IOWA CITY, Iowa – Even though football and family go hand-in-hand on Thanksgiving, sometimes they can’t always be together. It’s especially tough when family is at home and football is in Iowa City or eventually Lincoln, Nebraska.
When the annual Heroes Game between Iowa and Nebraska is played the day following the holiday, the players know they aren’t able to go back to their hometowns. Their families know it as well. Knowing that going in still doesn’t change that they’re missing out.
“I think the initial reaction last year was ‘man that kind of sucks’,” quarterback Nate Stanley said Tuesday. “There is nothing I’d rather do than be playing football and my family and friends realize that too.”
Two years ago, the last time the team spent Thanksgiving traveling, the players spent the day preparing for a game while their families sat down to dinner.
“When I was a freshman, it was tough because it was my first holiday away from my family,” center James Daniels said. “I was calling my mom and my family was eating Thanksgiving dinner without me. We would always eat and have the entire family around the dinner table.”
It’s All About Family
Very few have family within Iowa football. Coaches Kirk and Brian Ferentz have each other, along with four sets of siblings on the roster. Daniels, the previous two years, had his older brother LeShun on the team with him.
The Daniels family is spending the holiday on the road watching LeShun, who recently signed with the Washington Redskins, play in a Thanksgiving NFL game against the New York Giants. The annual NFL games were a focal point for Texas native Josh Jackson who mentioned he and his family would watch the Cowboys every year.
“I like the food but as you get older you realize that the holidays are about family and being around them,” Daniels said.
Family and football played a big role in safety Jake Gervase’s family Thanksgiving. With his mother being one of ten siblings, the total attendance would be up around 70 each year. Having those numbers, it makes for one exciting family football game.
“They’d call it the Turkey Bowl and we would play in the backyard at my aunt’s house in Davenport,” Gervase said. “We’ve had some Thanksgiving games over the years that have gotten pretty rough. I’ll miss out on that, but I get to play in a bigger game on Friday. It’s a lot of fun being a part of it so I’m sure they’ll play Thursday then tune in to watch us play.”
It’s hard to picture Gervase not rejoining the family game after his Hawkeye playing days are over next year. He mentioned looking forward to beating up on his younger cousins and older uncles in the future.
Who Doesn’t Like The Food
In addition to football, massive amounts of great tasting food highlight the holiday for the team. Besides family, they all miss the home cooked Thanksgiving dinner. Some even mentioned specific items they’d love to add to the menu for the team’s trip to Nebraska.
“I miss my mom’s banana pudding,” senior running back Akrum Wadley said. “Not to many people can make that banana pudding. I also miss my aunties chicken alfredo and mac-n-cheese. After the game I’m going to try to get home to make sure I can get a leftover plate.”
Despite having turkeys on their farm, it was something else that highlighted the meal when linebacker Josey Jewell went the half-mile down the road to his grandmother’s for dinner. He looked forward to the cheesy potatoes.
Even though he is without home cooked potatoes, the holiday in Iowa City isn’t all that bad.
“I’ve enjoyed it here with the guys, it’s like a second family. Even if you can’t go home there are some guys that live around here that will invite you over to there place,” Jewell said. “We get together more, especially since there is no school. Whether it’s eating, watching film, or just talking.”
The team family dynamic lessens missing actual family. That aspect was common among many players.
“We usually get together to eat,” Wadley said. “I spend more time with them than my actual family. This is my family here.”
In terms of organized team activities for the holiday, they were provided with multiple catered dinners as well as a team movie during the week leading up to the game while no other students are on campus. The game’s title sponsor, Hy-Vee, brought the meal for the Heroes Dinner Tuesday evening.
Wadley, along with others, looked forward to the turkey most.
A Thanksgiving Message from BCDivide
Reading Ben’s interviews with the players about spending their holiday away from home should make us all appreciate the type of work they go through in order to entertain us. If we zoom out a little bit then it should also make us realize that there are thousands of American soldiers spending the holiday(s) away from their family as well.
Our crew at BCDivide and Hawkeye Heaven are thankful for all of the above ^^^. We’re also thankful for you, the reader. Thank you for joining us in our first year as a website, and stay tuned because we’ll have a big announcement coming in the next couple of weeks!