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Leistikow: 'Hawkeye Wave' continues to amaze, plus other Iowa football thoughts

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

My last day before a recent pre-Pinstripe Bowl vacation saw the Iowa basketball team lose a game at Iowa State.

Also that night, Iowa’s football program was given the “Disney Spirit Award” on ESPN for what became the “best tradition in college sports” — Kinnick Stadium fans waving to those inside the adjacent children's hospital at the end of the first quarter.

The three Des Moines moms who developed "Hawkeye Wave" T-shirts (from left: Lori Willis, with husband Jason; Brooke Mickelson, with husband John; Meighan Phillips, with husband Cy) on Thursday presented a check of more than $440,000 to the UI Stead Family Children's Hospital. They said 100 percent of profits went directly to the hospital.

On my first day back … there’s no better story than that to start getting caught up.

The 'Wave'

What started as (and will continue to be) a one-minute gesture on home football Saturdays to lift sick children’s spirits has continued its organic and unexpected rise. On Thursday, the “Hawkeye Wave” tangibly translated to a $440,754 donation to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

The three Des Moines moms — Brooke Mickelson, Meighan Phillips and Lori Willis — who came up with and developed the sale of “Wave” T-shirts and sweatshirts never expected it would get to this level. When they first hatched the idea, they based their order of a few hundred shirts on the sizes of their Christmas-card lists.

From left: Meighan Phillips Brooke Michelson and Lori Willis pose for a photo Thursday at a ceremony in which they presented a check of more than $440,000 to the UI Stead Family Children's Hospital. They said 100 percent of profits went directly to the hospital.

As of Thursday, 22,500 had been sold.

And every dollar of profit, thanks to every ounce of energy these women put into the sales and the fans that supported them, went straight to the hospital. The moms were adamant that eventual retailers Hy-Vee and Von Maur (which was still accepting online orders as of Thursday) give 100 percent of profits to the hospital, too.

“(The ‘Wave’) is very pure in its approach. And it was pure in its reception from the Hawkeye fans,” said Mickelson, whose youngest son, Hunter, was treated at the hospital in 2015 with a life-threatening kidney-related condition and continues to require monthly checkups in Iowa City. “To take something like this and kind of make it work for the hospital, it never crossed our minds that we would take one cent from this whole thing.”

Mickelson said much of the money is being directed toward pediatric research, as well as improving the experience for kids facing serious health situations and their healthy siblings who tag along.

Amazing. Impressive. Inspiring.

Pick any of those words, and you’d be correct.

Mickelson told stories of entire classrooms buying shirts, which were geared toward Iowa's Nov. 4 home game vs. Ohio State. She also told a story about a boy named Sam, who, on the week before he was scheduled to have brain surgery in Iowa City, was uplifted by seeing a classmate wearing a “Wave” T-shirt.

The three Des Moines moms who developed "Hawkeye Wave" T-shirts (Lori Willis; Brooke Mickelson; Meighan Phillips) on Thursday presented a check of more than $440,000 to the UI Stead Family Children's Hospital. They said 100 percent of profits went directly to the hospital.

While recovering at the Ohio State game, Sam carried one teddy bear he had named “Stead.” The three moms were distributing other teddy bears that night with tiny “Wave” shirts, and Sam decided to name that one, “Instead.”

That has now inspired another movement from the moms, to pass out bears named “Instead” to hospitalized kids who are going through a tough time.

“While you’re being treated in Stead (hospital),” Mickelson said, “instead of feeling fear, feel joy; instead of feeling like you’re lonely, feel like we’re here for you; instead of punching a pillow or … however you want to take out your aggression, hug ‘Instead,’ instead.”

This is all great stuff, and it goes to show how operating from a place of love and generosity can build into something none of us could plan.

Pinstripe sales

On Thursday, Iowa senior associate athletics director Matt Henderson said about 2,500 tickets had been sold from the school's 7,500 allotment for the Dec. 27 Pinstripe Bowl in New York City.

That number includes university-purchased tickets for player "comps" (six each) and other school officials, so the actual sales to fans are closer to 1,500. But while that number is low by Hawkeye standards, this year it's mostly a nonstory.

There was considerable fan enthusiasm for the possibility of an affordable, driving-distance bowl game, the Dec. 29 Music City in Nashville. When that didn't happen, it diminished fans' willingness to travel — but doesn't mean they stopped caring about Hawkeye football.

And Iowa's administration understands.

"Whether they’re in Yankee Stadium or back here around Kinnick Stadium," Henderson said, "we appreciate the support of our fans."

The Pinstripe timing (two days after Christmas), expense (of Manhattan) and possible weather forecast (temperatures are likely to be in the 30s or 40s) make this whole bowl trip a tough ask for Iowans, especially as many consider 2018 and/or 2019 to have loftier results.

That's why Iowa is continuing to market tickets to its East Coast alumni. Henderson's hearing that a lot of those fans are waiting until closer to gameday at Yankee Stadium to decide whether to attend. They'll have a better idea of the Dec. 27 weather, and there's no risk in waiting because the game won't be a sellout.

“We’re confident that when we kick off," Henderson said, "there’s going to a great crowd of Hawkeye fans in attendance."

Bottom line: Iowa's bowl attendance this year won't matter as much as a bowl win would.

Rating Iowa's defensive JJs

A topic that has no correct answer but lots of conversation: Are linebacker Josey Jewell and cornerback Josh Jackson the best single-season defensive duo in the Ferentz era?

We had fun debating this on Wednesday's Hawk Central radio show. And the case for Jackson and Jewell is strong. 

Ferentz has had nine consensus all-Americans in his 19 years, four on defense: Adrian Clayborn in 2010; Desmond King in 2015; and Jewell and Jackson this year.

Jewell was named Big Ten Conference defensive player of the year after leading the league in tackles (with 125) and being a consistently disruptive force (13.5 tackles for loss, 11 pass breakups, two interceptions). Jackson could've made a case for that honor, too, with his seven interceptions and nation's-best 25 passes defended. 

Best ever duo? Arguably.

My top four under Ferentz:

1) Clayborn and Pat Angerer, 2009. An eventual first-round NFL Draft pick, Clayborn was a dominant force (25 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and a key blocked-punt return at Penn State) for a team that delivered Ferentz his only BCS bowl win. And Angerer racked up 145 tackles for a defense that was the most stingy of the Ferentz era (276.5 yards per game).

2) Jewell and Jackson, 2017. They were two of the nation's 14 unanimous consensus all-Americas. Not bad representation for a 7-5 team.

3) Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway, 2005. The legendary linebacker duo recorded the second-most single-season tackles in Iowa history (Hodge, 158) and third-most (Greenway, 156).

4) Jonathan Babineaux and Matt Roth, 2004. Two of the program's most fearsome defensive linemen were dominant (combined 40 tackles for loss, 19 sacks) on a salty defense that won Iowa's most recent Big Ten championship. Both became second-round NFL Draft picks, and Babineaux enjoyed a long pro career.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.