Seven Saturdays each year. That’s all Hawkeye fans get. Seven times to walk down Melrose Avenue wearing black and gold on a chilly fall morning. Seven times to play catch in the parking lot with a stomach full of beer and bratwurst. Seven times to watch the captains lead The Swarm onto the field. These Saturdays are as much about the traditions and celebration as they are about the games being played. Most Big Ten football fans know that game days are special and unique events, and Iowa is no different. For the uninitiated, here is a guide on what to expect while visiting Iowa City.
For many fans, game day begins on Friday night. The Kinnick Stadium parking lot slowly fills up with tents and RVs preparing for a long morning of tailgating. Meanwhile students, alumni and visiting fans pack the bars along Clinton St, Washington St and Iowa Avenue. Perhaps the best part about Friday nights is the Beer Band.
The Beer Band is a ragtag gang of students, fans, townies and alumni that marches from bar to bar loudly playing songs and getting free beers. The part drunken gaggle of fans/part marching band creates quite a spectacle and no Friday night bar crawl is complete without running into the band. Sadly, the band is on an indefinite hiatus due to a recent controversy over some of their admittedly NSFW lyrics (though to be fair, the lyrics in question were misheard).
As the sun rises on Saturday morning, a crowd slowly begins to march down Melrose Avenue towards Kinnick Stadium. Traffic near the stadium is severely restricted on game day, so fans who may not want to walk a mile or two might consider taking the Hawkeye Express: a train that shuttles fans from Coralville right to the Kinnick Stadium parking lot.
Kinnick’s parking lot is the main location for tailgating, but there are plenty of other nearby spots to wet your whistle. The dental lot next to Carver Hawkeye Arena is one of the more family-friendly experiences. The parking lot at Melrose Place just a couple of blocks from the stadium is a great place for students to stop by and make some friends around a keg. Anyone parking downtown and walking to the stadium may also want to stop by the Myrtle Avenue parking lot on their way.
Away fans or those who don’t know anyone hosting a tailgate need not worry. For the most part, tailgating at Kinnick is a friendly affair. Bring a few beers or something to throw on the grill, and most tailgates will welcome you with open arms. Melrose Avenue also hosts dozens of food and beverage tents. Pulled pork, brats, pizza, burgers, gyros, chicken, tacos....anything you crave can easily be found within a block or two of Kinnick Stadium.
Perhaps the most delicious and easy to find food stand on Melrose is Big Ass Turkey Legs. Big Ass Turkey Legs are exactly what they sound like: turkey legs the size of a small dog barbecued to perfection and smothered in homemade sauce. Though now retired, Hawkeye fans all know Chuck Ford as the Big Ass Turkey Leg guy. The only thing larger than the turkey legs is Chuck’s personality, and he is one of Iowa City’s favorite local celebrities. He turned over his game day duties to a friend a few years ago, but the turkey legs remain a staple of the game day experience in Iowa City.
As great as the tailgating scene is, anyone making the trip to Iowa City should make sure to get to their seats early enough to witness the Swarm. As the team makes their way down the tunnel, AC/DC’s Back in Black begins playing. The players emerge, arms locked, led by the captains. Finally, Enter Sandman begins to play and the team takes the field. It doesn’t matter if the Hawkeyes are playing Ohio State at night, or a directional MAC team at 11 in the morning; the Swarm always gets Kinnick Stadium loud and rocking for kickoff.
Fans in Kinnick Stadium don’t make it easy for opposing teams. There isn’t much distance between the fans and the field, so the visitor’s bench is subjected to some pretty consistent heckling for the entirety of the game. Iowa is a fairly flat place, so there isn’t much to block the noise coming from the stadium. Because of this when the fans are at their loudest you can hear them for a couple of miles in any direction. When Iowa scores cheerleaders break out the flags and lead the fans in an I-O-W-A chant that typically continues for a few minutes after the cheer squad stops leading it. Throw in the famous pink locker room, and you can see why Kinnick Stadium has a reputation of being one of the hardest venues in the country to win a game in.
Finally, my favorite tradition of them all. The Victory Polka. When the clock reads 00:00 after every victory, the Hawkeye Marching Band immediately starts blasting the Victory Polka. The lyrics are etched into the brains of every Hawk fan:
In heaven there is no beer
That’s why we drink it here
And when we’re gone from here
Our friends will be drinking all our beer
Members of the HMB are not taught how to play the Victory Polka, and no sheet music for the song is given out. Instead, new band members learn the song by ear. It is a loud, boisterous display of brass, drums and singing. It is the best thing you can hear as a fan, and probably the most obnoxious thing you can possibly hear as an opponent. In this way I suppose it is pretty representative of Iowa fans as a whole.
The game day experience in Iowa City is a must for any Big Ten fan. In a state with no major professional sports teams only one other real college football team (UNI, obviously), every Saturday during football season truly feels like a national holiday. It is Midwestern football fandom at its finest, and it is an experience that every B1G fan deserves to witness firsthand.