The Big Ten as a conference is rich in history. With schools like Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, it would be hard to argue. But don’t overlook the “second tier” of schools and their histories. Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Iowa all have rich histories of their own.
Choosing the ten best players in the history of Iowa Hawkeyes football can vary greatly depending on who you ask. Though the list is sure to spark debate, each man on the list has stamped their mark on Hawkeye football for a long time to come.
Best Iowa Hawkeyes Football Players
10. Chuck Long, QB (1982-85)
Iowa has had its fair share of good quarterbacks come through the ranks. There are some who may argue that Long deserves to be much higher, especially as he is seen to be the greatest quarterback to suit up for the school.
He was a starter for all four seasons at the school, holding nine team records when he left. During his time, the team won no less than 8 games per year while making it to four straight bowl games. In each of those seasons, the Hawkeyes were never ranked lower than 16th and even managed to be ranked in the top five several times.
Long would go on to be a Big Ten Player of the Year, three-time All-Big Ten, Maxwell Award Winner, and Davey O’Brien Award winner. He finished 7th in the 1984 Heisman Trophy race and 2nd in the 1985 race. There is little questioning that he was one of the most productive players in the history of the school.
— Iowa Hawkeyes on SR (@SRHawkeyes) August 18, 2022
9. Tavian Banks, HB (1994-97)
Banks is a great “what if” for Iowa football. That is mostly because he only earned one year as a starting running back, but he definitely made the most of it. He backed up Sedrick Shaw for three seasons before breaking out during the 1997 season.
He ran for 1,639 yards that year, averaging 6.7 yards per carry, while racking up 17 touchdowns. If that weren’t enough, he had a pair of receiving touchdowns as well. He also managed to leave as the all-time leader in total touchdowns with 36, a record that still stands.
Today in @HawkeyeFootball History: Oct. 19, 1996 – Tim Dwight takes a punt 83 yds to the 🏠 & @TavianRBanks rushes for 116 yds & 2 TD's as Iowa knocks off #10 @PennStateFball, 21-20, in State College@hughes3237 2 sacks & fum. rec. @msherm225 104 yds passpic.twitter.com/mZ0WJKbLCX
— HawkeyesChronicles (@HawksChronicles) October 19, 2021
8. Bob Sanders, S (2000-03)
Bob Sanders on-field accomplishments cannot be ignored. Where he really made an impact is in changing the culture of Iowa football. For four years, he was known as a hitman, crushing anyone who dared to catch a pass near him.
This all despite his 5’11”, 205lb frame. He became the epitome of Iowa football: undersized, a step slow, not considered to be among the best. But during his time at Iowa, he was inarguably among the best safeties in football.
During his four years, he helped take the Hawkeyes from 3-9 as a freshman to finishing with a pair of 10-win seasons to end his career. He earned First-Team All-Big Ten three times, a Second-Team All-American nod as a senior, and another Honorable Mention All-Big Ten nod.
The 🐐 Bob Sanders:
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) October 18, 2019
7. Andre Tippett, DE (1979-81)
Tippett may have been the best player on arguably the best defense in the history of Iowa football. They allowed just 79.7 yards per game that year. If that weren’t impressive enough, their run defense allowed only 2.4 yards per carry.
Tippett helped take the Hawkeyes to the Rose Bowl during one of his years, their first trip in over two decades. When he finished at Iowa, he was both an All-American as well as a two-time All-Big Ten defensive end. Moreover, he finished with the single-season record for a tackle for loss yards, collecting 153 yards on 20 TFL.
Tippett would leave Iowa as one of the best defensive players to do it. Given the strength of their defensive line throughout history, that is most certainly a notable achievement.
— Football Foundation (@NFFNetwork) December 8, 2021
6. Cal Jones, OT (1952-55)
During the 1950s, the Hawkeyes were beginning to rise to dominance. Part of that was due to the strength of their defensive line. Before they became a power in the mid-1950s, Jones was one of the bright spots.
He earned a trio of First-Team All-American nods, two of their consensus. He was so good that he even managed to finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting in 1955. Times were different back then, sure, but his ability to finish with any recognition cannot be understated.
Jones also had a historical impact, not just at Iowa but on college football. He became the first African American player to ever win the Outland Trophy, given to the best interior lineman in the country. He was also the first collegiate player to land on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a prestigious thing back in the time.
He passed away in 1956 in a plane crash, when he returned from an all-star game in Vancouver.
