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Win, Win, Win No Matter What: A Badger Road Trip to Iowa City

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What a fantastic weekend in Iowa City. We literally could not have asked for a single thing to go differently. These will be the good old days. There’s a lot to unpack so I’ll try to tackle it in mostly-chronological order:

The First Victory

Initially, the five of us planned on taking two separate cars from Chicago for the purposes of space and comfort. 10 minutes into the trip, it just felt a bit off. Noticing the same thing, my friend Matt texted us that we should leave one of the cars somewhere and pile into his old Toyota Camry and leave the other car somewhere along the way. Road trips aren’t as special when you’re not belting along the lyrics to “MMMBop” or “The Bad Touch”.

I suggested the Hollywood Casino in Joliet, purportedly because this would be a safe place to leave a car for two days, but my ulterior motive was that team blackjack would be a good bonding experience. When we got to the garage, I proposed that we pool $20 each together and see if we could pay for our drinks that night. After a bit of a slow start, we went on a heater, were collectively up $55, and miraculously had the willpower to get up from the table before we lost it all back.

The dealer and the one other guy at our table were dumbfounded. The first rule of gambling is that you never leave during a heater. It doesn’t sound like that much money, but we had acquired the funds to re-invest in a case of Bud Lights, four cans of Monster, two bags of beef jerky, and three losing pull-tab tickets. (These would be our only loss of the weekend.)

We At the Hotel Motel Holiday Inn

We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Coralville, about two miles off-campus, and it suited our purposes perfectly. There was a pool that we sat around and drank a few beers at, inviting everyone wearing Wisconsin gear who walked by to come in and join us. In a genuine shocker, nobody took us up on our drink offers, but we did have some interesting conversations.

I imagine this is the case for most fan bases, but when we are on the road we immediately become best friends with everybody else who is a Wisconsin fan. They are uniformly friendly, and everybody is in such a good mood to be on vacation watching their team.

Cheers to right here, right now.

After a couple hours, we took a cab downtown to a bar called Sports Column, where 32 oz. Keystone Light drafts (this remains the only establishment where we have ever seen Keystone on tap) were on special for $2. Inflation steadfastly refuses to hit college towns.

SpoCo is the quintessential college bar. Wood-paneled with various old beer signs and signed jerseys of old Hawkeye players, the floor has a permanent layer of stickiness; even if the floor were retiled tomorrow, this characteristic would return in full force next week.

As day became night, we realized that this was the weekend Iowa was celebrating Halloween. Having a bit of holiday fatigue from having celebrated it the previous Saturday and reading and writing blog posts about people’s costumes all week, there is still nothing like Halloween in a college town.

Over the course of the two nights, we saw slutty Minnie Mouse, slutty firefighters, slutty superheroes, a slutty Hester Prynne (from The Scarlet Letter), slutty cats, slutty cheerleaders, and a wide array slutty costumes that were literally impossible to discern the meaning of, except for the fact that they were definitely slutty.

No, I didn’t take any pictures, but this photo list is definitely representative of what we saw, and none of us are too eager to have daughters anytime soon.

I’m 27 years old, and this trip was the first time I’ve ever felt legitimately old on a college campus. We found our way to a house party, and were greeted at the door by a shirtless 19-year-old gatekeeper who reluctantly let us inside with our (very) tangential connection. When we got in, the basement was dark and packed shoulder-to-shoulder. They tried to get us to pay $5 each for cups that would have granted us access to some disgusting-looking orange drink that they were pouring out of gallon milk jugs, a price tag that was at least $50 too expensive.

It was time to eat street food and go home.

The Tailgate

At some point, we are going to need to need to start bringing our own grilling materials with us on these trips but we are not yet organized enough for that. We ended up meeting up with one of Matt’s friends in the stadium parking lot. The crew was really nice and hospitable, but the best part about it was their proximity to the group of Sconnies on the other side of the row who were cooking up piles and piles of red meat:

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The grilltender was Glenn, who might be my favorite person I’ve ever met on one of these trips. 6’5, ~260, he started growing that massive beard on September 15th. He will soon dye it white to play Santa Claus. Glenn hails from a Milwaukee suburb, and invited us to help ourselves to food. In addition to the meats, they had cheese curds, string cheese, seven-layer nacho dip, and 908,398*-meat chili.

*slight exaggeration

One of his friends, Kelly, had also made some Rice Krispie treats that were coated in peanut butter, chocolate, and butterscotch. They were sublime, and I am going to have dreams about them.

At one point, someone came by with a handle of Fireball and asked us if we wanted to take shots. Glenn held his empty Miller Lite can out and told the guy not to stop pouring until he said so. The drink provider looked confused, Glenn shook his can to show that it was empty and that he would just drink straight from it, the guy started pouring, and pouring, and pouring until the can was about 80% full.

