‘A labor of love’ : How an Iowa State graduate told the story behind the ‘Cy-hawk’ trophy

The title screen of the film Birth of the Cy-Hawk.

Matt Belinson

When Iowa State takes on in-state rival Iowa on Saturday, the reasons for the passion around the rivalry don’t need to be explained.

With no professional sports franchises in Iowa, college football reigns supreme above all other sports in the state, making the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk football game the must-watch event of the year in the state. 

However, when the ball is kicked off and the trash talking ensues in the stands on Saturday, there will be a large majority of Iowans who grew up on both sides of the rivalry for their entire lives, not knowing that the game they grew up watching was nearly gone forever and didn’t have a proper trophy to go with it.

The story of the men who saved the Cy-Hawk series and gave the rivalry its famous trophy is not something most people in Iowa are aware of, but one native Iowan is looking to make sure this changes.

His name is Ben Godar.

Godar, a 2000 Iowa State graduate, owns his own production company based out of Des Moines called Eleven Bulls.

In his original documentary titled, “Birth of the Cy-Hawk,” Godar tells the story of Bob Uetz and his friends and how they came together to save the Cy-Hawk rivalry. 

Godar’s documentary shares the journey of “ordinary fans” who thought the Cy-Hawk game should get its own unique trophy. As the documentary tells, the journey began when Uetz was driving his car as the 1977 Cy-Hawk game was approaching. Uetz shouted out, “there should be a trophy for this game,” to which his youngest son responded, “why don’t you do it?, and thus began the story of how the Cy-Hawk game got its recognizable trophy and was able to renew a contract to stay in existence for years to come.

‘That can’t be true’

Godar said that he first heard of the Uetz’s story back when he was enrolled in Ames High School, where he was a student of Uetz’s.

Uetz was a history professor at Ames High, teaching various classes in history and social studies.

Godar was friends with Uetz’s youngest son, Tyler, making Godar an early acquaintance of Uetz and his family.

One day, Godar was talking with Uetz and his son Tyler, and they got on a subject that took Godar by surprise.

“They were all like, ‘oh yeah, Bob and his buddies created the CyHawk trophy’ and I was like ‘what are you talking about, that can’t be true,’” said Godar. “I kept thinking, ‘That’s an amazing story, how is that not a story something that everybody in Iowa knows?’”

Godar has trouble remembering exactly when and where he first heard Uetz’s unique story because Uetz’s presonality made the story seem so normal. Godar said the story of the trophy was used in regular conversation and was never highlighted or boasted about.

Godar saw Uetz’s passion come from an organic place, where there was no influence or expectation of receiving national spotlight or money for his creation of the trophy.

Once Godar saw what type of fans Uetz and his friends were, he knew that their story was something worth telling, because they would be a sight for sore eyes when it came to college sports, especially when it comes to football.

“For me, I get turned off by college sports these days because there is so much driven by revenue,” Godar said. “Everything feels like big business rather than a collegiate sport, and it has changed so much since I was in school.

“There was something so charming about this trophy because it just grew in this organic way from ordinary fans because they just wanted to contribute to something they loved.”

Once Godar decided he wanted to tell the story of Uetz, he knew he would have to approach Uetz and his friends about sharing their story for the first time, which was something all involved were more than willing to do.

“It was always bothersome for people not knowing or caring about our story,” Uetz said. “It is wonderful to see the documentary tell our story really for the first time.”

Being a former history teacher, Uetz views his story not being told as another example of people forgetting or being ignorant to the history around them. Uetz said people don’t want to learn about history and what had to take place for things to exist now; rather, they forget and move on.

“People take this rivalry for granted, but we did not,” Uetz said. “This was a no-brainer for us to create.”

A ‘labor of love’

Godar fed off the enthusiasm of Uetz and his friends, as well as his Iowa roots when the documentary began. Godar said his childhood in Iowa partially influenced his desire to tell this story, but most of his dedication to this project came from his passion for telling stories.

Godar said that he felt a responsibility to tell this story because he saw that no one else had taken the initiative to, despite the story being over 40 years old. 

“Being an Iowan, I was so excited to be able to tell the story of something that means so much to people in Iowa, yet very few people know about,” Godar said.

Godar admits he had no real plan when the filmmaking began, with not even a run-time in mind when he began the documentary.

“The first goal I had was to finish the film,” Godar said. “I didn’t target a length for it; I let the story just go as long as it needed.”

In one edit, Godar said the documentary reached 36 minutes long.

Once he finished the documentary, he submitted the film to the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in April. One of the many who saw the documentary at the festival was Liz Gilman. Gilman is the executive producer of Produce Iowa, the state of Iowa’s media production office.

Gilman, like a lot of Iowans, was unaware of the origins of the Cy-Hawk trophy and how ordinary fans made it possible.

“Well, I had no idea how the Cy-Hawk trophy came about and so it was fun to learn about the evolution of it,” Gilman said. “It’s a buddy film that’s actually very touching. It’s a home-grown Iowa story that now can be preserved and passed down to the next generation of sports fans.”

Even after submitting the documentary to the festival, Godar had his eyes set on a specific date to have the film released across the state.

Godar said his dream was always to premiere the film during the week of the Cy-Hawk game. Godar’s dream came true, with him being able to show the film all across Iowa this week, including his final showings of the documentary this weekend in Ames during the Cy-Hawk game.

The documentary began showing Thursday at the North Grand Cinema in Ames, but will have screenings until Sept. 19.

“This all really started as a labor of love,” Godar said. “To me, this story of how a group of ordinary guys created the icon like the Cy-Hawk rivalry is a real piece of Iowa history.”

Andrew Sherburne, co-founder of FilmScene in Iowa City, was sent the documentary and had similar reactions to everyone else. He also admired the story of ordinary guys working together to create something that would make them happy.

“What’s fun about the ‘Birth of the Cy-Hawk’ is that you are cheering for the underdog, the average fan, to be a part of game day,” Sherburne said. “I don’t think it matters if you cheer for the Hawkeyes or the Cyclones; you’ll definitely root for these guys.”

Film critics, business owners and government officials were not the only ones who already saw the documentary at the Julien and Dubuque Film Festival in April, as Uetz saw the documentary and enjoyed what he saw, along with strangers around him.

Uetz said that once the documentary was over, a woman who told him she was from Los Angeles came up to him. She told Uetz that while she was not a sports fan, she loved the story.

“I think if people hear the story, they will get a much deeper understanding of what ‘Cy-Hawk’ means,” Uetz said.

Uetz said he was very proud of Godar’s commitment and his final product because he came at the documentary with an approach of genuine interest.

Uetz looks forward to tuning into Cy-Hawk games on TV or in person because he gets to see the phrase “Cy-Hawk” displayed all over marketing materials, posters and commercials. Uetz takes pride in the fact that he now gets to see all the hard work he and his friends gave to make the “Cy-Hawk” possible every time he watches the Cy-Hawk series.

“I love it, every time I see the words ‘Cy-Hawk,’ I know what that means and where that came from,” Uetz said. “Every time I see it, I smile.”