Let’s just jump into the Mike Klinkenborg story.
We’ve been over the methodology for this ... I guess it’s a series. Countdown? Travel guide? Memoirs? I don’t know. But I’ve stated that wins from years that were yucky didn’t get the love.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t compelling storylines. One of my favorite Iowa football characters is Mike Klinkenborg.
He was northwest Iowa. Quiet, unassuming, more comfortable going through tackling drills than talking with reporters (like so many of these guys).
He was northwest Iowa. Quiet, unassuming, more comfortable going through tackling drills than talking with reporters (like so many of these guys).
I visited Mike and his mom, Mary, in the summer of 2007.
I can’t tell you how nervous I was asking Mike and Mary about Myron Klinkenborg. Myron Klinkenborg was Mike’s dad and Mary’s husband. He passed away in 2007 in the hours following the Syracuse game and six days before this game.
My dad fell ill and died at UIHC in 2016. During the Wisconsin game, he was in UIHC and I was in the Kinnick press box.
I’m totally counting myself as lucky. I got almost 50 years with my dad. Mike didn’t. He kept his feet moving. Imagine the pride in the family when Mike won a starting job. His dad would’ve wanted him to keep his feet moving.
I learn a lot from these guys everyday.
See feature story below.
Quote: “We can’t even imagine what he’s going through right now,” strong safety Miguel Merrick said. “For him to even play the game, it’s just incredible. We were happy to have a Hawkeye looking over us and we were able to pull a win out for the Klinkenborg family.”
Note: In three games against Iowa State, Tate finished with a 2-1 record and went 47 of 71 for 551 yards and four TDs to three picks.
Why No. 111? — The picture of Klinkenborg walking off the Kinnick field with the Cy-Hawk hoisted above his head is No. 1.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2006
IOWA CITY — There is no Greenway. There is no Hodge. There is no Gallery.
The No. 14 Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0) don’t have a superstar, said the player who has to be considered the closest thing to a superstar on the team.
No Greenway, no Hodge, no Gallery — quarterback Drew Tate is OK with that.
“This year, I’ve been on some good teams in my life,” Tate said. “But this team, there’s more team chemistry than any team I’ve ever been on and it’s not even close.”
Chemistry is one of those football abstracts. You can’t measure it. Maybe it doesn’t resonate because you can’t stick a stat on it.
“We don’t have any guys like a Greenway or Hodge or Gallery,” said Tate, whose three touchdown passes helped the Hawkeyes overcome a 14-3 deficit. “I mean, we’re all the same. We’ve accepted that and we’re just playing together.”
You know chemistry when you see it. You saw it in the second half of the Hawkeyes’ 27-17 victory over Iowa State on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
“That’s what good teams have,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s one of the big things you’re challenging. You’re always fighting and always trying to work toward that.”
Chemistry was the offensive line coming together on a third-and-1 at Iowa State’s 6 in the fourth quarter and making enough room for running back Albert Young to bull for a first down.
“That’s what Iowa football is built on,” Tate said. “I told them, `All we need is 1 yard. That’s Iowa football.’ And it is.”
Iowa’s rush offense hasn’t produced a 100-yard rusher in three games this season. But the Hawkeyes are still averaging a respectable 4.3 yards a carry.
“We’ve all been through a lot,” said Young, who averages 4.1 yards on 55 carries this season. “Especially the older guys, the juniors and seniors. We were here in the summer before everything. We’ve been through a lot together.”
Chemistry has to be part of the reason for the turnabout Iowa’s rush defense pulled. The Hawkeyes allowed 113 rushing yards in the first half, just kind of going along with ISU’s zone blocking wrinkle.
Iowa’s front four changed the way it attacked blocks and held ISU to just 58 yards in the second half.
“It seemed like when the ball was coming out we had too many guys watching instead of trying to get to the ball and do something about it,” Ferentz said. “We just picked up our tempo a little bit. It was good to see.
“I thought our defense grew there in that second half against a very good offensive football team.”
Chemistry certainly didn’t hurt this week when the team went through the fragile process of grief with teammate Mike Klinkenborg, whose father died last weekend.
He left his teammates and everyone in Kinnick indelible images of courage.
