Monday, November 8, 2010

The End of a Journey... Almost

Erin and I started our pre-marital counseling in the spring of 2000. The first exercise our pastor gave us was to share 10 goals for our future. Sitting at that McDonalds in Olathe, I shared with Erin my newly decided upon goal of watching the Hawks play in every Big 10 stadium. In a way, I pulled that dream out of the air but it stuck with me.

In November of 2001, the brother of a close friend of mine got me cheap tickets for the Iowa-Wisconsin game in Madison, WI. The tickets were so bad, we could only see 1/3 of the playing field, but we were in the stadium and I crossed the first road-trip off my list. The next year, I drove with a close friend to see an Iowa team that finished the season with a perfect Big 10 record, hand Michigan its worst homecoming loss ever. In 2003, my brother-in-law, who is an Ohio native drove me to Columbus for a great game between two top ten teams. In 2004, I went with another brother-in-law to Champagne, Ill and then some other friends to the Metrodome (nick-named "Kinnick North" because Iowa fans fill up half the stadium)in Minneapolis, MN. The Minnesota game came down to the final play, helping Iowa earn a share of the Big 10 title.

In 2005, Erin and I capped off a weekend in Chicago by watching Iowa blow a 13 point lead over Northwestern in the final 2:30. In 2007, Erin and I enjoyed a beautiful October Saturday driving through gorgeous countryside and walking the Purdue campus in Lafayette, IN. In 2008, Erin and I cashed in some free airline tickets to travel to East Lansing, MI for the game against MSU. I've always loved the look of MSU's stadium and their campus is the prettiest in the conference. Last year, one of my best friends and I drove halfway across the country to see Adrian Clayborn block a punt, then run the ball into the endzone for a great win in the rain and deafening noise of Penn State University's "white out" on ABC's Saturday night football. Walking through State College and seeing the Appalachian mountains in the fall was an incredible sight.

The last stadium to visit was Indiana. Indiana is the Kansas of the Big 10, they'll follow football when the occasional good season happens but basketball rules. The atmosphere is so sub-par that I couldn't even convince anyone else to come with me, so I made the trip alone. While the football atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired. Evidenced by the fact that I paid $15 under face value for a seat on the 45 yard line. But even more amazing, while walking into the stadium, I found a ticket lying on the ground, meaning I could've walked into Memorial Stadium for free. After asking people around the area whether they'd lost a ticket and considering trying to sell it for some cash, I turned the ticket into a ticket-taker.

But what the Indiana campus lacks in enthusiasm for football, it makes up for in scenery. The drive through southern Indiana was gorgeous and the neighborhood around the football stadium is the epitome of wooded and quaint college-town. The weather was perfect for November football, mid 40's, no breeze and sunny. As I stood listening and watching the IU drum line perform outside Assembly Hall, I was loving the autumn college football experience.

As I was walking into Memorial Stadium, I thought back to the spring of 2000 and the list I shared with Erin. Just when I felt the satisfaction of accomplishing such a great feat, I remembered that Nebraska will be joining the big boys of the Big 10 next year, so I have one more trip to Lincoln, NE coming up next Thanksgiving weekend.

The game itself left a lot to be desired. While it's exhilarating to beat a good team on the final play of the game, to do so against a bad team is simultaneously frustrating and relieving. But a W is a W, as they say. I moved to the Iowa section for the game's final drive and shot video of the play in which the IU receiver caught, then dropped the game-winning TD pass. I was hoping to get video of either the entire stadium, minus the Iowa section, or the Iowa section itself, exploding in cheers. But since no one really knew what happened until the ref announced the result of the replay review, all I really got was footage of some stunned fans. I missed recording the official's announcement, which is when the Iowa crowd did explode with cheers of relief.

One final story about the trip, I got to talk with the dad of DJK, the receiver who just broke all of Iowa's receiving records and is about to get drafted into the NF - #15 in one of the above pictures. DJK grew up in a rough home but started hanging around the house of a classmate. This eventually lead to this classmate's family adopting him. DJK's adopted dad, who is a doctor, told me he kept telling his son that while he had a dream of playing football, the odds were against him. Well, he's about to beat the odds with this different version of The Blindside story. His dad and I talked a bit about adoption, it was a good conversation.

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