116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Every football season is a story, with 12 or 13 or 25 or 100 chapters. They're like snowflakes, all different, and more substantial when they accumulate. But I'll get back to snow in a bit.
Billy Joel wrote a short song called "Souvenir" that sort of expresses my feeling about how these seasons blur together.
A picture postcard
A folded stub
A program of the play
File away your photographs
Of your holiday
And your mementos
Will turn to dust
But that's the price you pay
For every year's a souvenir
That slowly fades away
Every year's a souvenir
That slowly fades away
I watched Hayden Fry take a figurative bow during the Rose Bowl telecast Saturday night. Fry was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame for bringing three Iowa teams to Pasadena. He wasn't the best coach in Hawkeye history, but he's in the conversation, and he created Hawkeye football as we know it. Which means, he turned it from a curiosity into a social phenomenon in Iowa.
I remember Fry's Rose Bowl teams, of 1981, 1985 and 1990. The '85 team had greatness about it. At the very least, it had moments that endure a quarter-century later. All you need say is "the Michigan State game" and "the Michigan game."
The '81 team was the breakthrough team, not really ready for a Rose Bowl, but the one that lifted the program from obscurity into a program that has been good for three decades.
The '90 team? It won the amount it needed to in order to emerge from a four-team tie for the league title and get beaten soundly by Washington in Pasadena. I don't remember much about it other than it wasn't projected to get anywhere near Granddaddy Bowl Game before the season began.
We flash to 2010. No greatness. Eight wins, five losses. Four of eight games it couldn't put away in the Big Ten, followed by summoning a lot of good stuff to fend off Missouri by the same 27-24 score it lost by at Minnesota in the regular-season finale.
I picked Mizzou to win in print by that 27-24 score. Iowa surprised me. Not much, mind you, but it surprised me by, say, the same narrow margin that gave it a win over a darn good Tigers team.
Last year's Hawkeyes were memorable, dancing with the devil in several games before a couple of late-season stumbles, and then ending with a pull-it-together domination of Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. This year's club is memorable mostly for the good memories it didn't make.
Yet, I think the '10 team might have beaten the '09 team. Though, it would be weird to see a junior Adrian Clayborn trying to sack a senior Ricky Stanzi. Especially since they're classmates and teammates.
I found the '09 and '10 Hawks to be equally interesting to cover, which is to say very interesting. Many a team isn't over a dozen games. So I certainly have no complaints.
Still, however, I wonder what the deal is when I got delayed getting home from Arizona on two separate trips in one football season because of fog in eastern Iowa.
I was booked on an Allegiant Airlines flight from Mesa to Cedar Rapids last Wednesday. It couldn't make the trip because of the fog I described. So it didn't leave at all. And the passengers were offered booking on a Friday flight from Mesa to C.R.
It so happens that three good friends, Todd Brommelkamp of Voice of the Hawkeyes, Rob Howe of HawkeyeInsider.com and Tom Kakert of HawkeyeReport.com were on the same flight. None of us wanted to stick around Greater Phoenix for another couple days, odd as that may sound to Midwesterners. But you do the hotel life long enough, and home always looks good. Plus, Rob and Tom have a wife and young kids at home, Todd has a fiancee, and I have my own family whose company I prefer over that of any collection of humans in any hotel on earth.
(No people in need of those pictured wheelchairs were deprived of them in the making of this story, by the way.)
The only Allegiant port anywhere near Phoenix was Las Vegas. So I rented a car, Tom worked the phones with Allegiant, Todd lined up $44 rooms in the Hooters Casino just a block off the Las Vegas Strip, Rob didn't try to talk us out of it, and the four of us traveled five-plus hours to Vegas to get a flight from there to Moline, Ill., the following afternoon.
Great plan, right? Eh. You could have guessed it wasn't going to be a normal trip when a coyote dashed across the road in front of us in the first mile out of the airport.
Drive to Vegas, have a night of fun, then come home. Except it rained all the way to northern Arizona. Then the rain turned to sleet, and the safety of a Mesa hotel started to seem really good. Whether it's Iowa or the desert, you don't want to drive on an ever-growing sheet of slush.
But after pulling off at a truck stop near Kingman for gas and for the driver (me) to try to collect some nerve, we proceeded. We were told the road would be better up ahead, and it was. Miraculously, it seemed. Then we continued north to Vegas on U.S. Highway 93. And after a while, it started snowing. Hard. They were hypnotic flakes intensely flying straight at the windshield that make me go into a trance just thinking about them ... What was I talking about?
It was a matter of hanging on to the steering wheel and hoping the tires did likewise with the road. Because that stretch from Bullhead City or wherever we were to Las Vegas doesn't have a lot of anything. Exits had names like "Chloride" and "Santas Land." It's called the desert because it's deserted, I think.
But as we got near Boulder City and Hoover Dam, the snow stopped, the road became clear, and the color eventually returned to our knuckles. Then we drove out of the darkness and into Las Vegas, past faux castles and pyramids and a fake New York City skyline, and into the parking ramp of Hooters Casino, across the street from the more-celebrated (and far more expensive) MGM Grand.
That was around 1 a.m. Not long after, the four of us were walking the Las Vegas Strip in a frigid wind without the right clothes to fend it off. We bumped into bad karaoke (I know, redundant), a worse-than-normal Elvis impersonator, and college kids playing beer pong in the back of a lower-end casino. We called it a night before night turned into day.
I wish (well, not really) there were some great stories I'm hiding from you, but I don't think that's the case. In fact, I apologize that this story lacks much actual juice. I recommend Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" if that's what you seek. It's timeless.
The flight to Moline left on time, Tom's wife generously drove us back to the Eastern Iowa Airport, and we got home a day sooner than we would have had we stayed put in Mesa. So it had a happy ending after a rough patch, like the Hawkeyes' season.
That team, by the way, had its flight from Phoenix diverted to Madison, Wis., last Thursday, and the Hawkeyes bussed the rest of the way to Iowa City. I don't know all the details, but I heard Wisconsin fans had gathered at the Madison airport to take off for the Rose Bowl, and neither they or the Hawkeyes quite understood why they had become a makeshift welcoming committee for Iowa's team.
Wisconsin's fans flooded southern California. Their team lost Saturday night. But their Packers beat the Bears on Sunday to earn an NFL playoff spot, so not all was lost for them, either.
See, nothing but pleasant endings for everyone but the Bears, and even they are going to the playoffs. A pleasant ending for me, too. Because Thursday morning before we took off for the Vegas airport, I went over to the MGM Grand sports book and bet twenty bucks on Wisconsin, getting three points against TCU. The Badgers scored with two minutes left to lose by just 21-19.
Thanks, Badgers. Thanks, Mother Nature, for not dumping any more sleet and snow on us in northern Arizona than you did. Thanks, Tom's wife. Thanks, my wife, for picking me up at the Eastern Iowa airport.
Happy New Year, everybody. It's a wonderful life.
Yes, there was a train in this "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" story. It was the tram in McCarran Airport in Las Vegas taking us from the main terminal to the terminal that contained our gate. So don't be bringing that "There was no train" riff. Man, I hate it when people give me that "There was no train" riff.