“We can’t even imagine what he’s going through right now,” strong safety Miguel Merrick said. “For him to even play the game, it’s just incredible. We were happy to have a Hawkeye looking over us and we were able to pull a win out for the Klinkenborg family.”
Sunday, Klinkenborg, Iowa’s leading tackler after three games with 31, was named the Walter Camp Football Foundation defensive player of the week.
Whoever hands out that award saw chemistry. Klinkenborg made eight tackles Saturday, but that hardly was the measure of his presence.
He played, he cried, he carried the Cy-Hawk Trophy, he got a game ball from teammates.
“I don’t think you can say anything,” said free safety Devan Moylan, who was one of a handful of players who made the five-hour trip to Rock Rapids for Myron Klinkenborg’s funeral. “You just say, `I’m here for you. I’m sorry.’ You have to go out there and do what would make your dad proud.”
The Hawkeyes begin the Big Ten season at Illinois (1-2) this weekend. If nothing else during their three non-conference games, they learned that they can win close games.
They overcame Tate’s absence at Syracuse. They persevered against an Iowa State team that has had their number. They already knew they weren’t Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge or Robert Gallery.
Now they have a better idea of who they are.
Mike Klinkenborg feature from 2007
ROCK RAPIDS — Little kids romp around Slade’s Drive-In this July evening. The swimming pool is a big thing here and most of these bundles of wet and sweaty have made the beeline for hamburgers and sodas.
Slade’s is basically a one-room joint. The decor is a mix of ‘50s and biker. Neon signs with flames shooting out. Street signs for Sturgis Falls, the South Dakota Harley mecca.
The sign out front promises something called the “Big Rig” for $3.99. The restaurant is alive with chatter. The kids have played and now they’re hungry. This is Iowa summer and it’s life, little kids with wet blond hair and big, new teeth.
In a booth, near a window that looks into the tree-lined heart of Rock Rapids, Mary Klinkenborg tells the story of her husband’s death. She is unflinching. Smiles her way through it.
She was married to Myron for 37 years, 29 on the family farm on Highway 9 east of town. She has told the story of Myron’s death before, you can tell. This is a small town and Mary is of the community, working as a secretary at Central Lyon High School for the last seven years.
After Myron died at age 61, the family sold the acreage and auctioned off the equipment. Mary lives in town now, a beautiful ranch-style home in a newer development.
The subject isn’t as easy for her football-playing son. Mike Klinkenborg’s body language says it all.
The eye-to-eye, yes-sir 22-year-old senior looks down. His shoulders slump. He doesn’t go into detail, and that’s OK. He lives in Iowa City and plays football at the University of Iowa. He doesn’t live here and hasn’t been asked about his dad.
In Iowa City, he’s the middle linebacker, teammate and team captain. He’s not the player whose dad died six days before last season’s Iowa State game.
“I still think about him quite a bit,” Mike said.
The kids own Slade’s right now. They bounce around without a care in the world, except maybe when the ice cream is coming.
Mary has three grandchildren. Mike has his senior season in front of him. Mike’s getting married next year, too.
“C’mon Klink, let’s get going.”
With that, Everon Klinkenborg pulls himself out of his seat to his walker. The 87-year-old farmer is in his first days at Premier Estates, a retirement community a few blocks up the street from Mary’s new home.
These also might be Everon’s last few days at Premier. He yearns for his home on the farm, a giant spread just east of Rock Rapids. He’s giving Premier a 30-day trial. How does he like it so far?
“I’ve got two answers,” Everon said, “I don’t know and I don’t know if I will.”
Everon Klinkenborg is Mike’s grandfather. He still drives and he’s darned proud of that fact. He also beams over his grandson. Everon sports University of Iowa license plates that read “40GRSON.”
Mike wears No. 40 for the Hawkeyes.
“That guy’s going to tie the knot,” Everon said, pointing at Mike with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream.
The date is set for Mike Klinkenborg and Whitney Bruns. They’ll get married June 6 next year, the same date his parents were married. Neither of them is Catholic, so they had to get approval from the bishop to schedule their wedding at the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Whitney’s hometown.
