Who better to kick off this new series on past Hawkeye greats than Tim Dwight, one of the most beloved Hawkeye athletes of all time?  It has been nearly 15 years since he last donned a black and gold football jersey, but he remains just as popular in Iowa today as he has ever been.

A Little Hawk

Timothy John Dwight, Jr., was always small in stature, at least as far as height and weight goes.  Even in his NFL days, he was only listed at 5’8″, 180 pounds.  So it seems appropriate that this little Hawkeye rose to fame as a Little Hawk.

As a track and football star at City High in Iowa City, Dwight dazzled spectators as he dominated high school sporting events with ease.  He was a track sensation, especially in the 200 meter dash and in the long jump.  He is the only man in Iowa high school history to win four state championships in the 200 meter dash (and one of only six men to win state championships in the same event in each of his freshman through senior seasons).  Dwight also won the state long jump title in his sophomore through senior seasons.  In all, he won eight individual state track championships…one shy of the all-time Iowa high school record.

In football, Tim Dwight was even more dominant.  The first time he touched the ball as a high school freshman, he zipped 80 yards for a City High touchdown.  By his junior year, he was a legitimate high school star for Little Hawks, who were ranked #2 in the state.  Dwight led City High to the playoffs, and in the state quarterfinals, they were paired up against top-ranked Bettendorf High School.

Bettendorf had their own standout running back named Tavian Banks.  The Banks vs. Dwight duel was highly anticipated across the state, and the game lived up to the hype.  The City High-Bettendorf playoff contest in 1992 is still remembered as one of the greatest high school football games ever staged in Iowa.  Tim Dwight racked up 185 yards rushing and receiving and scored four touchdowns, but Tavian Banks rushed for 245 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-28 Bettendorf victory.

As a high school senior, Tim Dwight would not be denied.  He led the Little Hawks to a state championship while rushing for 2,113 yards and setting a state record with 43 rushing touchdowns.  Every college in the country courted the diminuitive Dwight.  Even though the University of Iowa was right there in Iowa City, Dwight weighed his options.  Stanford made a particularly appealing pitch.  But ultimately, Tim Dwight chose to stay home and suit up for Coach Hayden Fry’s Hawkeyes.

Growing Into Stardom

A hometown kid who had an incredible high school career signs to play college football for the state’s top university.  As you might expect, the spotlight was bright and glaring.  Rather than embrace his big-man-on-campus status, all Tim Dwight wanted was to fit in with his teammates.  Dwight spent most of his first two seasons at Iowa flying under the media radar and trying to blend in with the team as best he could.  It was only after his breakout sophomore season that Dwight opened up with the media and assumed more of a role as a team spokesman.

Tim DwightDwight was seldom-used as a freshman.  He returned a few kicks, played in one game as a reserve defensive back, and occasionally entered the game at running back, his offensive position in high school.  But with Sedrick Shaw and Tavian Banks ahead of him on the running back depth chart, carries were going to be hard to come by for Dwight.  Coach Fry took a fair amount of criticism for not being able to find him a position on the field, but Fry’s dilemma was caused by Dwight’s versatility.  Tim Dwight was willing to play literally any position on the field, and he was talented enough to play at least a half a dozen of them.

Although he rushed for a touchdown in his first Hawkeye game and later that season threw a touchdown pass (to Matt Sherman, of all people), Dwight spent most of his freshman year in the shadows.  That offseason, he moved permanently to the wide receiver position, and he made an immediate impact.  In his first game as a sophomore, he racked up 191 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns as a starter at wide receiver.  That ignited a sophomore campaign in which Dwight led the team with 816 receiving yards and emerged as a rising star.

Tim Dwight opened his junior season in 1996 with a bang.  On Iowa’s first punt of the season against Arizona, Dwight raced down the field and made a crushing tackle of Wildcat returner Rodney Williams.

However, Coach Fry told Dwight that he was too valuable on offense to use for defense or blocking soon after that play.  Although there were rumors of using Dwight on both sides of the field in his senior season to boost his Heisman candidacy, Tim stuck to offense and returning kicks later in his career.

And boy oh boy, could Dwight return kicks.

The Returns

Dwight was a fantastic wide receiver at Iowa.  He set school records for career receiving yards (2,271) and career receiving touchdowns (21) that stood for over a decade.  For all his gaudy receiving stats, there are many Hawkeye fans who still insist he was underutilized as a wide receiver, as he seemed to make magical plays every time he touched the ball.

