Monday, December 7, 2015

A Most Surprising Consolation Prize

My Iowa flag being folded, photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

December 5, 2015,
Bettendorf, Iowa, the basement of good friends,
About 10:00 p.m.

It ended with less than 30 seconds left in the game.  Michigan State, with a stellar effort, punched in a touchdown.   Iowa was out of timeouts and out of time.  After having seen one "Hail Mary" pass earlier in the week, I knew in my heart it was over.  

And it was.  

My beloved Iowa Hawkeye football team's magic carpet ride of a season ended.  No longer were they undefeated.  No longer were they, "in the conversation" for the national championship.  The raucous cheering of a few moments ago was replaced with quiet and a few mutterings.  It was as if the air had been let out of a balloon.

Drat.  I was hoping, so hoping Iowa would pull it off and get to keep it going.  Alas, it was not meant to be.

So what is Iowa's consolation prize?  It's this:

From, posted to their Facebook page, fair use claimed, full citation in sources.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, THE Rose Bowl.  Putting it into perspective, this is a simply amazing result to a season that clearly exceeded expectations.  I recall back in July walking back from lunch with a fellow Hawk fan (and an absolute expert on Iowa Football) and we both thought Iowa could be 1-4 heading into the start of the Big Ten season.  As I mentioned, expectations were exceeded.

For those of you who know me, it is an accurate statement that I am a...passionate Iowa football fan.  I've been known to get a bit...engaged in watching games.  I have joked with friends about being "back on probation" for watching Iowa games in my house.  Something about a few "editorial comments" offered by me with some admittedly "colorful" language.  My wife was not amused and I cannot blame her for ire.  Then again, we did drill at 57-yard field goal as time expired.  If not a defense, certainly a mitigating factor.

Yet there is something to be said to being too much into sports.  At the extreme is the soccer hooligans of Europe.  We've had our own ugly examples of that here in the U.S. where fans of opposing teams have been assaulted, sometimes seriously, and suffered permanent injuries.  There is absolutely no place for that in sports.

I have a link below to an article about "social identity theory" and its role with sports.  The New York Times ran a story from 2000 that I think has relevance today.  I also have a link to it in the sources.  This one quote caught my attention:

"One theory traces the roots of fan psychology to a primitive time when human beings lived in small tribes, and warriors fighting to protect tribes were true genetic representatives of their people, psychologists say."

If I want to be honest with myself, I should acknowledge that there is a a sense of pride I feel when Iowa wins that is one I cannot truly claim as something I achieved, simply get to bask in the glow of the event.  I have never played a down of organized football in my life.  I am simply a fan.

And I think that is OK.  It is good to have some distractions in one's life.  It is fine to have diversions, things that are separate from work and the other meaningful pursuits of our life.  My livelihood and that of my family's has zero connection to if Iowa ever wins another game again.  After all, that's why they call it a game.

Still, there is something special about Iowa.  It's a place where the elite of high school athletes do not attend.  As the talking heads have told us (again and again), Iowa does not get the four and five-star athletes.  We're the place where people get the chance to play...if they earn it.  

For me, there is something extra special about Iowa.  It is about the namesake of our stadium, Nile Kinnick.  Kinnick was Iowa's only Heisman Trophy winner.  He claimed the hardware in 1939 and gave a speech that stunned those in attendance with its authenticity and poignant message.  I have an audio link to his speech in the sources.  Here are the concluding lines:

“...if you will permit me, I’d like to make a comment which in my mind, is indicative, perhaps, of the greater significance of football and sports emphasis in general in this country, and that is, I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe.”

Kinnick would answer the call to duty and he perished in the Pacific as a Naval aviator in 1943.  There were those, many actually, who thought had he lived, he would have been a leader in post-war America, President even.  I cannot wonder and think of what a better world it would have been had he returned home from the war.  

The photo below is the statute of him outside the stadium that bears his name.  At his feet is a helmet that the coaches and players touch for good luck as they enter the stadium.  It was not an oversight in design that he is clasping books in his arm.  For Kinnick, scholarship and athletics could not exist without each other.

The statute of Nile Kinnick at Kinnick Stadium.  Photo by J. Berta

Nile Kinnick was an American Hero.  Fitzgerald was so terribly right when he wrote, "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."  His death, so young, with so much life in front of him, is the real tragedy for Iowa, not a last-minute loss.  I will try to remember that.

I will also focus on all the good things that there are about my school, my Alma mater.  It is a place where people come from across the state and around the globe to study, to learn, to teach, to share, and yes, compete.  It is a place where both alums and others who could not go to college make incredibly generous donations to the school.  I am proud of the hospitals of my school, especially the children's hospital.  I am proud of the fact that as I write this, some college kid is working ferociously for a presidential candidate, convinced this candidate must be elected.  I am proud of a school where just about any Iowan, with the drive and discipline can graduate and contribute to our state and our society.

It is for that reason I am concluding this blog post with the photo of the Iowa flag, the "Tiger Hawk," not being folded up as in surrender, (as opened this post), yet instead proudly flying in front of my house, as it has on almost every game day this year.  While I am disappointed Iowa will not be playing for the national championship, I am proud they will be in the Rose Bowl.  It is a most surprising consolation prize.

Of course, long after this football season is but a memory, the work of the University, my University, shall go on, in the classroom, in the lab, in the auditorium, on the practice field and come next fall, on the field.

And there watching over it all, with an approving gaze, will be both the statute and spirit of Nile Kinnick.  He is a champion eternal.  We, too can be champions, if only we commit to living our lives with the same sincere focus on our work as Kinnick did.

And for that, there is no fear of a consolation prize.  We are all winners.
On Iowa, Go Hawks.

Be well my friends,

Sources:; and


No comments:

Post a Comment