(EDIT: Read this excellent FanPost while the BHGP editorial stuff efforts away at some new material for your consumption. In fact, this is almost certainly better-written than the drivel we'll come up with. -- Ross)
Just before the Michigan State game last year, I shared a story about growing up in a Hawkeye house, and after the stupendous victory over the Spartans, I belted out another maudlin number. This post is a continuation of that theme.
It was February, 2001, and I was driving north on I-380 at 8:30am, heading to my job at APAC in Cedar Rapids from this dump I rented in North Liberty. I was exhausted. I'd been up until 3:00am fixing a computer system that crashed overnight at work. This was my job: production support. I wore a beeper 24/7 and when things broke, they called me to fix them. The weekend before, I'd been out on a bar crawl with a group of people my then-girlfriend knew, and I got paged at about 1:30am (as you can imagine, I was in no condition to navigate around an HPUX machine and fix the user permissions on database logs). Anyway, that February morning, it was snowy and cold, I was tired and grouchy, the heater on my car wasn't working right, and just south of the airport, the car began to stall out on me. This was a terrifying development because, despite working these ridiculous hours, I couldn't afford to fix it or buy a new car. Somewhere south of Cedar Rapids, on that February morning, I decided it was time to look for another job.
I had graduated from Iowa in December of '99, but I didn't go find work, I just re-enrolled for another semester. Frankly, I hadn't known what else to do with myself, so I spent that extra semester mostly playing hockey in Coralville and reveling in Iowa City. However, I'd been through four degree programs at three colleges since 1994, and it was getting sad up in here. I decided it was time to grow up so I took my B.A. in English and the considerable body of programming skills I picked up writing Internet video games, and got myself hired at APAC doing production support.
But, as I said, it was time to change jobs, and this meant I'd have to face an uncomfortable reality. It was 2001, the tech bubble had burst. The IT market was soft, especially in Iowa, and if I wanted more money, I would have to move away.
Let me tell you: it's a wrenching revelation, when you realize that the smartest thing you can do for yourself is leave Iowa City.
I grew up a Cardinals fan, and when Kurt Warner hit the scene, I became a Rams fan by default. It seemed natural to adopt the Blues when I got into hockey. So, when I was uploading my resume to Monster and Dice, I put St. Louis on the list of places to which I was willing to relocate, figuring I could catch some games if nothing else. And, of course, my one and only offer came from St. Louis, and it included a 40% pay raise. By mid-April, I had relocated to the 'Lou, knowing not a soul here. St. Louis was a little scary. Who moves to St. Louis? People who have no better options, that's who. Ask anybody around here. When they find out you're not from here, they're suspicious. After all, you could only be coming here because you screwed your life up at some better place and couldn't stay there.
When people learned I was from Iowa, their suspicion only hardened. For reasons unknown, Iowans just don't move here. Chicago? Minneapolis? Even Kansas City? Sure. But St. Louis is off the radar screen, I don't know why. Anyway, I moved here just in time to miss the glory years for Hawkeye football. As luck would have it, I kept in touch with friends and family back home, and was in attendance at the Iowa-Minnesota game at the Metrodome when Ferentz won his first Big 10 title. It was epic. It was amazing. The Metrodome facilities people were dicks. The locals regarded us with mild bemusement as the fans tore down the goalposts, carried them out of the building, and marched them around downtown Minneapolis. Stories ran in the paper the next day, remarking on the strange breed of mania that runs black and gold in the blood of an Iowan. It was a great time, and I been in St. Louis long enough by this point that I genuinely missed being a part of an Iowan family.
However, the Hawkeyes generally fell off my radar screen. I checked scores here and there, but it became difficult to care. I didn't get to see the games, this is (or was) Big 12 country (if anything). Nobody else was a fan here - not of the Hawkeyes or of college football in general. 9/11 happened. The Rams were in the Super Bowl again. The Cardinals won a World Series. The Blues were in the Western Conference finals. Even Mizzou got good. My identity as a Hawkeye fan was being slowly watered down in the immense ocean of a pro sports city.
