IOWA CITY — It was a sunny, comfy afternoon, and too long a pregame tailgate for hostility.
Before Wisconsin and Iowa slugged it out on the Kinnick Stadium gridiron Saturday night, their fans settled in several hours before the game for relaxed fun and friendship.
You thought the traveling trophy was a brass bull? Well, maybe for the teams. But for some Badger and Hawkeye fans in a tailgate area just off Melrose Avenue, it was a way-oversized beer stein.
The concept originated, oh, a year or two ago. David Fritz, the volunteer director and general manager of the not-for-profit Potosi (Wis.) Brewing Company has proudly displayed the stein in Potosi’s National Brewery Museum.
But were the Hawkeyes to win Saturday, the stein would take up residence in a glass case in the lobby of the Readlyn Savings Bank in Readlyn, Iowa, where Ed Traeger is the president.
The “trophy” is a relatively new concept, but Badger fan Fritz and Hawkeye supporter Traeger became tailgate friends a few years earlier. Fritz, as he was doing Saturday, was passing out samples of his products and Traeger happily tried them. Traeger then invited Fritz and his Wisconsin friends to try some of his barbecued ribs in his self-titled “Ed Zone.”
“We got to be friends,” Traeger said. “This is our fourth year.”
“We have about 50/50 Hawkeyes to Wisconsin fans at our tailgate up there,” Fritz said. “But there aren’t as many Wisconsin people here.”
At least three Badger fans on Melrose displayed a sense of humor Saturday.
By 3:30 p.m., three people had purchased red sweatshirts with a TigerHawk and the word “Iowa” in white.
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“People are confused,” joked Dana Vernon of Iowa City. She and husband Mark Vernon own Hollywood Graphics, an Iowa City business that sells personalized clothing, signs and vehicle graphics. They have had a booth somewhere on Melrose, Mark said, “for 20-some years.”
The red Iowa shirts, he said, followed the purple-and-gold Hawkeye shirts he sold the Saturday before when Northern Iowa was Iowa’s opponent.
“We like to sell stuff people don’t know they need,” he said.
“Wisconsin people walk by and see this shirt and they laugh. Ohio State people don’t laugh.”
Someone who gets big laughs on Melrose before every Hawkeye home game is Carl “Sandburg” Schwendinger of Dyersville.
“Probably 200 people” hear him read his work, he said, with an amplifier to send his meter to the masses.
About an hour before games, he reads a poem he wrote that week about the game. A sign posted on a tree simply said “Poem 6:45.”
“I write a stanza a day for four or five days,” Schwendinger said.
He gave me a copy of his Saturday poem, but embargoed it before he debuted it himself. But he said some of his other lines from the past included:
Minnesota’s on a mission
To buy a boat and do some fishin’
Today one team will be great
The other is Iowa State
He doesn’t say he is Carl Sandburg.
But Schwendinger does have a book called “A Hawkeye Rhyme Before Game Time,” available from Eagle Books in Cedar Rapids. The first poem in the book uses the rhyme of “stinkin’ ” and “Lincoln.”
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That was something Badger and Hawkeye fans could surely rally around together, though Nebraska’s 56-10 loss at Michigan Saturday didn’t need the Hawkeyes’ poet laureate to describe the condition of Huskers football.
But that was somebody else’s problem here Saturday afternoon. Dan Schroeder and friends were at a tailgate off Melrose Saturday observing not only a big game, but Schroeder’s 60th birthday.
“Hopefully a big win,” is what Schroeder said he wanted for a birthday present.
His actual birthday is Monday. His plans for that day?
“Go back to work,” he said. “That’s the story of my life.”
But that was 243 miles and a world away Saturday. A big game awaited.
“It’s awesome at night in the stadium,” Schroeder said.
A late night and a long day, and not a soul on Melrose seemed to be complaining.
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