Monday, September 19, 2011

At Long Last The Thrilling Conculsion of The Road Trip

(sorry there are no pictures. Blogger is acting up.)

Day two of the road trip began early. There are certain calm, soothing ways to wake up – the sun rising in the east, gentle music gradually increasing in volume, a light kiss on the lips from a loved one. The theme song from “The Flinstones” is not one of those ways. What it lacks in subtleness it does, however, make up in effectiveness. So after a couple of quick showers and some continental breakfasting it was off to Iowa City.

The front desk attendant said it would probably take about 40 minutes to get there with game day traffic. It was smooth sailing until we hit the University of Iowa exit which was backed up a little bit. After sitting on the shoulder of the highway for about 5 minutes we made it through and found a parking spot on a golf course about a mile from the stadium.

Three hours before kickoff and Iowa fans were in full tailgate mode. The college kids were lugging suitcases of cheap beer to their beer pong tables while the older crowd sipped on wine outside of their multi-thousand dollar mobile homes. After seeing the way some of the RVs were set up Link and I quickly added “college stadium tour in a RV” to the list of things to do once I hit the powerball.

It was an odd sight to see so many yellow and black clad fans that are not cheering for a Pittsburgh team. While the sports world justly mocks Ravens fans for their unhealthy obsession with purple zubas, they pale in comparison to the yellow and black overalls sported by an unhealthy number of Hawkeye supporters.

We wandered around Kinnick Stadium a few times to see if there was anything of interest. Unfortunately, other than food vendors and tables hawking Iowa merchandise there isn’t much. That’s not a bad thing. It was obvious once we got there that everything was about the game itself and there was no need for any extra bells and whistles to entertain the easily distracted masses.

I can freely admit that I know nothing about Iowa sports (other than Kurt Warner was a QB for the Iowa Barnstormers) and had no idea who or what “Kinnick” was and why the stadium was named after him or it. I figured it was a coach that had won a bunch of games in the 30’s and went back to wondering why people would wear Guy Fieri wigs in public.

Luckily for prosperity’s sake a gregarious Iowa fan approached Link and started filling him in on some of the finer aspects of Hawkeye history. Apparently, Nile Kinnick was a Heisman Trophy winner from the 1930’s who is revered in Iowa much like Johnny Unitas is in Baltimore. As a running back and kicker he led the Hawkeyes to a victory in 1939 over Notre Dame and then gave a rather articulate Heisman acceptance speech that some say is the best speech ever uttered by a college athlete (sorry Tim Tebow).

He sounds like one of those all around all-American boys that you don’t find in sports anymore. The stature in front of the stadium depicts him not in uniform, but in a letterman jacket carrying his books. Our friendly host thinks he would have been a presidential candidate would it not have been for his untimely death in a US Navy training accident during World War II.

The stadium itself is pretty cool. It’s an all-brick stadium that reminded Link a lot of Camden Yards. Much like outside, there aren’t many frills on the inside. Other than the typical food stalls there was one wall depicting the All-Americans in Iowa history (including Mr. Papadopoulos himself – Alex Karros) and a large bronze relief of Mr. Kinnick plunging over the goal line against Notre Dame.

After chatting for a few more minutes we went inside. A text from Saint Leo Mike added some intrigue to the game as he broke the news to us that Pitt and Syracuse were abandoning the Big East for the ACC. As far the game itself, well the less said the better. I’ll give Link credit for calling the epic 4th quarter collapse. Pitt broke down pretty much just as he said they would. Poor fella traveled a long distance to see history. It just wasn’t the type of history he wanted to see (Iowa’s biggest comeback ever).

Despite spending most of my adult life in Florida, I am pretty much college football agnostic. The Duchess is a Florida grad so I tend to route for them if I have to. The team I’ve seen play the most is actually the University of Hawaii so I like them as well.

Without having much at stake at the Iowa/ Pitt game I sat back and enjoyed the atmosphere. Kinnick Stadium is an all bleacher stadium and putting comfort before pride we invested in padded seat backs. With 70,000 Iowa fans and about 25 Pitt fans in the stadium things were kind of cramped, but not uncomfortable.

I imagine college football is the closest American sports come to the passion other countries show at soccer games. There were chants (no songs) and the crowd was about 90% gold. The student section was boisterous, and when the refs missed an obvious holding call on Pitt in the third quarter the entire crowd let their displeasure be known with a loud, sustained “booooo”.

On the way out, Iowa fans continued to show their hospitality by pointing us in the right direction when we took a wrong turn back to the parking lot. Link did suffer some minor heckling, but when one drunk fan started getting annoying he was shushed by fellow Iowa fans. Where else does that happen?

We found the car without much incident and drove straight home. Well except for that side trip to the casino. Over the years, Link and I have spent our fair share of time together in casinos. We’ve gambled together in four different states and Canada. We’ve lost money and won money. Unfortunately, this was one of the times we lost money. I spent an hour at a craps table paying $5 a roll to see someone set a number and then crap out. There are few places more depressing than a craps table that is ice cold. It’s pretty much the DMV of the gambling world.

Craps and blackjack are the two games I gravitate to in casinos. I tried poker, because everyone in America was playing poker, and I found that I have no patience for it. Therefore, I am no good at it. Link, on the other hand, is halfway decent. As in he actually wins money when he plays. So for our Vegas trips that usually means he plays poker for a few hours and I end up wandering around the strip looking at the Star Trek exhibit at the Hilton or the vintage matchbooks at the Tropicana.

I’ve had mixed results at the craps table. The first time I played I got cleaned out. The second time I won some money. At the casino in Iowa (which I won’t name) it was more of the former. I was just betting a number or two so as not to give them all of my chips at once so I was pretty much dying the death of a thousand razors. Not fun.

After we contributed to the coffers of whoever owns that casino we were back in the car for the ride home. It was uneventful, although we did pass two more presidential homes. Who know that the trip from Illinois to Iowa would lead to so much fun history? Unfortunately, we didn’t stop at Regan’s or Hoover’s homes because we wanted to get back to my apartment sometime before midnight.

All in all, it was a good trip. It’s always fun to catch up with old friends and share in new experiences. Even if the game didn’t end like we had hoped, it was a blast. Pitt returns to Iowa in 2015. Not sure where I’ll be then, but if it’s still Chicago I would definitely make the trip again.

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