IOWA CITY - When you walk into the visitors' locker room at the University of Iowa's Kinnick Stadium, it looks like a place where Barbie got loose with a roller and a five-gallon pail of her favorite color.
It is pink, pink, pink. There is pink everywhere. And it's not a hue or a tint - it is a theme.
It is so pink in that locker room, you could hold the Owens Corning insulation sales meetings here. Or maybe this is the place where Mary Kay cosmetics paints all those pink Cadillacs.
Legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry put the place pretty in pink more than 20 years ago, and the pastel-tone locker room has taken its place in the rich folklore of the Big Ten ever since. Fry, who has a degree in psychology, explained in his autobiography that "pink walls would put opponents in a passive mood" and said some might regard it as a "sissy color."
When the stadium went through an extensive renovation project recently, the visitors' quarters went even more pink - pink shower floors, pink lockers, pink sinks, and yes, even pink urinals.
Michigan, the team that will be dressing and showering in that sea of Pepto-Bismal this weekend when it plays the Hawkeyes in a crucial Big Ten game, thinks the pink locker room is no big deal.
"It's nothing - it's a pink locker room," offensive tackle Rueben Riley said. "You can try to make an issue of it and tell yourself it calms you before a game, but you know, those pink walls, it's no issue and it doesn't have anything to do with the game."
The excessively pink motif did become an issue recently when a female law professor at Iowa raised objections to it, claiming the choice of colors was demeaning and an insult to women and homosexuals. She demanded that the pink be removed.
Both Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Michigan's Lloyd Carr adeptly tiptoed out of this potential minefield of political correctness when asked about the locker room, choosing to leave it as part of the psychological gamesmanship that goes on in college football.
"I mean this with all due respect," Ferentz said, "but that's not really on my laundry list right now. I've got other things that have moved in front of it."
"I wouldn't do that to the other school," Carr said. "That's just me. I wouldn't do that."
The pink environment rankled former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler to the extent that he had his student assistants cover the pink walls before his team came into the locker room. When he was coach at Northwestern, Gary Barnett conditioned his team in the week before they played at Iowa by having the Wildcats' home lockers painted pink. For one game at Kinnick Stadium about 15 years ago, all the Illinois assistant coaches wore pink hats.
Michigan wide receiver Carl Tabb said that he views the buzz around the pink locker room at Iowa as just a somewhat bizarre and funny sideshow, and one that ultimately has nothing to do with how the game is played, or who will win.
"You could paint the locker room pink, you could paint it red, you could paint it white - a locker room is still a locker room," Tabb said. "You don't play the game in there, and just because you dress in a pink locker room doesn't mean you come out on the field in a pink jersey. No one is going to say, 'I'm in a pink locker room so I feel like a girl now.' That doesn't make sense. No one is going to let the locker room affect how they play."
The Hawkeyes have won 22 straight games at home, and Fry, a former Marine, contends in his book that some of those fallen opponents did let the pink get to them. "When I talked with an opposing coach before a game and he mentions the pink walls, I know I've got him," Fry said. "I can't recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the color and then beat us."
When Michigan opens the door and walks into the world of pink this morning, the only break it will get is from the two steel-gray drinking fountains. Everything else is pink. And not that it matters, but despite all of the fuss, pink is really innocent. The locker room is actually decorated in some shade called Dusty Rose.
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