Until New Years Day, 2005. I woke up after a night of carousing with my friends (Mizzou grads, all of them), and stumped into the living room and flipped the TV on. It was the Capital One Bowl, and Iowa was playing. It was the third quarter. I sat and watched, and within five minutes my dormant love for the Hawkeyes was fully reinvigorated. Iowa fell behind, and I cared, and I got frustrated, and it was like I'd never left.
And then . . . The Catch. I went crazy. I jumped up and down. I screamed. I pounded my fists on the floor, waking up my roommate, who didn't care and didn't get it. I called my girlfriend, a local who also didn't get it. My parents were on vacation in Mexico, I couldn't even call them. During one of the greatest moments in Hawkeye football history, I stood alone in my living room nursing a hangover and exalting in an improbable ictory, my fandom rejuvenated, and I felt very alone. I looked around, and there was nobody I knew who would, or could, understand how I felt. I wanted to be in Iowa City. I wanted to be around somebody -- anybody -- who would give a crap about this game along with me, and validate this element of my identity as an Iowan, this little piece of home that I brought across the Des Moines River with me to St. Louis, and which had stayed with me even as I neglected it. It was something, I discovered that morning, that was much more important to me than I had ever realized.
But there was nobody. The closest person I had was my girlfriend, who was happy that I was excited, and she knew that this was important to me, but she didn't understand that this was important to me. The thing is, she was marriage material, and I knew that if this was going to work, that girl had to get it. And I only knew one way to turn a mere human being into an Iowa fan. It's an ancient sort of alchemy involving the simplest of ingredients and one hell of a pestle: take one soul, season with fall weather, kiln-fire in the forge of Kinnick Stadium, and cure the elixir at the Amana Colonies with some beer and German food.
For reasons various and sundry, including a cancer-stricken relative and my abandoning the IT racket to go to law school, we weren't able to get to a game until 2007. Do you remember Iowa in 2007? I'm sure you don't want to. It turns out that the Capital One Bowl was the last gasp of a franchise teetering on the edge, as Iowa went into a decline that lasted until a certain legendary field goal in 2008. The girlfriend had become my wife in 2006, and I was long overdue to complete her transformation from a St. Louisan to an Iowa Hawkeye fan, so I got us tickets to an Iowa game and, to make sure the transformation took, I got homecoming tickets.
The game was Indiana @ Iowa, and Iowa lost, and didn't look good doing it. Kinnick was not the real Kinnick. The crowd was deflated after the previous two years of an under-performing team, and it felt nothing like the Kinnick I remember from my youth. However, the ancient alchemical formula worked like a charm and my wife was hooked. Although, due to our incredible capacity for procreation, we wouldn't be able to attend another game until Michigan State last year, it was worth the wait. You know how that went. It went well.
This year our annual family trek to Iowa City is once again for Indiana @ Iowa. And, once again, we go to see an Iowa team that may be in its death throes; but, it may also be teetering on the edge of getting right and winning games and being relevant in the discussion of B1G conference championship attendees. But, whichever Iowa team this is, one thing will be different this time from the last time we welcomed the Hoosiers to town: Kinnick will be the Kinnick I remember and love. After last week's cathartic exorcism of that foul Mephistopheles known 'round these parts as jNWU, I expect you people to be loud, and I know you won't let me down.
So north we shall go on Saturday morning to Iowa City, a ritualistic foray into pseudo-liminality, as we become part of the heaving masses, the throng that shakes the bones of the earth with the hammer of Kinnick Stadium. We will dwell in that sweet spot in time where the rest of the world fades to black and for a few hours we can put all of our energy and concern into caring about something that is only important to us, as Iowans. It's a guilty pleasure, and it's what I need, down here in St. Louis, to stay connected. That isolation I felt back in 2005? Gone. My wife has been through the fire, she's one of us now. When I couldn't find an Iowan, I made one. That's how important this is to me. To us.
I'll see you in Iowa City.