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Review: Hawkeye Football Tailgating

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | SEPTEMBER 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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One failed “Go Hawks” attempt was followed by a more successful command, leading the entire mob next door to roar for the University of Iowa. A girl on the sidewalk — 19, maybe 20 years old, though it’s too difficult to really tell — glared at the mass of people, probably checking the house number while maintaining her composure. Three cops followed, grinning and seemingly impervious to the man rolling around on his back, arms and legs up in the air, in the grit of a nearby driveway. Tailgating time in Iowa City.

A viking with a ponytail, wearing a University of Northern Iowa shirt, walked up and asked me where he could buy some beer. After I explained that the restaurant down the street, Stella, sold tallboys off its patio, he clarified that he wanted a case. That would require a 25-minute walk to the nearest gas station, by the highway, or a white-knuckled drive through a swarm of bubbly drunks — loonies prone to jumping into the street on a whim. He had broken the first rule of tailgating: bring the beer. Sorry, bud.

Melrose Avenue comes alive in spurts during football season. What is usually a calm, mild residential neighborhood morphs into a network of arteries, pumping black and yellow blood toward Kinnick Stadium. The economy inflates with outside cash. There are perhaps more scalpers walking around, fingers in the air, trying to buy and sell tickets, than there are free tickets available. Vendors sell merchandise — foam footballs, T-shirts, wigs, black and yellow koozies and beads — and food stands draw lines with concoctions like the “Potato Bacon Sundae.” What a time to be alive.

Any smashable patch of grass is prime real estate on game day. Cars somehow managed to grind their way through the wall. We slid our way around in the crowd. A Hawkeye-themed crazy-hair wig-wearing old man announced, “45 minutes to kickoff, gentlemen … and ladies. Ladies and gentlemen.”

Does this traffic ever stop? No. It’s a stubborn road. Less than an hour to kickoff and a stadium packed with tens of thousands of people, and cars were still inching along, taking their chances and hoping that no one was courageous enough to play chicken with a Ford F-350, also hoping that the dork scribbling in his notebook was paying attention. There was still parking available. Sort of.

I asked a bro with a fanny pack how much parking he had on his plot on Triangle Place, just off the main drag. Of the 35 spots initially open at $30 per, there was one … just one … open space. Easy math, more than $1,000 from a single game. Holy cash-cow, Batman.

Note to the reader: If there’s a Port ’O’ Jonny in sight, there’s parking. Probably.

On the way back to camp, I took note of a little girl with red, puffy eyes, sitting on the curb in a sort of rigid trance and gingerly munching on popcorn next to a group of fraternity brothers. She was placed directly across the street from Kinnick Stadium’s “Kid Zone,” a safe haven for younglings and concerned parents, boxed away in the southern parking lot and complete with fun activities. There was something eerie and artistic about the image, the sadness, the disconnection and challenged innocence in this chaotic mob. I also noted a collection of cans of cheap beer sitting on the bridge connecting University Heights to the stadium, a tailgating library.

After watching a game consisting of an oh-too-close call with a much smaller school and a student in the front row falling onto the Hawkeye sideline (at least I think that’s what happened, judging by nearby reactions and the group of sheriffs who rushed over to look down at something), I went home and dozed off to the sounds of house music and shouting outside. When I awoke, I scribbled down a list of observations from the day’s events:

The UI might as well sell beer at the stadium. At least until halftime. Kinnick is the sole enabler of the massive fanfare surrounding football games. Like the Coliseum, it draws a gigantic crowd of people eager to drink, gorge, shout, and watch strong men do battle. It’d be worth cashing in on. It might also be worth buying out half of University Heights and razing it to build parking lots for the same purpose. 

Tailgating is a great way to open your kids’ minds to the reality of humanity. Note the little girl from before, awestruck and overwhelmed by the mob.

Tailgating involves three types of individuals: The ones that want to look good on game day, the ones that go full-Hawkeye (wigs, hats, body paint) on game day, and shirtless joggers who won’t be stopped.

And, for the wishy-washy few cents that it’s worth, tailgating is pretty fun, so long as you have money to spend and a taste for Bud Light.


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