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PASADENA, Calif. — Mickey Mouse, Chewbacca, Iowa black and gold and elaborate security measures came together New Year’s morning in the 127th annual Tournament of Roses Parade.
The parade, which drew an estimated 700,000 spectators and was beamed on television stations around the globe, stepped off just hours before Iowa’s first appearance in the Rose Bowl in a quarter century.
Just after noon California-time, thousands of Hawkeye fans stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind a roped-off street to greet four busloads of UI players and coaches — chanting “I-O-W-A” and “Let’s go Hawks.”
In fact, that was the same greeting the fans gave Stanford University players and coaches when they pulled up to the throngs of black and gold at nearly the same time.
“I bleed black and gold,” said one of the fans, Ben Uker, 40, a UI alumnus and former Hawkeye wrestler.
He and his wife live in the Quad Cities and won tickets to the game a week ago. They found last-minute flights to Los Angeles and were among the tens of thousands of UI faithful who started Friday’s festivities by taking in the parade.
Thousands who lined the 5-mile Rose Parade route were dressed in the University of Iowa colors, from striped Hawkeye overalls to toddlers dressed as cheerleaders.
And although most of the UI loyalists said they’d normally be tailgating, they were delighted to have an opportunity to take in the parade under blue skies and rising temperatures.
From Mickey Mouse and the Magic Kingdom to Chewbacca and the Millennium Falcon, intricate displays created nearly entirely of roses impressed the crowd.
“This is definitely something you have to do if you’re here,” said Jelena Beideman, 42, of Swisher, who flew in with her husband earlier this week for the game.
The couple has Hawkeye season tickets and typically operates a Kinnick Stadium tailgate so extravagant it has its own Facebook page — the “Hawkeye Tailgating Rescue Squad.”
But as Clydesdale horses trotted by and with retired Los Angeles Lakers great Kareem Abdul Jabbar not far behind, Beideman said they had to make a tailgating exception for the parade.
“It’s so amazing,” she said.
Sarah Vandenbroeke, 27, of West Des Moines, said she enjoyed all the parade floats and performances, but none more than the Hawkeye float, cheerleaders and band.
“Of course,” she said. “The Iowa one was the best.”
When the UI band marched by playing the Iowa fight song, an impressive number of parade-goers knew the lyrics to sing along.
“It was awesome,” said Kassandra Stulken, 23, of Iowa City, a UI senior who drove the past two-plus days with a crew of fellow students to make it just in time for the parade and game.
She said they expected to run in to a lot of Hawkeye fans but “this is crazy.”
As promised by parade organizers, security was visibly heightened for the parade, with bomb-sniffing dogs nosing through crowds and dozens of officers — uniformed and in plain clothes — keeping parade-goers in designated areas and behind fences, ropes and marked lines on the pavement.
The most complex surveillance system in the parade’s history featured security cameras mounted on light poles, noticeable for anyone looking. But few seemed to be, as many maintained a relaxed and festive attitude.
“This is like a dream,” said Colleen Nibaur, 47, of Iowa City. “It’s perfect.”
Nibaur and her husband, Greg Nibaur, 48, decided just nine days ago to make the trip with their two teenage children after the cost of game tickets started falling.
They got creative in their travel plans, driving six hours to Grand Island, Neb., where they caught a flight to Las Vegas and then took a rental car the rest of the way.
Jason Jenn, a UI graduate and Los Angeles resident, wore his gold glittery scarf in support of his alma mater, and said he was excited to see the Hawkeyes play in the Rose Bowl again. The last time he came to the Rose Parade, he was much younger and remembers seeing only the tops of heads.
Alan McDermott, 72, and Joyce Keegan, 70, live in Bettendorf but winter in the Tampa Bay area and are season ticket holders — having gone to 10 bowl games to date. But they’ve never seen a Rose Bowl until now.
“This was on the bucket list,” Keegan said.
The pair skipped the parade in favor of tailgating in the parking lot next to the same crew they neighbor during Kinnick Stadium tailgates.
“We were so excited,” Joyce Keegan said. “I always have high hopes.”