Football NCAA

Iowa, Iowa, Iowa!

I’ve mentioned it numerous times, but the last time I went to a Penn State game in Iowa was 2008. I always say I had a fantastic time – except for the outcome of the game.  Back then, a couple of buddies got together and made an epic weekend of it.  It’s a trip that will be remembered forever – for many reasons.  One regret I had from that trip was that I didn’t get to spend any time in downtown Iowa City.  I had to change that.

My wife and I decided long ago that this game would be our road trip for the 2019 season. One of the primary reasons was that it was early enough in the season where the weather shouldn’t be a factor. A crisp fall weekend with the trees changing colors is how I recall selling it to my wife. Oh well…That’s another story.

This trip was similar but very different.  Like 2008, the Lions were again coming into town undefeated and, while ranked slightly lower at #10, they again have grand expectations.  On the other side, the Hawkeyes are coming off a deflating loss to Michigan, but are still ranked #17. Even before the 6:30pm kickoff was announced, the home team decided to declare a stripe-out for the fans and break out the canary-yellow uniforms for the team. They knew this would be a big game.

An early morning flight out of Mesa on Allegiant on Thursday would get us to Iowa by noon – leaving plenty of time to explore the area before the football weekend.

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The suggestion many offered up was the Amana Colonies. I had heard of this place but didn’t know much about it.  Turns out, everyone of a certain age has heard of the Amana Radarange and other appliances.

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Sure, this town is known for its appliances, but did you know that they were colonized in the 1850s by German immigrants who were persecuted for religious reasons in Germany? They broke away from the Lutheran Church to start a new life in America.

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Entering Amana

They lived a simple and communal life, sharing resources and responsibilities.  The area is made up of 7 different colonies, linked together by a 17-mile loop around the Iowa River about 25 miles from downtown Iowa City. The communal way of life essentially ended in 1932 when financial troubles hit. A couple of tragic fires destroyed their flour and wool mills, then the depression hit. That’s when a corporation was formed and the assets divided among the residents. While it was great to see, if you’ve been to Lancaster PA’s Amish Country, you’ve experienced Amana.

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What German town would be complete without a Brau Haus?

Dining options in the area are somewhat limited as you can imagine.  We had the omnipresent pork tenderloin sandwich for lunch but didn’t want to stay on the German theme for dinner, so we opted to take the drive to Iowa City for more options.

Along the way, we passed the Hawkeye Express – a train that carries fans on gameday from just outside of town to the stadium. Great idea to alleviate traffic, but at $15 per person roundtrip, it’s more novelty than practical.

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We decided on the famed Wig and Pen Pizza & Pub for dinner. It’s becoming more and more obvious that pizza, of all foods, is all about personal taste and preference.  Everyone from Iowa it seems raves about the Flying Tomato Pie at the Wig and Pen so we just had to try it. It reminded me of the frozen Schwann’s pizza I used to get 30 years ago. Edible. Not horrible. But I’m not sure that’s how the Wig would want me describing their prized offering. I’m sure people say the same thing about Old Forge-style pizza.

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There aren’t any Hilton or Marriott properties in Amana.  If you’re staying here, you’re staying at a local B&B or hotel.  We chose the Die Heimat Inn, a building built in 1856 and made into a fairly large, 18-room B&B. It’s listed as the original inn of the Amana Colonies and served many purposes during its life. It was quiet, comfortable and clean – like I’d describe my grandmother’s house. At breakfast, it was apparent that we brought the average age of the guests down considerably. One thing I’ve learned about B&Bs though, you’ll love the breakfast – and the Die Heimat’s was very good.

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On Friday, we wanted to tour the campus and get a feel for life as a Hawkeye.  Let’s just say the previously mentioned weather wasn’t cooperating, with winds howling bringing the wind-chill to a brisk mid-20s. A little too crisp for our Arizona blood, so we decided to tour by car.  And good thing.  The campus is spread out around town and across the Iowa River. The classrooms, frats, dorms, and housing are all spread out and intermingled with downtown on the east side of the river.

