116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Last season was one big asterisk for Big Ten football.
It never felt quite right or totally legitimate. It was an abbreviated schedule. It was a briefly canceled season resurrected only to salvage as much from the conference’s TV contracts as possible. It pumped in that godawful recorded crowd noise to its games.
Welcome back to how it’s supposed to be at Kinnick Stadium, hopefully for the duration of this season and each that follows. The players, who never left, missed you.
“I’ve been ready for Hawkeye fans to get back in the stadium,” electric Iowa running back Tyler Goodson said, “because they give me energy and it makes me want to put on a show for them and it makes the team want to put on a show for them.”
First, though, the fans will put on a show for the players.
On Friday nights before home games, the Hawkeyes stay on the south edge of Cedar Rapids at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center. They bus back to Kinnick the next day.
“I love the bus ride in,” said Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta. “We’re driving down from Kirkwood and it’s crazy. You’ll see fans 10 minutes out, in Coralville out there, and they’re tailgating.
“Go Hawks!” LaPorta said in a high-pitched voice, impersonating them.
“You’re sitting on the bus like ‘Those people are crazy. It’s three hours before the game and they’re hooting and hollering.’ I love the bus ride.”
As locked in as the players are during that half-hour trip, they are keenly aware a lot of people are figuratively riding with them.
“On the bus,” Goodson said, “my mentality, really, is just get ready for the game. I’m going over my little script and making sure I know my assignments for the game.”
And yet … “Staring out the window, I see everything that’s going on, fans waving at the bus.”
Supporters line up near the Nile Kinnick statue at the stadium, forming a human tunnel of sorts leading into the stadium. The players bounce off the bus wearing headphones and appearing to be closed off to all distractions, but things briefly break down for a couple moments. They use laser-focus to find their families, and collect their hugs before resuming their routines.
Those parents and siblings were there last year, at least, but the players could only wave at them from a distance. The gathering near that statue was small and intimate instead of backed up by several rows of adoring strangers.
It was so strange, being able to drive right up to Kinnick last year without traffic or hubbub. You couldn’t tell it was a game day until you got to the stadium. Absent were all those RVs and buses, all those tables set up by fans with all that food, the countless games of cornhole, the Melrose Avenue vendors.
Missing was the big buzz, the big sound. It never felt anything close to right, let alone normal.
A major part of why Hawkeye players come to Iowa is because the Big Ten is big. It isn’t big without the fans.
Last year, LaPorta said, “it was just an eerie feeling and I think we did the best we could with it. Of course we’re excited to get back to 70,000 screaming fans. We’re going to try to do the best we can for them.”
Many players, current and former, insist players don’t hear the crowd once the game begins. Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said Tuesday that “You’re so locked in on what your job is that the fans are just this exterior, a white noise almost.”
After home victories, though, the cheering is part of the payoff. Players aren’t just celebrating with each other. The world instantly validates what they accomplished with its sustained roar.
It’s nice to get the “Nice going” texts and greetings for hours and days after a win. That roar, though, has staying power.
Football definitely was played at Kinnick last year, but there was no marching band, no spirit squad. There was no wall of sound that you actually can feel.
The noise is back Saturday. On Duke Slater Field in Nile Kinnick Stadium, a real football experience will be held for the first time since November 2019.
It isn’t Indiana against Iowa. It’s the Hoosiers against the world.
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