Road to Hawkeye Nation Citizenship
by, 05-14-2010 at 10:03 AM (548 Views)
I didn’t grow up in Iowa, I didn’t grow up in “Big 10 Country” and I wasn’t born into Hawkeye Nation. I grew up on the West Coast, California, “the land of fruit and nuts”. In California the adage that big cities or cities with Professional Teams don’t care about College sports is very true. I grew up watching the San Francisco Giants and 49ers, and the Sacramento Kings. For me watching College Football consisted of one game a year and we ALWAYS rooted for the Pac 10. I love the look on people’s faces when I tell them this because I know the very next question out of their mouths, “What are you doing in Iowa?” and/or “How did you become a Hawkeye Fan?” I usually tell them that it’s a long story, which has to do with my wife being from Iowa, but as I reflect on it, my relationship with the Hawkeyes started well before the love affair with my wife, I just didn’t know it.
In 1991 the 49ers drafted Merton Hanks. As he earned more and more playing time in the NFL, we as local fans learned more about him and the University of Iowa. I was 16 at the time and really didn’t care what college he played for, all I cared about was whether or not he was second coming of Ronnie Lott. Broadcasters kept saying things like “That’s Big 10 Football”. I had no idea what that meant and it would be 10 years before I really understood, but at the time I didn’t care. Hanks and his “Funky Chicken” were wreaking havoc on offenses and I loved it.
Fast forward to January 1994, I had graduated High School the previous spring and joined the Air Force. I was doing my technical training in Colorado and had met and become friends with guys all over the country, one of which was from Iowa. As we came back from Christmas break (everyone’s first trip home since at least August 1993) we shared stories of who we saw, what we did, and what we got for Christmas. My friend from Iowa pulled out his brand new Iowa Hawkeyes hat. His new hat was black with a giant gold Tiger Hawk. He was as proud of that hat as a brand new father, and he had a passion for the Hawks that we didn’t understand, so naturally we abused him mercilessly. We said things like “They have actually schools in Iowa?”, “Do they have Potatoes 101 as a required course?” and “I thought your colors were Scarlet and Gray?” Needless to say he stopped wearing the hat when we went out as a group (I feel kind of bad about this now), but he never stopped talking about The Hawkeyes. As we moved from technical training to the “Real Air Force” I lost touch with him and didn’t think about the Hawkeyes again until the summer of 1996 when my whole world would change.
The summer of 1996 was probably the most pivotal summer of my life and it laid the foundation for my entrance into Hawkeye Nation. I had been stationed in South Dakota for just the two years following technical training and I hated it. As a guy from California there was nothing to do, no culture, the state was landlocked, and I couldn’t any coverage of my favorite teams. At the time, as far as I was concerned, South Dakota was hell on Earth (my take on has since changed) and I was looking for any way out. My opportunity came when the squadron I was in, was tasked to move to Idaho. I jumped on board and before I knew it I had six week left of South Dakota. Then I met “Her”.
May 3rd, 1996 my roommate’s girlfriend talked me into going on a blind date with her roommate who had just graduated from the University of Iowa. We hit it off that night, but neither one of us was looking for a long term relationship. After about four weeks of hanging out/dating, we both knew this relationship was the real deal. I still moved to Idaho in June, she visited me in July, and I flew out to see her in September. This trip was where my education on Hawkeye Football and my citizenship in Hawkeye Nation began.
While visiting her I woke up on Saturday morning and asked her what we were going to do that day. She didn’t even blink with her response, “Find someplace to watch the Hawks”. Remembering the abuse we gave my buddy in Colorado, I made some sarcastic comment about Iowa and immediately got what we now refer to as “The Look”. It was explained to me that under NO uncertain terms do we 1) talk bad about the Hawks or 2) not watch them when they’re on. Needless to say we watched our first Hawkeye game together that day. She moved to Idaho that November and when the Hawkeyes played Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl, we were literally the only two people in the bar watching the game.
I asked her to marry me in the summer of 1997 and we made our first trip to Iowa as an engaged couple in September. Obviously as a newly engaged couple she wanted to show me off to her friends (and who wouldn’t), which included her college roommates. The place for this showing… Kinnick Stadium September 27, 1997, Iowa vs. Illinois. Not only was this my first Hawkeye Football Game it was my first tailgating experience. Anyone who’s a fan knows the game day experience in and around Kinnick, as an outsider it was unbelievable; the Passion, the electricity, the parties, the Magic Bus, all there on Melrose. I WAS HOOKED! As we were leaving the game after a 38 – 10 Hawkeyes victory I made my first of many purchases the Hawk Shop, and I knew this wouldn’t be my last trip to Kinnick Stadium.
We were married on October 3rd, 1998 in Iowa. She picked the date, however failed to check the Hawkeye home schedule. That day I learned another valuable lesson about Hawkeye Football. “Don’t get married in Iowa when the Hawkeyes are playing at home… especially if they’re playing Michigan. “ Her college roommates weren’t very happy with her as their husbands were at the game and they were in our wedding, people skipped the ceremony only to show up to the reception following the game and prior to the service, pretty much the entire wedding party was huddled around a radio trying to get updates on the game. At this point I still didn’t understand what the big deal was. Granted Hawkeye Football was great, and I was sure they were having a great time in Iowa City prior to the game, but come on, it’s just football right? I would get the answer to this question on October 27th, 2001.
We were now living in Missouri and one of my wife’s former roommates had scored an extra set of tickets to the Iowa vs. Michigan game. She called and asked us if we wanted to come up for the weekend. My wife didn’t even ask me about it, she just told me when/what to pack. I was excited because it had been four years since our last trip to Iowa City but I had no idea what I was in for. As we parked the morning of the game there was something different about the atmosphere around Kinnick. I didn’t know it was possible but there was more excitement in the air that day than my prior experience. Throughout the tailgate and the game it became more and more clear why people had been disgruntled about, and noticeably absent from, our wedding… for Hawkeye Fans, Iowa vs. Michigan in Iowa City boarders on a religious experience, and after that day I was a full-fledged member of the church. To make that weekend even more memorable, when we got home Sunday night we found out that my wife was pregnant with our first child.
Living in Missouri we got to see most Hawkeye games during the 2002 season and were at my In-Laws for the Orange Bowl. Everywhere we went over that Holiday Season people were talking about the Hawks. It was the common bond; something EVERYONE related to and got excited about, it was awesome. I was now enjoying College Football more than Professional Football and I knew the Hawkeye season statistics better than my 49er season statistics. There was no turning back, I was a Hawkeye!
In 2003 I decided that my time on active duty was over and we started discussing where we wanted to move our family. I wanted to move to Colorado or Idaho, but she wasn’t sold, and she wanted to move back to Iowa, but I was skeptical. We agreed that whoever got a job first, that’s where we would move. Upon hearing she landed a job in Des Moines my first question was “Can we get season tickets to the Hawks”? Once again I got “the look”, season tickets were forgone conclusion.
We purchased our first season ticket package in 2005 and haven’t looked back. Hawkeye Football is as much a part of our lives as our children. Our daughter was born the day before the Iowa vs. Iowa State game in 2008. One of the names I had picked out was Hayden but my wife felt Hayden was more of a boy’s name, for obvious reasons. Our son, now almost 8, has been fully brainwashed and bleeds black and gold. He no longer looks forward to football Saturdays with his grandparents; he wants to be at the games with us. We are a Hawkeye family through and through.
I didn’t grow up in Iowa, I didn’t grow up in “Big 10 Country”, but I am a citizen of Hawkeye Nation. We fly our colors proudly and can be found on Melrose for seven Saturdays in the fall.