been back for three seasons after a 17-year absence relegated it to a distant memory.
The NCAA forced teams to remove “excessive” decals from its teams’ helmets in 1992. In Iowa’s case, gone was both the ANF sticker and the United States flag, which Fry had added to support troops during the Gulf War in the early 1990s.
Fry’s successor, Kirk Ferentz, introduced a modernized (and less conspicuous) redesign of the acronym starting in 2009. Two years later, the University made it a prominent part of its identity again.
“The players thought (the ANF decals) were a good idea,” Fry said in 2011. “Every time one of our games was televised, it went nation-wide and the results were just incredible.”
Farm-grown football players are not the overriding norm they once were, but in the Midwest they are still a noticeable part of each team’s roster.
In the past 15 years, Iowa has had many notable players — such as Jared DeVries, Bruce Nelson, Robert Gallery, Chad Greenway and Matt Kroul — who grew up on farms before passing through Iowa City en route to the NFL. All of them stand by the “ANF” acronym and what it represents.
“Still today I have (an ANF sticker) on my truck and everyone asks what it means,” Gallery said in 2011. “It means a lot, especially to an Iowa guy whose family depended on farming for its income. It’s a huge part of America and it was an honor to be a part of that program.”
In July, former Hawkeye tight end Dallas Clark — entering his 10th NFL season — teamed with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) and his alma mater to promote the ANF campaign.
“I really respect and have a lot of pride in the values that farmers have, and the values of Iowa and the values of community, and that’s what Farm Bureau represents,” Clark said.
Ask Fry and any former player close to the ANF campaign and they’ll tell you Iowa’s farms represent the Hawkeyes just as much as the Hawkeyes represent Iowa.