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Mourning in the time of no Hawkeye football Saturdays

We knew no Iowa football would be depressing, but who knew that it would make all of Iowa City depressing, too?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Labor Day weekend is usually one of my favorite weekends of the year.

It’s a three-day weekend in a time for me that is usually extremely busy at my day job, and it’s also the beginning of the college football season, which for me brings back wonderful memories, especially of my time (nearly 10 years ago now, but let’s not talk about that...) in the Hawkeye Marching Band.

This year feels different. Obviously.

As an adult who lives in Coralville and works in Iowa City, there’s usually a sense of excitement and certain planning that needs to go into a home-game Saturday. When’s kickoff? Who is playing? What downtown restaurant or bar will be most/least crowded? Who is coming to town for the game that I haven’t seen in forever and wants to hang out? Do I need to do anything around the hours of the game, and will I be impacted by traffic? And so on.

Instead, this last Saturday, I woke up, finished my workout at 10 a.m., showered and was ready for the day by about 10:50 a.m. But instead of turning on College Gameday for picks, I went downstairs and did some reading. Later in the afternoon, I tuned into the NBA Playoffs, and that night, I ordered food for delivery with no worry about it taking an insane amount of time due to a football crowd that was late to leave Iowa City after tailgating an Iowa win. And finally, I went to bed without having watched a down of football.

It was a strange way to spend the first Saturday of September.

I came to terms pretty easily with the fact that we wouldn’t have any Big Ten Football this fall — while it sucks, and has resulted in Iowa cutting four sports, among other layoffs within the athletics department, I think Kevin Warren made the difficult, but correct choice, and so I didn’t mourn the lack of Iowa football as much as I thought I would. Initially.

I drove around town on what should have been a Friday night before the season opening football game to normal traffic instead of passing trailers and RVs flying Hawkeye flags. I never heard the wail of the Hawkeye Express on Saturday morning. I had no opportunity to walk down Melrose Avenue with a beer in hand and the smell of Big Ass Turkey Legs in the air, discussing what we’d expect to see from Spencer Petras in his debut under center in the black and gold.

Instead, my time was spent reading and watching the NBA, and it was more depressing than I thought it would be. This is the ninth fall I’ve spent living in Iowa City and not having that energy of a football weekend in the fall, as well as driving through campus on a Tuesday afternoon and seeing it mostly devoid of student activity, just feels wrong. And desolate.

Yes, I know there is other college football on. And yes, I will most likely break down and watch it, even though the season — if it finishes — will have one of the biggest asterisks of all time. But it still won’t be the same without the thrill of a Hawkeye victory, or the agony of a close defeat. I feel so bad for the players who do not have the chance to compete.

But the decision has been made, and it has been made clear — time and time again — that it won’t be overturned. Whether it was the right or wrong decision by the Big Ten will always be up for debate (and probably fall along political lines). But regardless, we all will be dealing with the lack of Iowa football together every Saturday from now through December, and its a void that isn’t easy to fill, even beyond the hours we’d spend watching a game.

But it’s our reality, like it or not, and so in the interim, I’ll just be spending my Saturdays thinking of a future fall that does include Hawkeye football, tailgating, and all the greatness of a fall football Saturday in Iowa City.

Maybe the anticipation will make next year all the more sweet.