The 2013 season is close at hand (hooray!) and with that comes another slate of home games at Legendary Historic Not Too Shabby Kinnick Stadium. The look at Kinnick's going to be a little different this season, what with new scoreboard visuals going up in the south end zone. That'll be a cool new update.
There's one other addition we'd like to see, though; one that'll cost a lot less and last a lot longer. It's not feasible for this season, obviously, but sometime soon, there should be a statue of Jim Zabel at Kinnick.
It doesn't have to be a huge thing on par with the Nile Kinnick statue, since Zabel's not on Kinnick's level. Nobody would argue that. But in the pantheon of influential people around Iowa athletics, Zabel's way, way up there, right?
That being said, the idea of a statue isn't a slam-dunk; people didn't go to Iowa games to see Zabel, after all, nd there's something vaguely paradoxical about immortalizing a listening experience away from the games with a physical presence at the stadium. We get that. We'd like to see a statue anyway, and here's why.
1) He's an Iowa icon. Zabel spurned offers from larger markets constantly in order to stay in the Hawkeye state, and he would eventually log 65 years on radio and TV with WHO. A hefty majority of those who own season tickets at Kinnick Stadium spent significant portions of their lives listening to Zabel's calls, and for native Iowans he was often the voice that helped foster a kinship with the Iowa program. In fact, it might be safe to say that fans at Kinnick on any given Saturday know more on average about Zabel than they do about the stadium's namesake.
2) As legacies go, his is nearly spotless. There's no controversy surrounding Zabel, nothing the school would have to answer for in the aftermath of erecting a permanent monument to him. In a program whose only Rose Bowl-winning coach is never going to have a statue after his departure from the school, legends are hard to come by, and Zabel's about as close to venerable as anybody's going to get anymore. He was pretty much universally beloved, and that ought to be celebrated with some sort of permanent fixture.
3) He represents what brings everyone to Kinnick. Iowa has had some hard times in modern college football history, and yet its fanbase remained strong and numerous (especially in comparison to them (gestures furtively toward Ames)) throughout the dark ages. That fanbase stuck around because Zabel stuck around. He showed up every week with a smile on his face and the unerring certainty that this would be the game, the season, the time that Iowa finally put it all together and made something special happen. It took a while, but his faith was rewarded with some great seasons under Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz.
And so it goes with all Iowa fans. The number who remember an Iowa Rose Bowl victory is small and wanes by the day. Kids have grown up, gone to Iowa, graduated, had kids of their own, sent them off to Iowa, and watched them graduate—all without seeing Iowa win in Pasadena. But we pack that hallowed hall on Melrose every chance we get all the same, and that's because we're fans. Fans who had a fan of our own to tune in and listen to every week. He's gone now, and 91 years of him was a blessing beyond measure, but the least we could do about that is ensure that his legacy lives on at Kinnick for the kids and their kids and their kids to appreciate over the coming decades.