Dec. 9, 1956 – 64 years ago: Five CFL stars were killed in a plane crash on B.C.'s Mount Slesse returning from the all-star game in Vancouver. Calvin Jones, shown, grandfather of recent Stampeder Edwin Harrison, and 4 Sask. Roughriders, were among all 62 who died. pic.twitter.com/6ExovQ9OdK
— Daryl Slade (@Stampeders1945) December 9, 2020
5. Robert Gallery, OT (1999-03)
Gallery was the prototypical left tackle of his age. He was dominant from the time he stepped foot on campus and left with more than a few accolades. He earned a pair of First-Team All-Big Ten awards while also earning a consensus All-American nod as a senior. That year, he took home the Best Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year award as well as the Outland Trophy for the best offensive lineman.
He was also a notable name in elevating the Hawkeyes to the upper end of college football. In his final two seasons, the Hawkeyes won a whopping 21 games, finishing in the top 10 of the AP rankings both times.
Unfortunately for Gallery, he may well be known for what came after. The second overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Gallery failed to live up to the hype. He is considered to be one of the great draft busts ever.
— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) September 18, 2015
4. Alex Karras, DT (1954-57)
Make no mistake, you will find Alex Karras’ name on just about every list of the greatest Hawkeyes to ever do it. He was arguably the most dominant defensive lineman in the history of the school, coming in as a back-to-back first-team All-American in 1956 and 1957.
If that weren’t enough, he led them to a Rose Bowl, their first trip, while finishing as a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1957. That same year, he won the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in the nation.
What is notable is that Karras had an impressive NFL career as well. He made the Pro Bowl four times and the All-Pro team a whopping nine times, playing 161 games throughout the course of his career.
Former Iowa Hawkeyes Duke Slater and Alex Karras will be posthumously inducted into the @ProFootballHOF on May 1st.
Duke Slater was the first black lineman in NFL history when he made his debut in 1922
Alex Karras was 2nd in the 1957 Heisman Trophy voting as a defensive lineman pic.twitter.com/wyWkh24Ohy
— Barstool Iowa (@BarstoolUIowa) April 15, 2021
3. Dallas Clark, TE (1999-02)
Clark is important in Hawkeye’s history for his role in helping put Iowa back on the map. What’s funny is he began as a linebacker, making the move to tight end and never looking back. In his second season at the position, he helped lead them to an 11-2 record and an Orange Bowl appearance. That is why we named him also one of the best tight ends in the history of the Hawkeyes.
That season alone, he would earn a unanimous All-American selection, First-Team All-Big Ten, and a John Mackey Award given to the best tight end in the nation. He was so good that the Big Ten changed the name of the award to the Dallas Clark Award.
He would most notably become a first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, pairing up with Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning for many prolific years.
A highlight for our @TheIowaHawkeyes Hall-of-Famer, Dallas Clark.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) September 1, 2022
2. Shonn Greene, RB (2005-06, 2008)
There is some debate about Greene but there is no debating that his 2008 season will rank among the greatest of all time for Iowa football. He was an explosive play waiting to happen every time that he touched the ball.
Greene, helping the Hawkeyes to a 9-4 record that year, set the single-season record for rushing yards (1,850) and rushing touchdowns (20). On top of that, he tied the season record for points scored (120). Greene would walk away with the Doak Walker Award, earn a First-Team All-American nod, and finish sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Though his career prior to the 2008 season was pretty good, he will always be remembered for that 2008 season.
— Hawkeye Legacy (@LegacyHawks) August 21, 2021
1. Nile Kinnick, HB (1936-39)
Given that the stadium the Hawkeyes play in is named after him, it is hard to argue against Kinnick being the greatest Hawkeye ever. The team wasn’t very good during his first three years there, but that wasn’t because of Kinnick.
He was an iron man in every sense, playing injured and never missing a minute. If that weren’t enough, Kinnick did it all. He was quarterback, defensive back, punter, kicker, and halfback. That is something that will never be seen again given the way the game is played today.
In his final season, he led the Hawkeyes to magic. He was the catalyst behind their 6-1-1 record, giving them an AP ranking of 9th. He was their leading passer, leading rusher, and best punter that year. As if that weren’t enough, he hauled in an Iowa record eight interceptions. That record stands today, as do his 18 career interceptions.
Perhaps most importantly, Kinnick is the only Hawkeye to win the Heisman Trophy. There is little question that he is the greatest to wear black and gold.
75 years ago today, Nile Kinnick passed away. His impact and legacy will live on forever. pic.twitter.com/4oxzAewgrn
— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) June 2, 2018