Meet the Hilgenbergs

Jerry Hilgenberg (right, Wally Hilgenberg (left).

Jerry Hilgenberg (right, Wally Hilgenberg (left).

Gridiron family boasts Hawkeye legacy like no other


By Don Doxsie


Little Wilton Junction High School did not even have a football team when Jerry Hilgenberg first got there in 1945.

He had always been active in athletics and he played for the Bears’ basketball and baseball teams, but what he and many of his classmates really wanted to do was play football.


In his senior year, he got his wish. A year later, he tried out for the football team at the University of Iowa as a quarterback, eventually was switched to the center position and by the time he was a senior in 1953, he was an All-American.


It was the start of something special. He was the first of six members of his family — all linemen, mostly centers — to play for the Hawkeyes as younger brother Wally, sons Jim, Jay and Joel, and Wally’s son, Eric, all followed in his path.


Between them, players named Hilgenberg won 19 varsity letters at Iowa. Jerry, Wally and Jay were named first team All-Big Ten. Joel was a two-time second team All-Big Ten pick. They combined to play 39 seasons in the National Football League, starting 375 games and playing in five Super Bowls and eight Pro Bowls.


It’s a legacy unmatched by any other family in Hawkeye annals.


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