This is the first in a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
I'm a late bloomer.
Like many of you, I was born an Iowa fan. My dad advocated for naming me Hayden or Lute (Mom wasn't persuaded, unfortunately). My grandparents' fandom could only be described as militant; my brief dalliance with going to Iowa State drew an irate call from Grandma, explaining how we don't go to that school in Ames. The Hawks are in my DNA.
It wasn't that easy, though. For one, the Iowa fanaticism didn't extend to my mom's side of the family, who are avowed Cornhuskers. And it was complicated by geography; I was born in Omaha (not by choice, as I frequently point out to my parents) and spent my first six years in north central Nebraska. When I finally made it to Iowa, it was to a decidedly pro-Nebraska, pro-ISU town. Forget UI athletes: I was the first student from my high school to enroll at Iowa in seven years (the last before me was walk-on defensive end Brett Chambers, who you might remember as the guy who accidentally tackled Tim Dwight on a punt return in the 1996 Alamo Bowl). Every college football game I attended before moving to Iowa City was in Lincoln; every basketball game was in Omaha or Ames. Iowa City might as well have been another planet.
For me, being an Iowa fan started as a parlor trick. Other five year olds memorize songs or state capitals to recite to grandparents; I memorized the 1985 basketball roster. But in 1985, I had no idea what I was watching or why it mattered. I quickly became more focused on my dislike of the Huskers. As Lawrence Phillips and Christian Peter calcified my hatred of Big Red, I became less an Iowa fan and more a fan of whoever would beat Nebraska; in those days, that left little company. I followed Iowa football (and, to a greater extent, Iowa basketball) through the 90's, but my anti-Nebraska mindset didn't turn back to pro-Iowa until I hit campus in 1999.
Coincidentally enough, the first home game of my first season in Iowa City was against Nebraska, and it wasn't pretty. After going to the half down 7-0, an outmanned Hawkeye squad gave up 35 points in the second half, and Iowa lost 42-7. To make matters worse, I made a brief appearance on television near the end of the game; had there been a Nebraska bitchmade anthology for 1999, I would have been the face of Iowa. I was reminded of this every time I would return home. The trips became less and less frequent.
In my first four years in Iowa City, Hawkeye football went from a 1-10 laughingstock to an 11-2 Big Ten co-champion. My knowledge, my appreciation, my fanaticism grew with it. By the time I ended my second tour of duty in Iowa City, Hawkeye football had transformed into a bona fide national power and I had become maniacal. I pored over depth charts. I skipped class to watch press conferences. I even spent money on a Scout subscription (though caring remained creepy). I finally left Iowa City in 2006 and, without a local connection to my obsession, I started a blog. The rest is out there for public consumption.
I'll admit it: I got here late. I probably could have overcome the relatively low hurdles to cultivate my obsession at an earlier age, and I didn't. My location overran my genetic predisposition. Nurture over nature. But it's also made me the fan that I am today. I've been able to turn my anti-Nebraska bias into an anti-Iowa Sate, anti-Minnesota, anti-[insert team here] bias when necessary. I once explained to an ex-girlfriend that the beauty of college sports is that it creates an illogical loyalty to a group of twenty-somethings I will never meet and an irrational hatred for other people who have an equally illogical loyalty to a different group of twenty-somethings. There's a beauty in that, in an irrational love of a particular piece of laundry, that is seen so rarely anywhere else. It's simple. It's emotional. It's practically patriotic. It's why I'm here today. Better late than never.