For thousands of Iowa Hawkeyes football fans who normally would gather at Kinnick Stadium, Saturday is when it hits home.
Greg Dieleman of Pella spoke for many when he responded to my social media requests to hear how Iowa supporters feel about being kept from Kinnick this season.
“Missed one home game in the last 16 years,” Dieleman said. “Football season doesn’t seem real without being able to go to the games.”
For those who go to several or all the games at Kinnick Stadium each year, Saturday would have marked a return to one of the happy constants in their lives, a social event they normally circle on seven spots per year on their calendars.
The sights, the sounds. The pregame food and drink. The friendships, renewed and new. The feeling of being part of something bigger than themselves.
In this particular year, though, Big Ten stadiums are off-limits for fans, off-limits for tailgating. They’re off-limits for an extension of the rituals and reunions that are as much a part of the in-person experience as trying to shout down the opponent’s quarterback when he’s barking out a fourth-down call at the Iowa 1.
Karen Kelly of Coralville is a 33-year Hawkeyes season ticket-holder. “Will be watching from home,” she wrote. “Blasting a little ‘Back in Black’ before kickoff and frequent shouts of ‘Go Hawks!’ ”
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Going to the games is a family thing for so many. Like Kevin Koepnick of Iowa City, a 42-year season ticket-holder who said he’ll don the Hawkeye colors for his rare experience of watching a home game at, well, home.
“I’ll be texting my son, who always sits with me (at the games),” Koepnick said.
Family will congregate at other sites, like at Greg Otto’s residence in Geneva, Ill. Otto said he and his family plan on waving at the kids in the UI Children’s Hospital at the end of the first quarter from 186 miles away.
“We’ll be tailgating with chili and some cold brews — albeit in our basement, with an extensive guest list of two,” said Sarah Reschly of suburban Chicago, referring to her husband and herself.
“We’ve been season ticket-holders for almost a decade and we miss the whole live game experience, but more than anything we’re glad this team gets the chance to play.”
The excitement of a game Saturday isn’t palpable for every Iowa fan, even one who has held season tickets since 1979 like Mark Bernhard of Davenport. He described his emotion about this season as “apathy.”
“This was all done for money,” Bernhard said. “I know I am cynical, but all this seems ridiculous.
“I will probably watch. Doesn’t feel like a real season. If we lose players like Wisconsin, I will wait for basketball.”
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Dale Linderwall of Dubuque, on the other hand, sounds like he is accepting this season as it is and is adapting to it.
“Set up a Hawkeye sports bar in the basement with all my pictures and memorabilia,” he wrote. “Would love to spend it with 70,000 of my best friends but will make due for the season.”
“Devastated,” however, is how Robert Ihry of Clive described about losing the chance to see Hawkeye games in person. He’s had Iowa season tickets for 30 years, and gets Iowa State season tickets for weeks when the Cyclones are home and Iowa isn’t.
“I least look forward to the interminable commercial breaks because I’m not used to them,” Ihry said. “At live games, the audience uses those breaks to run to buy concessions, hold conversations with fellow attendees, or send texts to friends bragging how we’re there and they’re not. When watching on TV, all you can do is grow increasingly anxious during six minutes of political ads and beer commercials.”
Woe-is-me, though? Not Ihry. Not a bit.
“Cue the tiny violins playing the Iowa Fight Song so I can whine about my troubles while my brethren infected with COVID and stuck in the University Hospitals’ IC Unit struggle to breathe,” Ihry said. “I often have to remind myself to leave the pity party.”
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