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Field of (Broken) Dreams

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You don’t need Kevin Costner to find the relationship between Iowa and baseball

I grew up on the north side of Chicago and, like a lot of people, I have been a diehard Cubs fan just as long as I’ve been cheering on the Hawkeyes. Naturally, I’ve been sick to my stomach while watching every game of the 2016 MLB Playoffs. Watching the Cubs fail to produce runs before the 8th inning throughout the entire postseason thus far has reminded me a lot of what it’s like to watch Iowa football on Saturdays in the Fall.

I felt physically ill for every game in the 2015 Hawkeye football season, but mostly during the Wisconsin and Nebraska games and the B1G Championship. The feeling after the 85-yard touchdown pass from Beathard to Smith in Indianapolis was virtually indescribable, just like when Miguel Montero knocked a grand slam into the right field bleachers at Wrigley to effectively win game 1 of the NLDS on Saturday night.

However, after both of those season-defining moments, I couldn’t help but feel like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. How was Iowa going to find a way to lose this game? How are the Cubs going to lose this series?

That’s when it occurred to me that the Iowa football team really isn’t all that different from the baseball team that is almost formerly known as the Lovable Losers (hopefully).

The similarities run deep...

  • They both have fantastic, yet classic uniforms that are widely known as some of the best in the sport.
  • They both play their home games in historic stadiums that have been around for several decades.
  • These stadiums have both undergone face-lifts over the years (with Kinnick’s most recent renovations coming by 2019), but the original character of the stadium has been maintained since their initial construction.
  • They both have celebratory songs that get played immediately following victories (“In Heaven There is No Beer” for the Hawkeyes and “Go Cubs Go” for the Cubbies).

Heck, the Hawkeyes and the Cubs aren’t even the first instance of the state of Iowa colliding with the game of baseball.

Quick side note: Somebody once told me they didn’t like the movie Field of Dreams. If you are of that belief, you have no place in my life.

However, what really makes these teams remarkably similar isn’t the uniforms they wear, the stadiums they play in, or their storied history of losing when the spotlight is on. What truly makes these teams similar are their fans.

On the face of it, you might think it’s crazy. But under the surface, Cubs fans and Hawkeye fans really aren’t as different as you might expect.

They believe in curses

When North-siders think of curses, they think of the notorious Curse of the Billy Goat that has existed since 1945, the last time the Cubs appeared in the World Series. They think of numbers like 108 (years since the Cubs won the World Series) and 71 (years since they played in the World Series). They think of seasons like 1969, 1984, 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008, and 2015—seasons that showed so much promise, only to result in false hope. They think about the Miracle Mets, Steve Bartman, and Daniel Murphy.

Hawkeye fans believe in a different kind of curse. They believe in cursing gods. Angry Iowa Running Back Hating Gods (or AIRBHG), to be exact. AIRBHG has been hanging around Iowa City since the turn of the century and has cut numerous Iowa running backs’ careers short due to injury, academics, and attrition. When Iowans think “AIRBHG”, they think of Jermelle Lewis, Adam Robinson, Marcus Coker, Brandon Wegher, Shonn Greene (for a little while), Mika’il McCall, Jewel Hampton, and others. All of the above were running backs who showed promise, but never got the chance to cement their Hawkeye legacies. Will this trend (or curse) continue for 108 straight years? Lord, I hope not.

They don’t let losses inhibit their fun

It’s no secret that the University of Iowa is home to one of the best tailgating experiences in the country. Hawkeye fans love their team, but they love fun just as much. Waking up at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning for an 11 a.m. kick (because Iowa is rarely good enough to play in primetime) shows their dedication to the gameday atmosphere. Oh, the Hawkeyes lost? It’s time to take the party to one of Iowa City’s famous bars and ease the pain with a few (or more than a few) cold ones.

Like Iowa, the Cubs carry a gameday experience unlike any other. Bleacher Bums. Ronny Woo Woo. Harry Caray. Let’s play two. Don’t let the consistent pattern of losing fool you. It’s all about fun with this team. Cubs fans love showing up to the game, indulging in Bud Light (formerly Old Style) or 312, and taking the party to Clark St. later. Win the game and the party gets rowdier. Lose the game? Who cares? If we can get one more starting pitcher and stop paying a washed-up Alfonso Soriano like $1 billion, next year will be our year!

They have passion

You’d be hard-pressed to find a group of fans who love their team more than Iowa fans love the Hawkeyes. Iowans are proud of their state and the teams that represent it, particularly the football program. This pride makes the great years even better. Seasons like 2002, 2009, and 2015 were totally surreal. The passion of Hawkeye fans was sweeping the country (and probably annoying most other fans). Iowa had a dominating presence at the 2015 B1G Championship Game, the Rose Bowl, and the 2003 and 2010 Orange Bowls. However, this same pride and passion can make the down years even tougher. A loss to North Dakota State? Fire Kirk Ferentz immediately! What’s the value of his buyout? 7-5 again? We deserve better than this!

Perhaps the only organization that rivals the Hawkeyes (in terms of fan support of teams that rarely win anything) is the Chicago Cubs. With every year that the World Series drought continues, the Lovable Losers become almost even more lovable. Cubs fans dream of the day that their team finally wins the World Series, and they show up in droves when that dream seems like it may become a reality. Wrigley Field, like Kinnick Stadium, can be a nearly impossible place to play for opposing teams in October, and it’s all because of the attachment that the people of the city of Chicago feel toward their beloved Cubbies.

They (almost) always expect the worst

I was sitting behind Michigan State’s endzone for the 2015 B1G Championship Game and had a fantastic (or horrible, depending on how you look at it) seat for the nine-minute, 22-play drive by Sparty. Around play number 7 or 8 of that drive, even with Iowa up 13-9, I felt like the game was over. I just didn’t think Michigan State was going to go the entire game without scoring a touchdown. I never got comfortable during the B1G Championship Game, but I’ve possibly never been as nervous as I was on that final drive. It was that “I know we aren’t going to stop them, but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE STOP THEM” feeling.

I had the same feeling after game 3 of this year’s NLDS against the Giants. The Cubs still held a 2-1 series lead, but it just felt like it was all over. I think after 25 years of pleading for one of my teams to win a championship, I’ve become emotionally damaged goods. Like a lot of Cubs and Hawkeyes fans, I assume the worst until the best happens. Oh, Iowa needs to beat Wisconsin this week to stay in the B1G West title race? They’ll lose. The Cubs are tied 1-1 with the Dodgers in the NLCS? They’ll lose in 5 games.

Trust me. Everybody always loses, all the time, no matter what.

They believe

Cubs fans truly believe that, one day, their team is going to win the World Series. Iowa fans truly believe that, one day, their team is going to go to win the B1G Championship, go to the Rose Bowl, and win (or at least...not lose by 30 this time). Our belief is what keeps us going. It gets you through the tough years (2012...), or 108 consecutive years of losing. We dream about the day that our team can declare themselves a champion.

For Cubs and Hawkeyes fans: That day will come. For the sake of both of these fan groups (and for myself), I hope that day is sooner than we think.