I'm married to an Iowa grad, so I've followed their team for the last few years. I headed up to Iowa City for last week's ESPN/ABC love-fest with the Big Ten, and it's taken me a few days, but I'm ready to report my findings in comparison to a weekend of the Tennessee Football experience. Read on...
Iowa City, the day before:
The town felt very much like UT's campus does on the day before a big game. There was an excitement in the air during the afternoon that could be tasted. I headed down to where ESPN was filming clips with Corso that were airing on SportsCenter that night. There was an unbelievable crowd there, and on a Friday afternoon. The word was that it was the most people that have attended a Friday taping of the Gameday crew. These people were ready.
I headed back to downtown and found some 50 cent beers, which I really haven't found anywhere in Knoxville on a Friday afternoon/evening.
I turned in early, because Saturday was going to be a long one.
Hanging with the Three Wise Men:
I showed up at the site at about 6:45 a.m., more than 2 hours before the show was to start. At that point, security hadn't let the crowd into the park where the show would be, so I was about 200 yards back in line. Once 7:00 hit, a mad dash ensued, with the crowd heading over to the stage to score a prime location. Over the next few hours, the time was passed by reading all the signs that people brought, and many were great. It was pretty exciting to actually be right up there at the Gameday stage, since they won't let us near it at all in Knoxville. Not that you can really hear anything anyways...but I digress. It was an unbelievable atmosphere, and I'm sure it was as good or better than anything that Vol fans could throw up there. Our group got on TV a couple of times, which is really the only actual reason that one would want to go see Gameday in the first place, besides creating a great atmosphere in your town for the country to see.
I've been to Gameday in Gainesville and Colorado Springs (for ND vs. AFA) as well, and those weren't even close to the atmosphere at this one. In Gainesville in 1999, there was probably a tenth of the people that attended the show on Saturday, no joking.
Right after the show ended at 11 Central, we headed back and I got myself in front of the TV just in time to see Ainge first call a timeout, then throw a pick-six. Fantastic. We know how the rest turned out, though. It was a great start to my day. First Gameday, then a Vol romp over Memphis.
Skipping ahead to...
I have been going to UT games my whole life. I have tailgated next to the stadium during that time. I was next to the stadium before G-10 was there, and now that it is, that's where we be. I enjoy the Tennessee tailgating scene, and we have a good, no...GREAT time.
That being said, in a tailgating contest, we're not even in the same ballpark as Iowa. I've never seen anything like it.
Over in G-10 (that's the big garage by the stadium), there are a bunch of different tailgate parties, and it can get pretty crowded for a big game (see Florida 06). At Iowa, it is one big tailgate festival. I couldn't tell where one group ended and another began. It was amazing. Where I was, someone threw a wristband on me so I could drink and eat for free from this gargantuan buffet with a roasted pig at the end of it. Not to mention the beer. Boy, was there beer. It was amazing. There was music, there was dancing, and everyone just seemed to be letting themselves go and having an incredible time. I was one of them.
In addition, I sensed actual confidence from the fans. Here at home, before a big game, I sense fear around the stadium. Fear that we're going to be embarrassed on the big stage once again. At Iowa, though, they had the #1 team coming into their house, and the fans were confident. Maybe that's why they actually have a homefield advantage (although one really couldn't see it on Saturday night).
The whole tailgate atmosphere made me really wish that I could bring it back with me to Knoxville so I could show everyone that these people really know how to get it done.
Inside the stadium: Part I: Pregame
This is where our Big Orange wins, hands down. There's nothing like being in Neyland Stadium with Bobby Denton on that PA, talking about our Vol student "ath-a-letes." Then the Pride marches out, and then the T, and off we go. All Iowa brought to the table was their average band and then some piped-in rock music with some jumbotron graphics as their team took the field. Kudos to the Hawkeyes though, as they take the field in a very unique fashion: the entire team runs in one big group, holding hands. Very unified, and they actually leave the field this way, too.
Inside the stadium: Part II: In-game
Looking at the situation as objectively as I can, I've got to give the edge, in fans, to Iowa. I didn't get to see the full force of the crowd there, though, because of the way the game unfolded. All I know is that while it was a game and even when it wasn't really that competitive, I never was on my rear end while Ohio St.'s offense was on the field. 1st down was just as loud as 2nd and 3rd, and while the yelling was occurring, my ears couldn't tell whether I was in Kinnick or Neyland. Iowa fans really bring it, and their seats are really right on top of the field. They had a thing where everyone was wearing gold that night. Looked very cool. Bonus points for their tradition after touchdowns: they put flags in each of the four corners of the stadium, and each corner yells either I, O, W, or A in order. An amazing sound to hear live, and EVERYONE does it. We could totally pull this off in Neyland with V, O, L, and S, if the blue-hairs actually realized they were at a football game.
Negative points to Iowa for the lack of involvement by their band. For college football atmosphere with bands and all, I take the SEC, because SEC games usually have both bands there. OSU's was absent, and the game was worse for it. There's nothing I hate more than hearing the other team's fight song in Neyland, but it's gotta be there to make the experience complete.
After Iowa was thoroughly handled, most of the fans stayed and cheered their team until the end. Points to the Hawkeyes.
The stadium seated 70,000, but it really didn't feel as big as that. There's really nothing like the size of Neyland when you're inside.
In similar fashion to the pregame sense of fear around Neyland, there is a postgame sense of venom in the air after a big loss. People are angry, and I hate it.
After Iowa was pretty well thumped by OSU, the fans left disappointed, but I didn't feel that hate in the air. It was nice. Maybe it was because I don't really know what a loss feels like for them, or maybe it was because they've had really tough times in their program in the past and they just know how to handle losing gracefully. All I know is it felt different outside the stadium.
Overall, Iowa City was an amazing place. Much more of a "college town" feel than Knoxville, but it is smaller, so it feels like a town rather than a city. The campus and the downtown area are one in the same, as opposed to next to each other and distinct, as we have them in Knoxville. The people were warm and inviting, and ready to party to boot. The Big Ten football experience is different, but I wouldn't say it is inferior in any way to an SEC football weekend.
Oh yeah, and the football:
Ohio State is good. They reminded me of old Tennessee. Line it up and knock 'em off the ball and run it down their throats. If we need to pass, we'll do it, because we have talented playmakers on the outside. They were dominant last Saturday night. It was textbook on how you go into someone's house and dominate. They took Iowa's cheese, if you will.
Iowa has gobs of players who would never see the field at Tennessee, but they line it up and go at it with a vengeance. They are slow, white, and very well-coached. They didn't play their best on Saturday at all, but they'll do fine the rest of the year, I think. Ferentz always has those guys on a roll at the end of the year, ready to take on an SEC foe in Orlando or Tampa.
Hope you enjoyed it. I sure did. It was a perfect day for an Iowa fan, except for the game. However, as I've said before, it's about the memories for me, and I've got some good ones from my time in Iowa City.