Tim DwightBut as great as Tim Dwight was as a receiver, he is primarily remembered at Iowa for just five plays.

Tim Dwight’s first punt return touchdown came in 1996 during a 21-20 victory over Penn State.  Dwight later called it one of the biggest plays of his career.  “That catapulted me and gave me more confidence in becoming a better punt returner and being a better football player,” he said.  The following week, he did it again, returning a punt for a touchdown against Ohio State.

In his senior season, Dwight again struck on consecutive weeks, returning a punt for a touchdown first against Michigan and then against Indiana.  That left him with four punt return touchdowns, and one more would give him a Big Ten conference record.

It was Tim Dwight’s final home game at Kinnick Stadium, and Iowa’s most historic rival, Minnesota, served as the opposition.  This was my first ever game at Kinnick Stadium after being a Hawkeye fan my whole life.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was a senior in high school and visiting campus with my dad, because I was planning to attend the University of Iowa the following year.  While we were there, we scrounged up tickets for this game.

Of course, all anyone could talk about was what a disappointing season it had been, with preseason Rose Bowl dreams dashed by a 3-4 conference record.  But I didn’t care.  I just wanted to see my favorite team in action, including Tavian Banks and Superman…Tim Dwight.

Iowa was up, 17-0, over the Gophers late in the third quarter.  With less than a minute left in the period, Minnesota was pinned deep in their own territory and forced to punt.  All season long, opposing coaches, terrified of Dwight’s returns, had punted away from him to keep the ball out of his hands.  When Dwight was back on kickoffs, teams actually kicked off out of bounds, deliberately taking the penalty to prevent any chance of a Dwight return.

Most of the time, a team would just punt the ball out of bounds, but because Minnesota was pinned so deep in their own end zone, they had to just kick it straight out and hope for the best.  Iowa went all out for the punt block, but the Gopher punter got it off.  It was a short punt that Dwight fielded at the Minnesota 44-yard line.  He immediately ran past a diving Gopher and sprinted upfield.  At this point, about six Minnesota defenders all converged on Dwight, and I thought he would be dropped.  But somehow, Dwight came sprinting out of the pack!

There was just one more defender between Tim Dwight and the end zone.  At the 20-yard line, Dwight hurdled the last Gopher defender’s dive and kept on his feet.  However, jumping this last defender slowed Dwight down long enough for another Gopher to hop on his back at the 10-yard line.

Now I was sure Dwight was finished, and just a few yards from making Big Ten history.  On all four of his previous punt return touchdowns, Dwight hadn’t had to break a tackle…heck, he barely had a defender lay a hand on him.  Now, this Gopher defender had him dead to rights.

But the little spark plug just wouldn’t go down.  Tim Dwight wiggled out of the tackle, shook off the defender, and galloped over the goal line and into the Big Ten record books.  With 49 seconds left in the third quarter, Dwight logged his fifth career punt return touchdown…and sealed the win for Iowa on Senior Day.  I’ll never forget that first game in Kinnick Stadium and how the whole crowd reacted to Tim Dwight’s energy and effort.  You can relieve some of Dwight’s greatest plays, and all five of those returns, right here.

Tim Dwight: The Competitive Spirit

I think what Iowa fans loved most about Tim Dwight is that he never quit.  He was the ultimate competitor.  In the NFL, he earned the nickname the “Kamikaze Kid”.  Hayden Fry once said, “The good Lord blessed Tim Dwight with unbelievable talent.  Timmy had great toughness and he was very knowledgeable about the game of football.  Above all, he was such a tremendous competitor.”

Tim DwightOne of my favorite Tim Dwight stories is one I tell in my book, Hawkeye Greats, By the Numbers.  Back in Fry’s day, Iowa used to hold an annual spring game, where fans could see Hawkeye stars of the present and future engage in a scrimmage.  Of course, one of the biggest concerns about having a spring game is that one of your stars might get injured.  To help guard against that, the spring game had a rule that punt returners had to automatically call a fair catch on any punt caught in the air.  That would help protect punt returners from taking needless hits in an exhibition game.

Well, Tim Dwight didn’t like having his return abilities limited…it ran contrary to his competitive nature.  So in one of these spring games, Dwight was back to return a punt.  Rather than catch the ball on the fly and automatically assume a fair catch, he deliberately let the ball hit the ground and picked it up off of the bounce.  Dwight then raced past his startled opponents seventy yards for a touchdown.

