Nite Hawks to celebrate 35th anniversary
A special reunion event on June 15-16 in Newton has been announced to commemorate and honor the 35th anniversary of the first American professional football games ever played in Europe by the 1977 Newton Nite Hawks minor league pro football team.
The Nite Hawks, the 1975 Champions of the Chicagoland, later named the Northern States “AAA” Minor Pro Football League, along with their NSFL rivals, the Chicago Lions, played a five-game championship tour in reconfigured soccer stadiums across Europe in June of 1977, taming the Lions in all five games and playing before crowds as large as 22,000. The tour kicked off in Versailles Stadium in suburban Paris on the evening of June 2, where former Iowa Hawkeye star running back Mark Fetter of Tama scored the first touchdown in an American pro football game of any type to ever be played in Europe.
Ironically, representatives from the NFL, who had earlier turned down an offer to have NFL member teams comprise the European Tour, requested and paid for a complete set of color films covering the tour. Sportscaster Ron Briggs of KCCI TV in Des Moines was retained to do the filming and traveled with the official Tour party to the historic event. The 1977 Europe Tour and the resultant films helped lay the initial interest for the development of a NFL involvement in Europe that continues on today. Other games were held in Lille — an industrial city the size of Kansas City in northern France — Landstuhl, Germany, Graz and Vienna, Austria.
The reunion will be a two-day event, kicking off Friday evening with an informal “Greet and Meet” function at the Newton American Legion that is open to the public. A Saturday afternoon and evening of activities is scheduled at America’s Best Value Inn. A large collection of European Tour and Nite Hawks historic memorabilia will be on display in the hotel banquet room, where an evening social hour and dinner will be held.
Former Nite Hawks players, coaches and staff from all over the country are invited and will be in attendance. Former Nite Hawks fans, as well as the general public are invited to attend and participate. A highlights version of the color film shot for the NFL by Briggs. and now in an updated DVD format, will be aired. Former Nite Hawk all-league quarterback and team captain, Stan Allspach, is the Coordinator for the Reunion. Allspach, who was a record-setting passer as a William Penn QB in the late 1960s, was a longtime prep football coach at his high school alma mater in Baxter before returning to William Penn as an assistant offensive coach.
Brian Powers, a Chicago-based freelance author who has for several years been researching and writing a book about the historic Europe Tour, will be attendance to gather a good deal of firsthand data. He developed a special interest in the history and lore of the well-supported and successful Nite Hawks teams that featured a number of former grid stars from both major and smaller colleges in Iowa. His father, who died when he was young, was a Nite Hawks assistant coach and often talked about his experiences with the team that played in central Iowa from 1974 to 1978.
Additional information and updates will be posted on the Nite Hawk Facebook page. Allspach can be contacted at (641) 521-5620 or firstname.lastname@example.org.