We hold a great deal of respect, even affection, for Iowa and its football program. They are a Big Ten team that we always cheer on, except, of course, when they play us. They have an outstanding football tradition. The atmosphere at Kinnick Stadium is electric. It’s a fun venue to watch a game. Usually.
Iowa was the first Big Ten program to enthusiastically welcome Penn State to the Big Ten, and when we showed up at that first game in Iowa City in 1993, we were also personally welcomed by the Cahoon family of Iowa City. The connection with the Cahoons is through our friend Greg Schraeder, a die-hard Penn State fan, who married Debbie Cahoon in the early 1990’s. Greg and I had met each other on an early Penn State Internet discussion board before that first Iowa game, and he invited us to meet them at their tailgate. That started a friendship that endures to this day. Greg and Debbie live in Omaha, Nebraska, and we always rendezvous with them at the Iowa game whenever we play in Iowa City, and elsewhere throughout the Midwest when Penn State travels.
Such was the case last year. We met the Scraeders at the Cahoon family house, and went with Greg and his son Tyler to the stadium, where we used an Iowa reserved parking pass to park in the shadow of the stadium. There we were, Penn State clad fans in a sea of Iowa tailgates. Words can’t describe how cold it was. The wind was causing tailgate tents to collapse or blow away; flag poles had to be taken down because there was too much potential for damage. We spent most of the pre-game tailgate huddled in the van. It was simply too cold to be outside.
Our Penn State tickets were in the 2nd row behind the Penn State bench. Greg had two Iowa tickets that were at the top of the stadium – 60th row or so, great seats for viewing the game. 13-year-old Tyler wanted to sit right behind the bench, to be close to the players and watch the action on the sidelines, so I volunteered to go with him. Greg and Terry went to the high seats. They sat in that cold wind the entire game. At least in the 2nd row, the wind was blocked partially by the stadium. But still, conditions weren’t great. It was damn cold. And I just don’t like low seats – you can’t really see the game.
I wonder, looking back, how much that cold affected our players. They were wrapped in down cloaks on the sidelines, obviously shivering. They couldn’t get warm. Joe Paterno is not one to coddle his players with heaters on the sidelines. He has long been of the belief that weather is part of the game, something to contend with. So the Iowa players had heaters. The Penn State players didn’t.
Whether or not heaters would have made a difference, I don’t know. What did make a difference was Iowa’s determination to win, and their half-time adjustments. They just didn’t quit. The Hawkeye defense kept Penn State to just 86 yards in the second half, with no third down conversions. The Hawkeyes achieved 7 of 8 third-down conversions in the second half. Iowa stepped up. Penn State, which had a 23-14 advantage early in the 4th quarter, saw a win slip away. A penalty that allowed their game-winning drive to continue didn’t help. Nor did a Darryl Clark interception in the 4th quarter. One wonders if Pat Devlin could have achieved a different result. Darryl Clark did not seem 100%.
When the game ended, my friend Tyler was in tears. He had to go back to Cornhusker country, where he knew he would face relentless teasing by his Husker classmates. As for me, I was just trying to dodge the rush of fans storming the field. It was simply a miserable loss.
After the game, we gathered with the Cahoon family at an Iowa City restaurant. They were kind. They didn’t rub it in. They knew how much this loss hurt, even though I’m sure they were secretly pleased. That’s why I like Iowa and always wish them well. They have classy fans!