That was the never-quit attitude Dwight carried on the field…and fans understandably loved him for it.

An Amazing Rookie Season

Tim DwightSome questioned whether Tim Dwight and his small frame would be able to make an impact in pro football.  Despite finishing his career as a consensus first team All-American and placing seventh in the 1997 Heisman Trophy balloting, Dwight fell to the fourth round of the NFL Draft the following year.  As it turned out, the Atlanta Falcons got a bargain.

With the young rookie serving as a kickoff return specialist, the Falcons made their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history in 1999.  In Super Bowl XXXIII, Tim Dwight secured a place in the Super Bowl record books.  The Falcons trailed the Denver Broncos, 31-6, despite the fact that Dwight had several long kickoff returns in the game.  The Broncos kicked off to Dwight, who finally broke one.  He scooted 94 yards for Atlanta’s first touchdown of the game.  To this day, Tim Dwight is the only Hawkeye to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

The Falcons went down to defeat, but Dwight’s performance was one of Atlanta’s only bright spots.  He amassed 210 kick return yards on five attempts.  The 210 yards is the second-highest total in Super Bowl history, and his average of 42 yards per return is the highest of any player ever in the Super Bowl (minimum four returns), surpassing Green Bay’s Desmond Howard.

Back to the Black and Gold

Now Tim Dwight was a Super Bowl hero…a legitimate NFL playmaker.  At this point, he decided to return to Iowa City to compete in college track.

Wait…what?

Tim Dwight also ran track as a student at Iowa.  Even though he had left school for the NFL, Dwight had one more season of track eligibility remaining.  He decided to come back to Iowa City to use it, which became a national story.  Dwight had to endure a long NCAA investigation into his potential eligibility, because he had entered into several endorsement deals as an NFL rookie.  He offered to return over $20,000 of endorsement money…just for the opportunity to play one more season of college track.  The NCAA eventually relented in the face of a national feel-good story and permitted the Super Bowl standout to rejoin the Hawkeye track team.

Tim DwightDwight’s return to Iowa City made headlines and put a national spotlight on the Iowa track and field program, particularly when Sports Illustrated covered the event.  He teamed with two other football players, Bashir Yamini and Tim Dodge, to help the track team qualify for the NCAA championship race in the 4×400 meter relay.  All in all, everyone associated with Hawkeye track and field savored and greatly appreciated the widespread attention Dwight attracted to the program.

Pro Football Playmaker

Tim DwightTim Dwight then returned to the Atlanta Falcons.  In case you might think that the offseason running track distracted him at all, Dwight turned in a magnificent sophomore season in the NFL.  He caught 32 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns and added five rushes for 28 yards and a score.  Think about those stats for a second.  Tim Dwight touched the ball 37 times on offense that season, and eight of those touches ended with Dwight and his teammates celebrating in the end zone.  That’s a remarkable stat.  His 20.9 yards per reception also led the NFL that season…and, oh yeah, he returned a punt for a touchdown that year, too.

After three successful years in Atlanta, the Falcons traded Dwight to the Chargers as part of a package for the right to draft Michael Vick.  He had a couple of excellent seasons with San Diego before injuries began to take their toll.  Dwight labored through his final five seasons in the NFL, fighting injuries and bouncing from team to team.  But when it was all said and done, he left pro football with a decade of service and some very memorable highlights.

On to the Next Phase

Tim Dwight has maintained a successful career after football.  He has a stake in numerous businesses and real estate ventures in Iowa and elsewhere.  He currently owns businesses such as an Iowa City yoga studio and iPower, a California solar energy company.  He also gives back to the community through his charitable work.  In 2002, Dwight started the Tim Dwight Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps children and young people and has donated over $100,000 to causes like the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.  The Foundation also organizes an annual football camp in the Iowa City area.

Who knows what Tim Dwight will be doing next?  He’s heavily involved in his renewable energy business, but Dwight’s future goals seem much simpler.  “Just try to be a model citizen, lead by example, and just try to enjoy my life a little bit more, travel a little bit more, see the world and just be a little more educated,” Dwight said.

One thing is certain – whatever he decides to do, you can be sure he’ll be doing it all out.  “I’ve always identified him as one of the best competitors I’ve ever known,” former Iowa assistant football coach Don Patterson said.  “That nature will probably always be a part of his make-up.”

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