Brown: Return of Iowa Football Brings Sense of Normalcy

September 22, 2020

Written by Rick Brown

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Big Ten football is back.

But before we look forward to the start of games in just over a month, we need to look back and remind ourselves of this: you can never take anything for granted.

College football Saturdays at Kinnick Stadium are ingrained in the DNA of Hawkeye fans across this state. From tailgating to the band, the Iowa Fight Song and the Wave, Nile Kinnick Heisman’s speech and the team’s march from the locker room to the field, it was all part of the gameday experience. 

It was something that you’d never think would go away And it did. But the games will return next month after the Big Ten called a reverse last week. The gameday experience remains on hold, because spectators won’t be part of the action. Home-field advantage will sound more like an oxymoron than reality.

In a recent conversation with Gary Dolphin, Iowa’s play-by-play voice, he said that you don’t realize how much you miss something until it’s gone. I’m sure many fans would agree in this age of COVID-19.

It’s the players I’m happiest for after the Big Ten Conference’s change of heart.  Dedicating yourself to the game you love, only to have it taken away while the sport goes on in many other places, had to be frustrating. Many players aired those frustrations through social media.

On August 11th, when the Big Ten announced there would be no football, quarterback Spencer Petras went to Twitter with this: “Heartbreaking, devastating news.”

He thanked President Bruce Harreld, Athletic Director Gary Barta and others for voicing a minority opinion that football should be played.

“Champions grow stronger through adversity,” added Petras.

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz had campaigned for football, too. Responding to the league’s decision not to play, he said, “The players want to play. And as a coaching staff we want to coach you.”

A large group of Iowa football parents also voiced displeasure with the decision. 

They sent an open letter to the Big Ten in mid-August, asking for transparency and an explanation of why the decision was made to not play football.  This paragraph was included:

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 “As parents of Hawkeye players, we want what is best for our children and their program.   We care deeply about player safety as we continue our way through a different world than it was six months ago. The Big Ten had months to develop a strategic plan but instead chose to leave it up to each individual school creating confusion, inconsistency and no plan of action. There is time to fix the wrongdoings and come out as leaders. We strongly encourage the Big Ten to reconsider playing the fall college football season, develop a plan of meaningful action and letting these young adults be included in the decision-making process.”

A large group of Hawkeye football parents also drove to the Big Ten offices in Rosemont, Ill., to publicly voice their disagreement about the decision.

Last week’s rebirth was reason to celebrate. And many Hawkeyes did through social media.

“WHO’S READY FOR A RETURN?!!!!” proclaimed wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette on Twitter.

“LET’S PLAY SOME FOOTBALL.” Tweeted linebacker Nick Niemann.

And wide receiver Brandon Smith tweeted  a picture of himself and Smith-Marsette with warning signs, airplane emojis and this: “Direct Flights Coming Soon!!!”

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Petras retweeted @Hawkeye Football’s tweet, “Big Ten football is back!!! He included three smiley face emojis.

Granted, the games might not be Picassos once the ball is kicked off.

As Ferentz reminded everyone last Thursday, his team hadn’t had pads on since December 27th’s thrashing of USC in the Holiday Bowl.

“We have some challenges from a football standpoint,” he said. “We have a short amount of time. We have to maximize every opportunity.”

The parents of Iowa players who were active in their protests should take a bow for their efforts, and the end result.  Free speech and democracy are pillars of this country. Those parents used the avenues available to them wisely. High fives all around.

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Yes, our world has been turned upside-down since March, when the winter sports seasons came to an abrupt halt.

The basketball season had a keeping up with the Jones feel to it. The Ivy League got the ball rolling. Several days later, every announcement of a conference ending play was followed by several more. The end result was no NCAA Tournament.

Many thought college football would follow the same path. The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences halted all fall sports. Many thought the remaining Power Five Conferences: The Big 12, ACC and SEC, would follow suit. But they broke the mold and forged ahead.

How much that played in the Big Ten’s decision to return to play will never be known for sure. But it became a moot point last week, when the Big Ten elected to play after all.

When the season starts, rest assured that no one will take the game for granted. No university athletic department will take the mountains of television money for granted, either.  Not after the house of cards came crashing down.

And no one should take the stability of its sport for granted, either. When football’s financial windfall dried up, drastic measures were the result.

Iowa’s dropping of men’s and women’s swimming, men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics was a painful result. Please, keep those coaches, student-athletes and their parents in mind as you itch to see football played at Kinnick Stadium again. 

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is the way it was. And it won’t be for a long time. 


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