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Jim Zabel Goes To Heaven

The longtime, beloved voice of the Hawkeyes, Jim Zabel, passed away Thursday night at the age of 91.

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Scene: Kinnick Stadium, but not. The press box is small, the grass is real, and the end zones still have the double-bar Hawkeye helmet logos. A white-haired man walks down an empty hallway in the press box, tentatively but with a sense of familiarity.

Iconzabel_medium Hello?

A young, impeccably dressed man steps out into the hall.

Iconnile_medium (offers hand) Hello.

Iconzabel_medium You—you're...

Iconnile_medium Yes, I'm Nile Kinnick. And you, I presume, are Jim Zabel.

Iconzabel_medium I am.

Iconnile_medium You had a great run, Mr. Zabel. 91 incredible years. A finer, better Hawkeye fan never graced that press box, and a better radio man never filled the airwaves of the Midwest. So we've been expecting you here for a long time.

Iconzabel_medium I don't understand. Is this heaven?

Iconnile_medium Yes. It's Iowa.

A tear falls from Jim's eye as he happily accepts Nile's handshake.

Iconzabel_medium Well, this place isn't any good empty, is it? Let's call a game!

Iconnile_medium Of course. This is your heaven.

Jim walks toward his old familiar booth and hesitates.

Iconzabel_medium Actually, I, uh... I'm sorry.

Iconnile_medium What's wrong?

Iconzabel_medium I can't do this without Eddie. And he's not...

Iconnile_medium Not yet. But just have a seat.

Jim opens the door to the booth. There sits Ed Podolak, grinning at his old friend.

Iconpodolak_medium Jimmy!

Iconnile_medium If it's not heaven without him, then he's here. And I have it on good authority that you'll be there for him when it's his time too. Now, you've got a game to call.

Zabel turns back around toward the field and suddenly Kinnick is packed to every corner with 70,397 screaming Hawkeye fans. The offense is on the field, the tight ends are standing, and a familiar man in aviators and white pants stalks the sideline.

Iconnile_medium Mr. Zabel, we could fill dozens of these places with all the different people to whom you brought Iowa football. You were the voice of this team for generations of kids and their parents and everyone else. You meant more to this program than just about anybody that ever lived.

Iconzabel_medium Thank you.

Iconnile_medium Now, what's the first play you want to call again?

Iconzabel_medium You know which one.

Iconnile_medium I do.

Iconpodolak_medium You going to get the score right this time, Jim?

Iconzabel_medium Nope!

Iconzabel_medium Can we do that again?

Iconnile_medium You're in heaven, Mr. Zabel. You don't have to ask permission or pay for anything up here.

Iconzabel_medium Well, that's good, because I got pretty used to free things down there.

Iconnile_medium So I've been told.

Iconpodolak_medium You want to relive the Marv Cook play now?

Iconzabel_medium You read my mind, buddy.

Iconzabel_medium You know, I waited a long time for that play. A long time. You know how long it had been since Iowa won up there in Columbus? 28 years. Twenty eight years and I don't know how many coaches, just one lousy road trip after another. Usually wasn't even close, and we kept hanging around in this one and you just feel it's so close, even when it's fourth and a mile with the game almost over.

Iconpodolak_medium We never lost hope, Jim.

Iconzabel_medium We never did, Eddie.

Iconnile_medium (smiles broadly)

Iconzabel_medium And now I'm here in the booth with you, and Father Bob's on the PA, and every seat in this stadium's packed, and millions of Hawkeye fans are out there hugging and kissing their radios, and I can watch Kenny Ploen and Randy Duncan and Chuck Long and Ronnie Harmon and Timmy Dwight and Sedrick Shaw forever?

Iconpodolak_medium Yesiree!

Iconzabel_medium I love it, I love it, I love it!

Rest in peace, Mr. Zabel. You had fun, and you will be dearly, sorely missed.