I have a confession to make. I did NOT attend the University of Iowa.
I apologize for any confusion or misunderstandings.
But, like I’m sure is the case for a lot of you, I grew up in Iowa in a day and age where you cheered for one team or the other. Iowa or Iowa State.
My earliest memories of Iowa were being aware of Iowa’s amazing basketball team, and its Final Four run under Lute Olson. I remember how pissed everyone in the state was when Lute left to go to Arizona. Some people still are. I am as well to a certain degree.
As for football, I have no recollection of the Bob Cummings era. I bet a lot of Hawk fans wish that was the case for themselves. No, the first and only football coach I was aware of was Hayden Fry. Those aviator sunglasses. The Tiger Hawk. That instantly recognizable symbol that says: “The University of Iowa”.
It also didn’t hurt that at the time I was growing up, Chuck Long was the quarterback for the Hawks, taking them to the Rose Bowl. And on the heels of that? Roy Marble was leading Iowa to the Elite Eight. That type of success and the local media coverage that follows, to me made it clear that I had picked the right team out of the two to cheer for.
The really ironic part? I’m from Ogden. A scant 22 miles west of Ames. Deep in the heart of Cyclone Country. But like I said, you grow up in the State of Iowa and you root for one team or the other.
And let me make one other thing clear. I do NOT hate the Cyclones. I understand how some Hawkeye fans can, based on the nature of the rivalry. But I just can’t do it. My two best friends are both huge Cyclone fans, one living in Ames and the other having gone to school there. In fact, most years during the Iowa/Iowa State football game, I’m at a party at my Ames’ friend’s house watching the game with a big crowd and about a 50/50 split on rooting interests.
As the years have passed, I have found myself not only growing in my fandom and support of the University of Iowa, but somehow I have found myself front and center of some of the Hawkeyes’ biggest moments.
In 1999, I managed to land a gig as one of the back-up official scorers for the NCAA Men’s Basketball First and Second Round games in Denver, CO. I was pleasantly thrilled when the Hawks were assigned there on Selection Sunday. I was even more excited to be able to sit courtside when they beat Arkansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen that year. Where was the after-party for Hawk fans in Denver? The Sports Column of course. You would have thought you were in Iowa City that late afternoon.
On New Year’s Day 2005, I managed to land sideline passes from an old college professor to the Capital One Bowl. As I stood on the Hawks sideline at about the 25-30-yard line, I saw Warren Holloway catch the ball across the field from me. My first thought was: “Oh crap! He’s going to get tackled and there won’t be enough time to kick a field goal!” The next thing I knew, he was breaking free into the end zone. The entire sideline washing onto the field to celebrate, myself included.
More recently, some of my friends who live in Atlanta decided that we should go to the Iowa/North Carolina basketball game and see the Hawks live in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
By this time, I had been appearing regularly as Hawkeye Elvis at both football and basketball games. That didn’t mean the people of Chapel Hill quite knew what to make of me as strolled across the campus of UNC in my full getup.
The staff at the Dean Dome sure didn’t know what to think of me as I marched straight down to the floor with my friends meekly in tow. After high-fiving the team as they warmed up, I spotted Fran and went straight over to say hello. (Quick sidebar for those of you who don’t know, Fran’s wife Margaret is my cousin.) As I told my friends that night: “When you’re dressed up as Elvis, you can pretty much go anywhere you want.”
And my friends came through in a big way with front row seats behind the basket. As if three Hawkeye fans weren’t easy enough to spot in that crowd of Tar Heels, I’m 6-5 and dressed in a sequined jumpsuit.
The coolest thing about the picture that came from that was that I had no idea it existed until well after the game. Mike Gesell had driving down the side of the lane and was fouled going up for the lay-up. Despite the fact that he landed at my feet, I was watching the ball as it bounced, hung on the rim and eventually fell through. I was celebrating the fact that we now had a lead with a minute left.
It wasn’t until much later, after celebrating with fellow Hawk fans near the court, that one of the guys pulled out his phone and showed me the picture that was taking over my Twitter feed.
Unfortunately, it’s not always like that. Some years, you go 4-8 and lose at home to Iowa State. Some years, your basketball teams start off hot and then stumbles their way to a play-in game in Dayton where you lose in overtime.
The hardest thing to remember in cases like these are that these kids are taking it way harder than we ever do. Plus, they are the ones who have to face the media afterwards and have all the shots taken at them on social media. If the worst thing that happened to me in a day was a bunch of 20-year-old kids I cheer for lost their sports contest, I’m doing just fine.
Thanks to the guys at Black + Cardinal Divide who asked if I would write something for their site. Hope you all liked it. And when you see me at Kinnick or at Carver this year, stop and say hi. Go Hawks!