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History of the Heartland Trophy

The Heartland Trophy has been one of Iowa's most physical matchups since 2004. The history of this rivalry stems from the Fry coaching tree.

The rivalry between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Wisconsin Badgers spans over 100 years, dating back to the late 1800s. The two teams have met 94 times and recently began exchanging a trophy. In 2004, the Heartland Trophy was presented to the winner of the annual contest between Iowa and Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes won the inaugural Heartland Trophy game at home during the 2004 season to claim a share of the Big Ten title. Since then, the Badgers have won nine of 14 and led the trophy series 9-6.

Heartland History

The trophy itself is a brass bull mounted on top of a wooden base weighing a total of 72 pounds. The Hawkeyes claimed the trophy in its first year with a 30-7 victory at home. That win gave Kirk Ferentz his second share of a Big Ten Championship in three seasons. The following year, Iowa went on the road and beat the Badgers in what was Barry Alvarez’s final home game as the head coach of Wisconsin. Since then, however, Iowa has only won the game four times. The Badgers lead the all-time series with 48 wins to Iowa’s 44, along with two ties. The overall record is the most narrow margin of Iowa’s four rivalry games.

The Hawkeyes’ last two Heartland Trophy victories came in 2015 during their undefeated season, and in 2020 to cap the shortened year with a six-game win streak. The win last December was Iowa’s first win at home against Wisconsin since 2008. In the trophy era, the Badgers have been ranked in every one of their victories against Iowa. In fact, Wisconsin has only been unranked in two of the matchups since 2004. These were in the 2008 and 2009 seasons. This weekend will be just the second time in the Heartland Trophy era that Iowa will be ranked and Wisconsin will be unranked. 

Hayden Fry Coaching Tree

The unique pieces of this rivalry are the similarities between how the two teams play football. Iowa and Wisconsin both play hard-nosed defense and are comfortable running plays out of the traditional i-formation. The similarities between the two programs can be traced back to the Hayden Fry era at Iowa. Alvarez was on Fry’s coaching staff as the linebackers coach from 1979 to 1986. When Alvarez took over as the head coach at Wisconsin in 1990, he instilled a similar style of football to what he learned at Iowa. He won three Big Ten Championships in Madison and coached his final season in 2005.

His successor was Bret Bielema, who played and coached at Iowa under Fry. Bielema continued to build a physical football team in Madison, where he coached until 2012 and won three Big Ten Championships. Wisconsin football was built with the foundation that Fry put together as Iowa’s head coach in the late 1900s, and it continues to this day. 

Ferentz was an assistant of Fry’s in the 1980s, where he coached the offensive line. In 1999, he took over as head coach of the Hawkeyes following Fry’s retirement. In his 23rd season as head coach in Iowa City, he’ll be coaching his 21st game against the Badgers. Over the years, Ferentz has been committed to staying at Iowa and continuing the legacy of successful football that Fry brought to the team in 1979. Fry and Ferentz have been the only head football coaches at Iowa since then. They have made this team one of the most consistent programs in the country. It is no mistake that Hawkeye football continues to have success year in and year out. 

The Heartland Trophy

The Iowa-Wisconsin football game is more than just an annual college football rivalry. It represents the roots of traditional Big Ten football in the midwest. The physical nature of this football game stems from the Fry coaching tree, and this matchup exemplifies Big Ten Football at its finest. The bull on the trophy represents America’s heartland, but it also embodies the physicality of the rivalry. This year, the Heartland Trophy will be awarded in Madison, and it won’t come without a battle in the trenches.

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