This week, I’ve moved over 230 miles due west from Evanston to visit our next Big Ten team, the Iowa Hawkeyes. Considering the difference between the two towns, it could have been 230,000 miles.
Start by taking everything I said about Evanston and Northwestern, and just assume the opposite. Iowa City eats, breathes, and sleeps Iowa Hawkeyes. The painting below, which depicts the large number of bars in Iowa City, is not much of an exaggeration, to be honest.
There is nowhere I went in the week I’ve been here in Iowa City where I did not see a constant barrage of Iowa Hawkeyes t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, etc. However, it didn’t stop there. Around the corner from where I was staying was a supermarket, part of a chain called Hy-Vee. I took a few photos of the supermarket to give you a flavor of the place. Now remember, this is not a college bookstore, this is merely a local SUPERMARKET!
Going into Iowa City itself, the stadium is very close to the downtown area, which is similar to Piscataway in that it is across the Iowa River from downtown, and less than 1 1⁄2 miles from downtown to the stadium itself. Unlike Piscataway, the area immediately around the stadium is very built up, with not only football buildings, but also the University’s hospitals, clinics, orthopedic surgery unit, etc.
Kinnick is a beautiful stadium, redone in 2006. Unlike my visit to Northwestern, the place was bolted up tight. However, similar to Northwestern, a lot of work is going on getting ready for the upcoming season. Because of both of those reasons, my shots are the best one can get from outside. I think they give a good feel for the stadium, however.
Following my visit to the stadium, I headed into town. My first stop was a local apparel shop, Tailgate Trading Company.
This is a place that brought to mind a smaller version of Scarlet Fever on Somerset Street in New Brunswick. The place also came with requisite photos of old-time Iowa football photos on the wall, banners, etc.
Following that, just a couple of steps down the street, I visited one of the oldest and most famous bars to discuss what game day is like in Iowa City.
The Airliner, as they share, has been there since 1944, and they take pains to not change things dramatically. As Patrick McBreen, General Manager of The Airliner told me, “To alums, this is like going home, so we try to keep it the same for them.”
Game days are pretty special occasions at the place. Patrick said emphatically, “This is where you want to watch the game. It’s amazing.” They open early at 8:00 a.m. to serve breakfast, and it fills up almost immediately. For a noontime game, people walk over to the stadium around 10:00, and those who don’t have tickets to the game show up to watch it in the bar. After the game, there’s another rush there as fans return for a drink and/or more food.
I asked Patrick about the craziest thing he can remember, and he felt almost stumped, for as he put it, “...game day is such a blur.” He did remember the surprise on the faces of several Michigan fans last year when Iowa unexpectedly pulled off the upset that killed the Wolverine’s chances at the conference title. The things he remembers are more on the business end, like things being so crazy that he recalls “...fighting through the crowds, helping out in the kitchen...the staff melting down [because] they’re too busy, a kid tried to carry four large pizzas at once and dropped them all down the stairs...having a shelf of, like, 60 plates fall on me back in the kitchen. The whole place goes silent, and then the GM at the time, Chris Flanders, starts clapping and everyone went nuts.” Those give you a feel for how frantic game days are for the Airliner staff.
Preparation for these games begins on Wednesday at this place. During a regular week The Airliner gets three to four deliveries of food. For a game day, they will get six to seven deliveries just for game day! Because this is a smaller establishment, there is not a lot of storage, so they get multiple deliveries on Thursday to Saturday.
Staffing shows how busy it gets. The day I stopped in there was one bartender and four wait staff working, and it was a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. On a typical game day, there are four bartenders, a host, two security people that help serve tables, six additional servers plus the two managers and the owner help out as well. Despite the craziness, Patrick says that besides the adrenaline rush, people are happy to work there. “You can go to [other places] and you see the people in the restaurant, and they’re miserable. People here, they’re here to have a good time, they’re here because they want to be here.”
As you can tell from all of this, Iowa City on game day is a sight to behold. The entire town turns out for the game, and it is an event, not just a game. As has been stated in many other places, Iowa football is the only game in town, so there is no competition from the NFL, etc.
While Rutgers hosted the Hawkeyes last September, Iowa does not welcome the Scarlet Knights until September 7, 2019. However, since the following week is a bye for Rutgers, it’ll make it an easier trip out to experience a real college football event here in Iowa City. I know I will be here, and I highly recommend it to all of you as well.
Just before I left Kinnick Stadium, I left them a present. Just outside the stadium was an Iowa football golf cart, and it looked like it could use some additional decoration. I hope you all like what I did to improve its look:
Up next, I will be traveling north from Iowa City to another great Big Ten town, Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Badgers. I’m looking forward to sharing some of that great town with you as well.
Follow-up from last visit: When I visited Evanston last week for my story on Northwestern, I took a picture outside Ryan Stadium and tweeted out a #ShowYourR for support of Rutgers Athletics.
I’ve been doing this during my visit to the Midwest. However, I never would have believed Rutgers Athletics would have used it to take a jab at Northwestern’s Athletics like they did. I loved it, and I bet you will too:
These are the lighthearted things that happen in college sports that make it fun, and demonstrates the camaraderie that exists between the programs in the conference. Good for you, @RUAthletics, and keep up the good work!