116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The games aside, it's going to take a while for me to figure out what I saw while covering the Iowa men's basketball team this winter.
I attended 28 of the Hawkeyes' 31 games, and all 15 of them away from Iowa City. If you had said last spring or summer or autumn that it would work like that, I'd have questioned your reality orb.
Only four of the games — those in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments — had fans other than a few hundred family members.
At the road games where they didn't even allow family members, it felt like they were playing just for me and a few other media mopes. Nothing was deemed safe enough for the games to be public events. You couldn't have a player's parents in the gym at Piscataway, but the games had to be played. Commerce, you know.
I drove to eight Big Ten sites other than Iowa City, as well as Iowa's game against Gonzaga in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the Big Ten and NCAA tourneys in Indianapolis. I flew to New Jersey and Maryland. In a pandemic. To cover basketball. Which seemed a bit insane, before and during.
Yet, it was pretty isolated and seemingly safe. A man and a car, forgettable drive-through food, socially distanced seats in almost entirely vacant arenas.
Quirks abounded. At the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls for the Gonzaga-Iowa game, the arena gave me my own suite. That was a once-in-a-career deal. Alas, the refrigerator was unstocked.
On Christmas night, a wayward wild turkey walked alongside me in the snow to Williams Arena on the quiet Minnesota campus. The turkey went all the way up to a picture window and stared inside The Barn for several minutes. Like all other Gopher fans, it wasn't allowed inside.
But that and everything else in East Lansing, West Lafayette and North Everywhere was all trivial compared to my Maryland trip of Jan. 6-8.
I took a short train ride from College Park to Washington on the morning of Jan. 7, several hours before Iowa was to play Maryland. The night before, I watched the U.S. Senate reconvene to certify the Electoral College's vote while I was on a flight to Baltimore.
As I was readying to leave Cedar Rapids for Maryland, a throng of insurrectionists stormed the Capitol in a murderous display of humanity gone haywire. The next morning, I was able to get mere yards from the 7-foot fence being erected around the Capitol.
For a TheGazette.com blog post, I wrote 'There were still some Trump supporters wearing their red caps and waving their blue flags here. I saw many others leaving hotels not far from the (National) Mall, chatting up each other on street corners and in a Starbucks, and getting rides to airports. I talked to someone from Wisconsin and someone from Texas who came here just to join the pro-Trump rally that ended so, yes, deplorably.
'They said they were glad they came. They seemed happy. Lots of smiles. Lots of recounting the day before, seemingly with fondness. Little mask-wearing.
'Judging them on appearance and demeanor, many seemed like they could just as easily have been here to do business or attend a conference. …'
A little more than a week later, I drove to Chicagoland for the Iowa-Northwestern game. On I-294 near O'Hare Airport I saw billboards that for years have been dominated by ads for a hair-growth product. This time, many were for a website directing people to COVID-19 testing with fast results.
On a couple of digital billboards, citizens were urged to report tips they knew about people at the Capitol terrorist attack to the FBI's website.
Oh, for the days of Brian Urlacher urging men to 'tackle balding.'
Flash ahead to last weekend in Indianapolis. Fans, though a sliver of the normal amount, were back for the NCAA tournament. An Oral Roberts supporter was proud and delighted to be congratulated about his team's upset of Ohio State. When I reminded a man wearing Villanova gear that Winthrop only had one loss, he correctly stated 'They're about to have two.'
I saw West Virginia fans having a big old time in the hotel bar seven hours before their team's first-round win over Morehead State. I saw them returning to the hotel two nights later after losing to Syracuse. Even with masks on, it was clear by their body language that they weren't to be engaged.
That was a small return of normalcy, college basketball-wise. It was way better than all the sterilized hotel room television remote controls in plastic bags or press row seats with Plexiglas dividers. And insurrections, too.
Comments: (319) 398-8440; firstname.lastname@example.org