First a rhyme, then game time

Dyersville man has been reciting his poetry before Iowa Hawkeyes football games for nearly 30 years.

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Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012 12:00 am

DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- To his fans, Carl "Sandburg" Schwendinger is as much a tailgating fixture as beer and oversized turkey legs.

For almost 30 years, the "Hawkeye Poet," as he's known on game day, has entertained throngs of fellow University of Iowa football enthusiasts. They flock to his tailgate site

45 minutes before kickoff at home games for 12 carefully rehearsed lines of adrenaline-pumping gridiron balladry.

"We've beaten Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa, too," Schwendinger said in a poem composed for the Hawkeye's Sept. 22 matchup with Central Michigan. "We wanted Northern Michigan, but Central will have to do!"

Schwendinger raises his index finger as he reads, belting stern warnings for schools that would dare to challenge the mighty Hawkeyes.

"While our offense has struggled, our defense has made us believers. In fact, our strong safety Tom Donatell is one of our leading receivers!"

On his off days, Schwendinger, a Dyersville resident, works as a manufacturing engineer. He is a father to three girls and a husband to his wife, Becky.

But he is never too far removed from an irrepressible Hawkeye spirit.

Schwendinger has a "Hawkeye Room" in the upper level of his home, the walls of which are adorned with memorabilia and photos collected over the past three decades.

Tigerhawks appear on his clothes and his belt. His license plate, "HWKPOET," keeps the spirit alive even during commutes.

Schwendinger's ascension to the role of the Hawkeye Poet had humble beginnings.

"I just did it for fun one time," he said. "I've been doing it at every home game ever since."

Schwendinger works on his poems throughout the week leading up to game day, often while listening to Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz's call-in radio show.

He includes references to opponents and key Iowa players, and offers commentary on the team's chances for success.

As his reputation grew, his reserved tailgating spot at 701 Melrose became more and more crowded.

"In fact, the way Iowa's been playing this year, some people have told me (the poem) is the best part of the day," Schwendinger said.

Schwendinger estimates that he has only missed about four home games over the past 30 years and has attended 12 bowl games.

He has witnessed incredible success and heartbreaking defeat.

"I said 'Watch for the fake punt,'" Schwendinger said, recalling a 2010 loss to Wisconsin, in which the Hawkeyes fell for a trick play in the fourth quarter. "I just said it, and boom, they did it."

All of Schwendinger's poems are saved on his computer, and he might consider publishing them as he nears retirement.

But for now, he has another game to prepare for.

Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Telegraph Herald. If you know someone who would be a good candidate for a Neighbors story, email city editor Ken Brown at kbrown@wcinet.com.

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