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Capitol Steps looking west towards Kinnick Stadium and the Medical campus

Iowa’s first Capitol city was Iowa City. When they moved the Capitol to Des Moines in 1857, they gave the old Capitol building to the University. We did take the time to tour the building.  Today, it serves as a museum of all things Iowa and the University of Iowa.

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If you had to pick one sport that really defines The University of Iowa, it’s a no-brainer.  Wrestling. Under Head Coach, Dan Gable, the Hawkeye wrestlers dominated. For twenty-one years, from 1976-1997 his Hawkeyes were 355–21–5. They won the B1G Championship every. single. year.  On top of that, they also won 15 NCAA Division I titles. That is pure domination. Much respect!

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On January 31, 2020, this will be the place to be when the National Champion Penn State Wrestling Club visits famed Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Lions have won eight of the last nine Championships under Cael Sanderson.

The calm before the storm!

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A nice hot cappuccino took the chill off and allowed us to relax for a bit after touring all over the campus.  There are plenty of local coffee shops around town. We chose a small local chain, Dash Coffee Roaster.

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After checking in to our Iowa City hotel, an early dinner at another local iconic restaurant, Shorts Burger and Shine, had us ready for a little campus nightlife. The downtown area is compact and full of bars, restaurants, and shops.  Definitely a great college-town setup. The place is packed with mom & pop eateries and bars – too many to choose for a short weekend. And all within a few square blocks. We wanted to check out the rooftop bars, but the weather was not cooperating.

In researching the trip, I found out about a unique tradition that I needed to experience, the Friday Night Beer Band. A ragtag band made up of students, townies and alum tour the downtown bars, hopping from bar to bar and playing a few songs at each to liven up the crowd. This is no ordinary band. Sure there are various wind instruments like trumpets and flutes, but the real attraction here is the Jimmy Fallon-like toy band with empty milk jugs and 2-liter bottles, cheese graters, empty glass bottles, dinner triangles, and empty cardboard soda cases.

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Saturday morning, we were welcomed with this weather forecast.  Again, a brisk 28 degree wind-chill, but “warming” up to 57, then down again in time for kickoff.

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For Saturday morning, we decided to hit one of the downtown breakfast joints. It’s always a difficult choice when you have to choose between “iconic” and “best”. We had heard that the Hamburg Inn was the most iconic, hosting Presidential visits for years and having the museum-like atmosphere to prove it. But like most touristy spots, the reviews said that they are living off the past and not delivering on the quality of food. That said, we opted for the “best” in the Bluebird Diner.  And they didn’t disappoint – well, except for the 20-minute wait that turned into an hour.

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After a late breakfast, we met up with our friends from Scranton.  They saw my post on social media and realized we were in town.  See, there is some good that comes from social media.

Downtown was still hopping, but by this time, the real action was a mile away, up the hill on the other side of the river. Tailgating at Iowa definitely is among the top in the B1G. There, we met up with our Arizona friend and Iowa native, Ted and his crew.

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I have to say, it doesn’t suck when you’re tailgating just a few cars from the stadium!

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We made our way over to another tailgate that was just off of Melrose, south of the stadium.  We timed it so we’d be able to catch bus arrival for Penn State. While there, we ran into the Penn State Athletic Director, Sandy Barbour.

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After another tailgate with some of Ted’s college friends, it was time to enter the stadium and get settled in for kickoff.

There’s just something stately and traditional about a brick stadium. Kinnick is not a very large stadium, holding less than 70,000 fans.  And it’s a fairly compact footprint that’s easy to get around on the outside.  It’s known for having the fans so close to the visiting team that in some cases, the fans were said to grab and hide the visiting players’ helmets.

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From the outside, it doesn’t show it’s 90-year age.  It’s also hard to believe that the permanent light fixtures were just installed in 2015.  On the inside however, age is revealed. Tight corridors, small bathrooms and narrow tunnels all add to the congestion.