Mike and Whitney are kind of high school sweethearts. Her family moved to West Bend before her freshman year at Central Lyon High School in Rock Rapids. They started dating the week her family moved and have dated ever since, despite the two-hour drive between the towns.
How does it feel to get the last one married off?
“He’s not the last one,” Mary said. “Marne isn’t married off yet.”
“She could legally be married,” Mike joked.
“She’s been dating the same guy for six years,” Mary said. “She was home in June and I told her,'He’ll probably ask you on the Fourth of July. I think that’d probably be a neat time.’ And here, Mike calls me on Fourth of July night and he’s the one.
“I told Marne, `Now, don’t feel pressure to get married just because your younger brother is.’”
Mike is the youngest of three. Monte, 33, is a product engineer for Intel and lives near Sacramento, Calif. Marne is a nurse in Denver. Mary and Myron had a fourth child. Melanie died in a car accident in 1990. She was 19.
“She was riding with another girl and she ran a stop sign,” Mary said. “We don’t know if she knew the stop sign was there or what happened. They were hit by another vehicle and they were both thrown out of the car. She died as a result. She was the oldest of the family. Mike, you were probably 4 or 5 years old when she passed away.”
Mary then put everything on the table.
“We’ve had a lot of tragedies,” she said.
Myron Klinkenborg was the oldest of eight children. It was seven boys and one girl. Mike’s aunt died from cancer when she was 38. Mary lost a sister to cancer two years ago. She was only 45. Mary’s mom is in a nursing home in Sibley. She has Alzheimer’s.
Then there’s Everon. He’s still driving. He has a stent in his heart and a pig valve. Now he has a pacemaker.
When Myron died, Everon developed pneumonia and a staph infection. Today, Everon is in the kitchen at Premier Estates. He sits with fellow resident Barney Schneiders from Larchwood. The debate is whose TV is better.
“You’ve a first-class one. I’m second-class,” Barney says.
“Oh no, you’re the Cadillac,” Everon counters.
The kitchen fills with laughter.
When Myron died Sept. 10 last year, a small caravan of Hawkeyes made the five-hour drive to Rock Rapids for the funeral. Linebackers Mike Humpal and Bryon Gattas, defensive end Bryan Mattison, safety Devan Moylan and former Iowa linebacker Zach Gabelmann will make the trip to the northwest corner of the state again next summer.
They’re all honorary groomsmen/ushers in Mike’s wedding.
“They were going to be in my wedding before and that’s why I was going to have them in it,” Mike said. “Them showing up, it showed how much they supported me. When that happened, I kind of knew I wanted to be back there for them on Saturday (against Iowa State).”
Mike has a room in the new house, into which Mary moved in March. Over his bed, there’s a framed photo Marne took at an Iowa game. It has an artful touch, blurring gold Hawkeye towels and multiple directions.
“I don’t know how she made her camera do that,” Mary said. “It’s kind of like modern art.”
He has a shelf filled with awards Mike has earned in his four years on the football team. For being a three-year letterwinner, he earned an old gold blanket with a block “I” on it. There’s an “Iron Hawk” sculpture that goes to seniors who’ve made it through four years of summer workouts. There are a few pictures from the Iowa photo department.
“(First-year defensive line coach Rich) Kaczenski ordered some D-linemen photos for his office, and they end up coming back more me than the D-linemen,” Klinkenborg said.
He has a pair of gloves on the shelf. He says it’s insane how fans want players’ gloves after games.
“You don’t want them,” he said. “They smell pretty bad.”
The Walter Camp certificate is there. It doesn’t have a particularly special place. It leans on the side and faces left of center. Klinkenborg received the Walter Camp Football Foundation defensive player of the week after Iowa’s victory over Iowa State last season.
The game ended with Monte and Mike hugging near the locker-room tunnel at Kinnick Stadium. Two black Iowa No. 40 jerseys with “Klinkenborg” on the back. Two big fellas dripping with tears of joy, pain, pride.
“I didn’t even hear about it (the award) for a while. They announced it a week or two later,” Mike said. “Yeah ...”
And he moves to the basketball caricature his brother bought him on a trip to Minneapolis.