When,” Glenn said, and proceeded to start drinking.

Sconnies are the best.

#ViewFromOurSeats

kinnick stadium

The stadium experience was interesting. It was full of people who love football and love their team, but it was very subdued. It was almost as if all of the Iowa fans had collectively decided to set up an emotional guard so that the Hawkeyes would not ruin what was otherwise a very pleasant day of eating, drinking, and unseasonably nice weather.

This bizarre sense of calm persisted the entire game. Despite barely being able to move the ball, Iowa stuck around. But the crowd remained quiet even as they stopped Wisconsin early in the fourth quarter, and got the ball back down 14-9 with a hypothetical chance to take the lead.

Now, although I feel like the Badgers would have won this game 7-8 times out of 10, 20-30% occurrences are common enough that the juices should have been flowing in the stadium. One awkward bounce, missed tackle, blown coverage, or special teams triumph could have put the team ahead, but there was no urgency.

Putting myself in their shoes, I guess it’s sorta hard to blame them. They were 7-6 in 2011, 4-8 last year, and came into this past weekend at 5-3, a devastating record considering that they had led at the half in all of their games. Given that Kirk Ferentz is signed through 2020, and has a massive buyout, there is a prevailing feeling that it will be at least two or three more years of mediocrity until Iowa can even consider whether it can afford to make a switch.

So, when Wisconsin did pull away, it did not ruin Hawkeyes fans’ perfectly pleasant day. All things considered, the emotional hedge was a pretty savvy move.

The Postgame

Given that the game was at the dreaded 11 am time slot, it was a big decision whether to stay around campus or to head back to our hotel room and rally later. Ultimately, we opted to spend a couple hours relaxing downtown instead of having to take cabs both ways and trying to pull ourselves up from naptime for dinner.

At this point, we headed to Sports Column for a few hours before venturing to a new bar called The Summit.

There were two very different groups of people at The Summit. On one hand, there were a bunch of underclassman Iowa students in slutty Halloween costumes. On the other, a bevy of middle-aged Sconnies. The dichotomy was perfect, and the culture shock amongst the visitors was truly a sight to behold. They kept pointing out various slutty costumes to each other in complete disbelief that this is what college is like now, unable to take their eyes off what was happening in front of them.

The only thing that would’ve made it better was if Glenn and his crew had shown up.

The Summit is two floors. The first has a square bar in the middle, the characteristic-to-college-town sticky floors, and much to our chagrin, a non-functional NBA Jam standup arcade machine. Upstairs, was a club.

Man oh man. That club.

The first time we ventured up, we were met with a fog machine as indecipherable white noise techno music played from a MacBook by two DJs — both in their upper 20s, one wearing a suit, bow-tie, and hipster-rimmed glasses while the other was a large man wearing a “Honey Badger Don’t Care” t-shirt. Mercifully, the music eventually shifts to hip-hop and there is a small, choreographed confetti explosion when the beat drops during Big Pimpin’ that made complete sense in its time and place.

There were slutty superheroes twerking on each other up on a pedestal, and jacked, uber-serious, cyborg bouncers who stood focused behind them almost daring any men to even try to get up and dance up there with them. One supposes that there may be a few boys and girls that end up pairing off at the end of the night, but now, at 9 o’clock, the not-yet-men in the club are just as in awe of the women in front of them as the older Sconnie visitors. They are wholly unattainable.

The Pool

Four of the five of us (one was, at the moment, preoccupied), headed back to the Holiday Inn around 11 o’clock and decided to go swimming. Already at the pool were two Wisconsin couples in their mid-20′s, and they were skinny dipping.

Eventually, a man in an Iowa basketball jersey arrived. Except for the fact that he had short hair and was a little bit thinner, he was a spitting image of Kenny Powers. He had an Iowa Hawkeye tattoo on his left shoulder and the angel of death on his right.

“Man, I made it RAIN at the strip club last night,” he told us. “There aren’t any around here so I had to take a cab 35 miles away. It ended up costing 100 bucks, but it was worth it.”

“Why didn’t you just drive?” one of the coupled girls asked earnestly.

“I was fucking hammered. It was 100 bucks in a cab, but it would’ve been 1,000 if I had driven. It’s simple math.”

Later, he told us that he managed some oil refinery out in Utah — “I’m kind of a fucking big deal” — and had to leave after just a few minutes because he had girls coming to meet him at the hotel. “It’s funny, I’ve been gone a few years but I still have connections here,” he said.

We told him that he sounded like Kenny Powers, and he reacted like it was the nicest thing anybody has ever said to him. Such a great weekend.

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