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But once in the seating area, it looks good as new again with a modern press box and color-coordinated spectators.

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I don’t recall which team “invented” the stripe-out, but I think it might have been Iowa. I do know that the first time Iowa employed this look, it was against Penn State in 2010 – another night game at Kinnick in which the home team dismantled the Lions.  This also happens to be the last time Iowa beat Penn State.  The win in 2010 was the Hawkeyes ninth win in eleven contests.  Since then, the Lions have ripped off six in a row. Talk about a series of streaks. And prior to the Iowa streak that started in 1996, the Lions had held a 10-3 edge in the series.

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As the National Anthem finished up, the Air Force was on hand for an F35 flyover.  I don’t think I’ve ever been directly under one before. It was a pretty amazing sight. Rumor has it, one of the four planes that were scheduled to fly had an issue and was grounded.

Once the game started, the crowd got loud and rarely sat down. With both teams in the top 4 in the nation in scoring defense, you knew it would be a hard-fought battle. Iowa struck first with a FG, breaking Penn State’s streak of not allowing a point in the first quarter.

Going into the game, I wasn’t sure what I was more excited about. The matchup of two Top 20 teams or the instant-tradition of the Iowa Wave, where at the end of the first quarter, the entire stadium waves to the children in the hospital that’s located just outside the stadium. I was so in awe of looking at the kids waving and flashing their phone flashlights at us, that I forgot to turn around and take a picture of the stadium!

Thanks to the internet and my virtual friends, I was able to grab a couple of clips to show you what it looks like inside the stadium.

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Penn State bounced back with an 85-yard drive capped off by a hurdling KJ Hamler 22-yard TD to make it 7-3. Then Iowa punched back with another long drive that ended in a FG before the end of the half, 7-6 Penn State.

In the 3rd Quarter, things got interesting. Penn State recovered an Iowa fumble at the Iowa 16. After a Clifford-Hamler pass sets up a 1st-Goal from the 6, an apparent TD run was called back for a holding call. The next play, Clifford hits Pat Freiermuth for a diving TD. But again, it’s nullified inexplicably after replay. Instead, it’s 2nd-Goal from the 1. After Iowa stops the run and sets up a 3rd-Goal from the 1, two more holding penalties are called on the Lions. This backs them up to the 21 where they would eventually settle for a FG. It should be noted that the head official for this game is none other than John O’Neill.  I’ve already written about this clown in the past.  His history of horrific calls against Penn State makes me wonder if he’s biased against the team or if he’s just incompetent. Considering he was once quoted as saying “you’re lucky to be playing football”, I’ll take it as biased AND incompetent. 10-6 Penn State.

Another Iowa turnover at their own 35 turned into another seven points for Penn State and essentially put the game out of reach given the Lion’s stout defense. 17-6 visitors with just over five minutes to play, but the home team was not done yet. They battled back for a late TD to close the gap but missed the 2-point try making it 17-12 with 2:31 to play. With all three timeouts, the Hawkeyes elected to kick it deep, but the Lions were able to get the needed first down to kill the clock. Final 17-12 Penn State.

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I have to say, the Iowa fans we met were very friendly. Yes, there’s always that one drunk fan, but every fan base has those.  Our only negative interaction came from that one drunk fan after the game on our way back to our car.  That’s when we ran into a very inebriated fan. I don’t think he was Iowa graduation material if you know what I mean. He had a white t-shirt with F*** Penn State written in Sharpie across the front.  He verbalized the shirt as we walked past. Have a nice night. Good luck with the hangover.

The next day, it was back to the airport, victory in hand and sporting my Penn State Wrestling shirt.

Stop wondering. Start wandering! 

 

 

 

 

5 comments

  1. Bill as always you are a master of capturing the real feel of a Penn State weekend. It’s so much fun reading your stories.
    In fact they are more fun than being there and I can say that with authority because I was there. Keep up the great work.
    See down the road.

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