[Bumped, because this type of post is exactly why the FanPosts exist.--AJ]
I was nine years old, standing on the orange shag carpet in our living room in front of a box TV as big as a Volkswagen, despite its little 32 inch convex screen. My younger sister was sitting on the chair, arms around her knees. My father's jaw was clenched. My mother was averting her eyes. Our little house in Waterloo was as tense as it gets. It was October 19, 1985, and the #1 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes were two seconds away from kicking a field goal to beat #2 Michigan.
My dad graduated from Iowa in the 1970s. He might have remembered Iowa's last trip to the Rose Bowl. I couldn't say. He would have been about six at the time. Certainly, he wouldn't have appreciated it, just as I didn't truly appreciate this moment until years later. Dad had finally bought a VCR in 1985, simply to record every Iowa game of the season. The cassettes were diligently and lovingly marked. Iowa-Michigan (1985). The copy tab was pulled out. There would be no taping over. Never. On that October day, the VCR hummed away, recording commercials as we all gathered around the living room. Dad had the radio on. We were listening to Jim Zabel because Dad couldn't stand the one-sided announcing on television.
We came back from the commercial break. Houghtlin split the uprights. My entire family erupted into exultation, the fleeting euphoria of bearing witness to a bona fide miracle, and at that moment I forever became a Hawkeye fan. I'm sure Dad was a little disappointed about a decade later when, although I was admitted to Iowa's engineering program, I went to Marquette instead. It worked out in the end. I flunked out of engineering and got my B.A. from Iowa. English, baby. Me and the medieval fortress known as the EPB are tight.
I graduated in '99, and went to only one Iowa game during my tenure at the University. It was Iowa-Nebraska, Coach Ferentz's very first game, and it was a brutal welcome to the program for Kirk, who saw a long road ahead to achieve greatness. I moved to St. Louis in 2001, and married a local girl some years ago. She went to a small, local private college whose students didn't know the meaning of the word fan. I introduced her to the world of Iowa Hawkeye football, and she's hooked. She dutifully decks our kids out in Hawkeye gear every Saturday in the fall.
I've played her the footage of Houghtlin's kick. I've explained what it meant to Iowans and Iowa fans. We named our son "Hayden" in honor of Coach Fry. She was moved to tears when Stanzi threw that pass to McNutt against Michigan State law year. We held hands and jumped up and down, again exalting in semi-paroxysmic rapture.
And this weekend, I shall pass this tradition on and forge another Hawkeye fan in the crucible of Kinnick Stadium. A few years ago, I took my step-son Spencer to an Iowa game, the first game I'd been to since that '99 match against Nebraska. It was the 2006 season, and we know how that season turned out. Not fantastic. Iowa lost, and Kinnick was not the Kinnick I remember from those Saturdays when Dad would drive me down to Iowa City for a non-conference game. I'll never forget the ass-whooping we put on Drake.
This year, we have tickets to Iowa-Michigan State, and I'll be taking Spencer. He's 12 now, and he's old enough to appreciate what a unique experience it is to go to a college football game. He plays saxophone, and he's thinking he might like to play in the Hawkeye Marching Band, especially after I explained the tradition of beer band to him. And Spencer is going to get to see his first real Iowa Hawkeyes football game, as is my wife -- they have no idea how electric it is to be at Kinnick in a season like this, with so much on the line. These are our family traditions, and we're passing them down. We are going to take our kids to a game every year, and even though my children were all born in Missouri, they will grow up as Iowans.
There is something extremely satisfying about that, and I can't put my finger on it. But goddamit I love being an Iowan, and I love rooting for my Iowa Hawkeyes. 10-2, 8-4, 6-6, I don't care. The losses are painful, the wins are elating, and the camaraderie with other Iowans is a silent understanding communicated fully by a nod of the head. I run into locals in St. Louis with Hawkeye gear on, and I need only smile and say, "Go Hawks," and you see people's eyes light up with unexpected joy that another Iowan is walking quietly through this jungle, self-identifying with a time-honored and easily-recognized mantra.
Two syllables, and whoever I'm talking to is connected to a shared legacy, a shared tradition, a shared identity. A catalog of memories -- times and places -- can be immediately summoned and shared, as well as wishes and expectations of the greatness yet to come. This is the kind of understanding I want my children to have, the kind of connection to our cultural heritage. When I cross the Des Moines River, I'm truly home.
That's what I carry forward with me into Section 102 this weekend, Row 6. Smack dab, I'm sure, in the middle of the Michigan State visiting fan section. My penance for dithering with my ticket purchase. Next year I'll be quicker on the draw, and we'll bump elbows with the Hawkeye faithful.
But this weekend? That stadium will have a pulse, and for the first time in his young life, my son will truly experience the family traditions I grew up with. And some day he'll remember a moment like Iowa-Michigan 1985, and if I do my job right, some day he'll take his children on their own pilgrimage to Iowa City, to the Holy Land, to visit the shrine known as Kinnick Stadium.
But that's then. For now, I'm content to revel in the unbridled joy of being an Iowan.