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Iowa football fans and Kinnick Stadium: A romance rekindled Saturday
Public allowed into Iowa football scrimmage, and oh, were the people happy
IOWA CITY – Cathy Jamison Williams couldn’t be stopped last football season.
She made the 265-mile drive to Iowa City for each of Iowa’s four 2020 football games at Kinnick Stadium from her home in Wallingford, between Estherville and Emmetsburg in northwest Iowa.
“I kept my streak alive,” she said. “It’s been over 30 years since I’ve missed a home game.
“I sat outside (the stadium) and watched the Jumbotron every game. By the fourth quarter, they’d let me in. They let me come in for the third quarter against Wisconsin because we were whomping them.”
Saturday, Williams joined several thousand masked fellow Hawkeye fans who were able to be in the Kinnick grandstand for the first time since November 2019.
It was just an April practice. But it was live football, and several thousand people came to remember what it was like to witness it in person.
For the tens of thousands of people with Hawkeye season-tickets who were away for an entire year, there is a lot of pent-up passion. Hence, more people showed up for a 9:30 a.m. April practice that was two weeks from the end of spring ball than you’d have seen in any so-called normal year.
“Last year was the first time I was home on Saturdays in all my conscious life,” said Dr. Anthony Leo of Oelwein. “I go to all the away games, too.
“I just watched at home in my living room. It was kind of an out-of-body experience. It didn’t feel right. Very, very foreign to me. The anticipation of a game in person is so much different.”
Lisa Sotelo of Williamsburg emerged into the Kinnick seating area Saturday and remarked “It’s been a long time,” making it sound like decades since she’d been in the old stadium.
It was 17 months.
“I was just happy they were playing games last year,” season ticket-holder Sotelo said, “but it was very strange not being in the stadium.
“During games I’d get on Twitter sometimes and see what other fans were saying. It was less lonely that way.”
Shane Frasher of Muskego, Wis., did Saturday what he normally does when fans can see live football at Kinnick. He drove to Iowa City with his son, Michael.
“I’ve enjoyed it my entire life,” he said. “I grew up in Anamosa. My wife and I were at the blizzard game against Minnesota (at Kinnick in 1991). That was insane. It was so fun.”
Frasher is an occupational therapist in the Milwaukee area. “I know how detrimental the pandemic has been to people,” he said. “I’ve seen some pretty horrific situations.
“There’s an enthusiasm now, just to be back in the stadium, to go to events and enjoy stuff with less fear from the pandemic. I know people are thrilled to be here.”
After over two hours of drills and a controlled scrimmage, the Hawkeye football team joined the fans in saluting Iowa’s national-champion wrestling team. The wrestlers entered the stadium field via the same tunnel the footballers use before each home game, to “Back in Black.”
Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands, never lacking for fire and brimstone, gave a short-but-intense address to the crowd.
“We’re working on 2022 in Detroit, Michigan!” he said, referring to the site of next year’s national tournament.
“Go Hawks! This is for Iowa Hawkeye fans! You are the best! Congratulations! Fired up!”
Hawkeyes football coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t a Brands when it comes to emotional displays, but who is? Nonetheless, he also spoke for a lot of fans at the start of his post-practice video conference with media.
Ferentz said it was good to be back in Kinnick, adding “Even better to be there with fans for the first time since a year ago November. Just great to have live people in the stands. That provided a little bit of electricity for everybody.
“We’re all hopeful it’s a sign we’re moving in the right direction right now as a country. It seems like things are getting a little bit better.”
Over 2 million COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered in Iowa, and over 850,000 Iowans have completed the vaccine series. The more, the better, Hawkeye fans. You’re going to want to see wide receiver Tyrone Tracy and wrestler Spencer Lee in person next season.
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