IOWA CITY — Peering through Kinnick Stadium’s iron gates, which on this particular picturesque Saturday in late October reluctantly blocked fans from the object of their allegiance, University of Iowa freshman Ceci Bradley watched her Hawkeyes clasp hands and march through the stadium tunnel serenaded by AC/DC.
Drawn to Iowa City for its writing programs from Tempe, Ariz., the 18-year-old Bradley has never seen a home Hawkeye game in person. And her experience Saturday — watching kickoff via unimpressive JumboTron angle from outside the concourse — was not necessarily what she had in mind.
“I definitely am bummed that I can’t go inside, but I completely understand the circumstances,” she said, airing hope the COVID-19 pandemic restricting everyone’s lifestyle and plans since March will someday loosen its grip. “I’ll be able to do this in the future.”
Saturday’s Hawkeye home opener was like none before it — even as it boasted all the trappings of a traditional football Saturday in Iowa City. Brilliant red and orange leaves blanketed lawns. The aroma of grilled meat hovered over University Heights. Marching band beats echoed for miles.
But many more of the sights, smells and sounds remained elusive, as community leaders barred tailgating, the university prohibited fans in Kinnick, and the Hawkeye Express refused riders.
Some, though, found ways to salvage their traditions — like Tom Richey, a Hawkeye alum and UI parent who’s been driving the black-and-gold-bedazzled ambulance he bought to Iowa City from the Chicago suburbs since 2013.
Although the season ticket-holder was disappointed not to get inside Kinnick, he still hosted a tamped-down tailgate outside a friend’s house on Melrose Avenue — which he felt was safer than going to a bar or being in a house together.
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“We limited how many people could come to the tailgate, and we tried to encourage people to spread out,” he said, conceding, “It’s hard. But the thing is, people need a mental health break.”
With about 20 people chatting around snack tables and over beers, Richey said he’d received some complaints. An officer for a time was chatting with the home’s residents.
“We’ve had a few people come by to complain that we’re gathering,” he said.
But they persisted. And UI freshman Casey Huettman, 18, said that — even kept at a distance from the Kinnick experience she’d hoped to have in college — she still felt some home-team pride Saturday.
“Even just watching it and listen to the music, I have adrenaline,” she said.
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