Rock Rapids is the “city of murals.” The downtown is a living, breathing WPA project. Eighteen murals, ranging from some of the town’s storied figures to a beautiful war memorial, cover the walls of just about anywhere.
If you turn south at the downtown stoplight, on the west side of South Story Street, above the Short Stop Liquor Shop, you’ll find “Ladies of the Night,” a mural depicting a brothel that was housed in the community in the 1890s.
There’s the Sportsman’s Bar and Pudge’s Pool Hall, which rocks on Iowa football Saturdays. Another mural is “Benson’s Skating Rink,” a roller skating rink under a tent that thrived in Rock Rapids from the 1950s to the mid ‘70s.
“These murals are pretty popular in town now,” Mike said.
Rock Rapids’ population is 2,500. It grew by three people in 10 years, according to the 2000 census.
“I don’t think they included my mom,” Mike joked.
The town has 11 churches. The Klinkenborgs attend the First Reformed Church on South Union Street. Mike says he’s more of a Methodist now. He lives near a Methodist church in Iowa City. Whitney is United Methodist. He liked the pastor.
The RAGBRAI ride has kicked off from Rock Rapids three times, with this summer being the latest. Island Park was swamped for the late July event. It was nuts, Mike said.
It cost $2 for a bus ride into the downtown.
A little bit south of Island Park is the Farmers Elevator Co-op, a giant grain elevator that looms large in town.
The Farmers Co-op holds corn and soybeans from Myron Klinkenborg’s last crops. Four of Myron’s brothers, all of whom farm within about a mile radius, finished the harvest for the family.
Mike knows grain prices. He said corn had a low of $1.88 a bushel a while back. Recently, it hit $5. He guesses it’s $4 now. Soybeans were at $10 not too long ago but stand around $9 now.
Ethanol has helped. Myron invested in an ethanol plant in the early ‘90s. Mike and his dad talked corn prices quite a bit.
“We still have some corn and beans to sell yet,” Mike said. “My mom’s waiting for prices to go up a little bit before selling.”
Mike is the first to admit his farm chores were minimal. He did a little bit of everything. Myron was known throughout Lyon County for his corn-shelling business. Mike helped with that. He helped when the family dabbled in cows, hogs and chickens.
Mike’s most hated job was going out in the dead-of-winter cold of northwest Iowa and pouring hot water on the hogs’ frozen water.
“I’d have to go out and do that every night,” he said. “That sucked.”
The tour goes into some timber that shades the farm on the west. Mike stands by a “Pride of the Farm” hog feeder. The feeder is tucked into an award-winning grove that was planted by Monte, Melanie, Myron and Mary.
The feeder has been hit with buckshot and paint balls. He was happy to help when Myron asked, but Myron didn’t ask much.
“My dad had six other brothers and a sister in their family. They never got to play sports,” Mike said. “The most my dad did was play baseball in a cornfield. That was it. Growing up, my brother and me, he wanted us to play sports. He didn’t ask us to wake up early in the morning or come home right after school.
“He enjoyed watching us play football and all the other sports. After any basketball game or whatever, he’d come home and we wouldn’t stop talking about it.”
Mike was a second-team all-Big Ten linebacker last season. His 129 tackles were the seventh-best single-season total in Iowa history. Monte started on the offensive line at South Dakota State in the early ‘90s. He played alongside future Super Bowl champions in offensive lineman Adam Timmerman and kicker Adam Vinatieri.
“Myron was the oldest in the family and his dad (Everon) had him do so much work,” Mary said. “When he got off the bus from school ... He’d milk cows all the time. I was raised on a farm, too. At that time, parents depended on the kids to help them. That’s how it was. We wanted them to be kids.”
Being the youngest by eight years, Mike had to get creative. He made up games for himself. He’d throw baseballs off the corncrib and field the grounders. He kicked footballs on the roof of the corncrib and waited for the ball to roll into his arms.
One thing that drove Myron crazy was hitting rocks with a baseball bat and nailing the machine shed. He’d take a tennis racket and ball and volley to himself off the garage. He spray painted a strike zone on the garage and whipped baseballs at it for hours on end.
The corncrib is gone, like a lot of corncribs. Combines have made them obsolete. The rest of the farm stands sturdy as ever.
