If you live in Iowa long enough, you'll come to understand that football, whether it be played on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons, is a big stinkin' deal.
Don't get me wrong, I love football.
I love sitting huddled up on metal bleachers with a blankie under your hiney and two over your lap while you're yelling with family and friends for the hometown hero. There is nothing quite like hearing the marching band playing the school song and seeing the cheerleaders decked out in their school finery.
And then there's college football.
We don't have any professional sports teams in Iowa. Minor league stuffs but nothing than a state away and it's just not the same thing, ya know?
We take our college football very seriously around here and you'll also come to understand that the further west you go, there are some folks who root for the Iowa State Cyclones. The closer you travel to Iowa City, you'll see cars, homes, and people decked out in their black and yellow finery declaring their allegiance to the Iowa Hawkeyes.
And our home is no exception.
We're for the Hawks.
Every member of our family has a hoodie or a tee-shirt or jersey that bears the Hawkeyes symbol.
It's also a big stinkin' deal to attend the football games in Iowa City.
If you're a Saturday grocery shopper, you know well enough to avoid the city like the plague during game day.
Anywhere and everywhere around Kinnick Stadium (proudly named after our very own war hero and Heisman trophy winner, Nile Kinnick) is a madhouse. But, if you're lucky enough to be part of the spectacle that is game day....well, that's a whole different ball of wax, as they say.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to take our son to his very first game at Kinnick Stadium.
We had scored some tickets thanks to a very good friend of ours and on a Saturday morning in early Fall of 2008, Arik and I set off early to Iowa City. I can remember chit-chatting on the way there, a little blurry-eyed yet, but that kid was ten then and could chatter, chatter, chatter when he was excited. It was still cool to do that then. Now that he's 14, he plays things a little bit aloof and close to the vest. We parked with little problem and started our way towards Kinnick.
If any of you follow college football, then you know half of the entertainment is the people and the tailgaiting. The closer we got to Kinnick, the more people we saw. Kinnick is pretty impressive, especially if you're a ten year old.
Heck, who am I kidding? I walk by that stadium every day to work and I still love it. I run into the football players in the morning, coming back from a.m. practice in their sweat socks, pulled up to their knees, and Adidas flip-flops. And one day was lucky enough to accidentally bump into our very own Coach Ferentz. He was a nice guy with a ready smile and a 'Good Morning' to me.
Yeah, yeah, I forgot who I was for a second there. This is why I should never meet famous people.
Annnnnyway, the closer we got to Kinnick, the bigger the melee'. There were grills, coolers, awnings, and the scents of good food. Everywhere you looked it was black and gold.
It's a sight to see.
Arik, bless his heart, kept stopping to look around every now and again and I would have to remind him to press on. We got in line to get to our seats and arrived early enough to watch the stadium fill up. Just right before game time, I told him to turn and look around. His eyes got huge and he just looked back at me. I'll never forget that look. The stadium can hold a little over 70,000 people. I can only imagine how that looks to a kid, but if judging by the look on Arik's face....yeah, it's mindblowing.
I love that our stadium is deemed one of the 'toughest' to play at in the Big Ten. I love that our student section is crazy and fun to watch. I also love that you can't explain the deafening noise when all of those folks are on their feet screaming for our team. You can't explain, you can only experience.
We were lucky enough to sit in front of some lovely folks who let Arik stand on his seat most of the game as we rarely sat down. It was the Shonn Greene show that day. He was a running back for our beloved Hawks who has having an epic 'on' day. We screamed until we were hoarse. We stopped to quench our thirsts with five dollar Cokes and high-fived our neighbors - front and behind - several times during the game. Slowly, every one around us was talking and all came to find that it was Arik's first game. I think he got high-fived more than anyone - including the team - that day. There's something magical about sharing a game with a kid. It reminds us of being a kiddo ourselves and what it feels like, the magic, of watching a game like that for the first time.
It's something only a child can understand and as much as we'd love to get back that wonder of the game, we get to experience it in bits and pieces through our children's eyes every now and again. Although, if pressed to comment on his memories, Arik would probably just say: "It was cool."
And at the end of the day, our team were the victors.
We wound our way out of Kinnick and back through a sea of Gold to our vehicle. Arik's chatter filled the air the whole way home as he relived every one of Shonn's break out runs toward a touchdown and how big the band was and how cool the drum line was and yes, the girls in their cheerleader skirts, but how cool was it to see so many people? Yeah, I could listen to that kind of excitement all day.
Opening day for the Hawkeyes is this Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago against Northern Illinois with at 2:30 p.m. If you get a chance to catch the game, turn it on and help root on our Hawkeyes. I know our family will have out butts firmly planted in front of our tv and all wearing our black & gold proudly.
It's part of being an Iowan.
It's who we are.
We're the Hawkeyes.