A family from George bought it. Mike is a tour guide today. The Klinkenborgs’ Hawkeye helmet mailbox still is on Highway 9.
“In the summer when I was out there cleaning, I thought, why am I moving to town?” Mary said. “I really liked it out there. That’s where all the memories are. But the problem was in the winter with the snow removal. I’d have to depend on someone to come out and clean out the driveways for me.
“So I thought I’m better off in town. That’s what everybody tells me.”
“Hey Klink, how are you doin?’" Everon Klinkenborg said. He got a call the day before from a fellow World War II veteran from Philadelphia and that was the greeting.
Everon was a member of the Flying Tigers, a voluntary group of 300 American servicemen who secretly trained in the jungles of Southeast Asia, preparing to face the Japanese Air Force over the skies of China and Burma.
They wanted to make the 6-foot-4 Everon a gunner. They wanted to fit him in one of those little bubbles.
“I flunked out of radio school by one point. They sent me to gunner school in Denver. Then they put me in a gunner B-17,” Everon said. “I thought those front wheels would collapse and they’d have to pick me up an ink blotter.
“I prayed to be color blind and it worked out.”
Everon settled in as a mechanic and specialized in installing bombsights. He saw the world. He crossed the Burma Road in China.
“You cross that, you say your prayers more than once,” he said.
He crossed a plank bridge in China. One of those bridges on which you just stare straight ahead. He crossed the Suez Canal in Egypt. He crossed a road in India and had to wait for a herd of elephants.
When the war was over, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean and landed in New York City at 2 a.m.
“The first thing I had was a hot doughnut and milk,” Everon said.
Everon also served on the Rock Rapids school board.
“That’s a job you ought to have,” he said. “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You couldn’t keep anyone happy.”
Mike, an academic all-American elementary education major, has taken history classes at Iowa and is well studied in the exploits of the Flying Tigers. Mike also proudly talks about his father’s service in Vietnam.
Myron, also a mechanic in the service, received the Air Force Commendation Medal and an honorable discharge in 1971.
Mary lives just a few blocks from Central Lyon schools. When Mike is home for the holidays, he finds his way into the Central Lyon weight room.
The Lions beat Solon in the Class 2A state championship game last season. It was the school’s third state championship.
Football is the calling card for a town that has to be considered one of the last outposts in northwest Iowa, 20 miles from the South Dakota border and nine or so from Minnesota.
“Lion Power” is painted in huge letters in the weight room. It has everything a school needs.
It also has a “wall of fame” of sorts, framed pictures of former Central Lyon/George-Little Rock first-team all-staters.
“See, they’ve got Tom Roach here. He played at Iowa State,” Mike said. “We’ve got UNI, Northwest Missouri State. A lot of the guys stay local, University of Sioux Falls, Morningside, Augustana. My senior year we had eight guys go play college football.”
Former Hawkeye R.J. Meyer is on the wall. Adam Boeve, a former UNI baseball star, is on the wall. He’s hitting .268 for the Indianapolis Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ AAA team.
Most of the kids on the wall are farm kids, Mike noted. Sports are big here. Mike didn’t do Future Farmers of America, nor did he do 4-H. He still hasn’t hunted. He’s never been snowmobiling, a much bigger deal in northwest Iowa than in the southeast.
He did sports.
“It’s a small town. There’s not a lot else after farming,” Mike said. “What else do you have to do, besides hang out at the bar or go up to Sioux Falls?”
Pranks, that’s what else there is to do.
Mike and Dan VanderZee, his best friend and a linebacker at Augustana (S.D.), planned and executed more than a few. Mike wouldn’t give up too many details, though he did offer the water balloon attacks on gas station loiterers as an example.
“Stupid stuff like that,” Mike said.
A couple of Myron’s brothers work Everon’s farm now. Mike said his uncle Jerry is shy. Jerry stands at the garage doorway and offers a humble hello. Paige, the farm’s golden retriever, isn’t shy. And she has friends, a pair of Labradors that have come from who knows where.
“Oh, I don’t know that dog,” Mike says. “Holy cow, I don’t know that dog either.”
The Klinkenborgs always had a ton of dogs on the farm, Mike said. It was a picture of Americana that was complete.