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Hawkeyes at Huskers: Welcome to the mellow of the Midwest

[ 2 ] November 25, 2011 |

Forty-one years ago, a magazine dispatched writer Hunter S. Thompson to cover the Kentucky Derby. His slanted, partly-fictional account of the alleged debauchery on the infield of Churchill Downs launched a career for the author documenting the edgier side of American culture.

If his editors had sent him to Lincoln, Neb., Friday, Thompson might never have been heard from again. It’s not that University of Iowa and University of Nebraska football fans are boring. They’re just understated. If the Chicago Bears are the Monsters of the Midway, then Iowa-Nebraska fans are the Mellow of the Midwest.

Scott Griese of West Des Moines, right, loads up a breakfast burrito while Brian Winslow of Des Moines watches as they tailgate before the Iowa Nebraska game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Friday morning. (Photo by Justin Hayworth/The Des Moines Register)

After a 20-7 victory for Nebraska, Huskers fans smiled like a Methodist choir member who hit all the right notes but is too polite to brag about it. Hawkeye fans were more depressed the deviant.

Take Scott Veech and his son Jake Veech. Dad grew up in the Quad Cities but moved to Alliance, Neb., 20 years ago for a job. Son Jake grew up a Huskers fan. The Iowa loss will force the elder Veech to wear red for a month.

“I’m embarrassed,” Scott Veech said, slump-shouldered and looking at his shoes.

“This is what happens when a Hawkeye raises a Husker,” Jake Veech said with a smirk.

The first Big Ten meeting between Iowa and Nebraska played mostly friendly, but as fans exited Memorial Stadium, many Iowa fans had the look of family members who had quite enough togetherness for the Thanksgiving weekend.

“It was fine for a while,” Scott Veech said. “Then it turned out to be a big belch in the middle of the meal.”

About as racy as things got in Lincoln was a T-shirt sale on the corner of the campus. The pro-Huskers red shirt had three curse words emblazoned on the fabric.

Nebraska fans attached dummies to their vehicle with the names of Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg and receiver Marvin McNutt before the Iowa Nebraska game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Friday morning. (Photo by Justin Hayworth/The Des Moines Register)

A Nebraska native who lives in Iowa bought one of the $20 shirts. Apparently, she wanted to impress her fellow Iowans with Nebraska’s expanded vocabulary.

Bitterness set in for a pair Nebraska students clad in black and gold. Noel Pacha, a senior, and Tyler Reyes, a junior, are from Davenport.

“I would have gone to Iowa, but I would have flunked out,” Pacha said. “Iowa City is too much of a party town.”

He didn’t have much use for his fellow Huskers as he gulped beer in the parking lot having abandoned his seat inside the stadium at halftime.

“They think they’re better than everybody,” Pacha said.

“Yeah,” added Reyes, “ever since the streak in the 1990s, they think they’re so awesome. Well, enjoy 8-4, guys.”

Someone pointed out Nebraska finished the regular season 9-3 overall.

“Sorry,” Reyes said. “I’ve been drinking.”

Drinking was a theme before, during and after the game.

Dan Lowe brought a collection of friends and family in a large black van with gold trim and a faux Iowa State Patrol logo that read Iowa Hawk Patrol. The vanity license plate reads HKBVEP. Lowe said it means “Hawkeye Black Velvet Express.”

The Black Velvet referenced, by the way, is whiskey, not the canvas upon which Elvis Presley’s image is emblazoned and sold in the parking lots of former gas stations.

Lowe lives in Hamlin, an unincorporated hamlet of about 250 in Audubon County near the junction of U.S. Highway 71 and Iowa Highway 44. He lives just on the edge of the where Big Red territory invades the Hawkeye State. He’s been forced to listen to Iowa-bred Husker-hangers on – traitors, as he sees them – most of his life.

“This is a border war,” Lowe said. “Nebraska fans are obnoxious.”

To accentuate his point, he gestured to an old-school bus – painted red. Attached to the front bumper of the truck were two inflatable dummies in the shape of Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg and receiver Marvin McNutt positioned as if they’d been run over by the bus.

It should be noted, however, that it appeared the McNutt doppleganger had caught the football at the time of impact — somewhat better than he did in the actual game.

Lowe laughed at the scene. “They’re lovely people, really,” he said, not being sarcastic.

Lowe parked just across the street from Memorial Stadium, where he could safely imbibe alcoholic beverages. He didn’t bring a grill to Lincoln. He didn’t know if they were allowed. Lowe is a law-abidin Iowan, after all.

Instead, his crew of six subsided on Thanksgiving leftovers. He offered to mix passersby, even Husker fans, Bloody Marys. It was not immediately clear if those, too, were Thanksgiving leftovers.

Booze or no, Huskers and Hawkeyes mixed well.

Friends Bryce Granberg, Jon Braaten and Lanny Vandele sipped beers in a parking lot before the game.

Granberg, a Des Moines native, and Vandele of Iowa City, root for the Hawkeyes. Braaten, a Lincoln native, cheers for the Cornhuskers.

Their chatter stayed mellow. The closest they came to decadence and depravity was eating fried ham, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches the size of Clydesdale hooves.

“I don’t know if this will take the place of the Colorado game,” said Braaten of the former Big 12 team that traditionally played the Huskers on the day after Thanksgiving. “We hated each other. Everybody in the Big 12 hated each other. This is another border war, but it’s different.”

Vandele tried to trash talk and said: “Wait until Nebraska goes 10 years without a Big Ten championship. Then we’ll talk.”

The mellow mood was perfectly personified by U of I seniors T.J. Craft and Alan Callender. They sat in recliners with a flat-screen TV in the bed of their SUV. A pair of propane heaters warmed them as they sipped beers and cooked sausages.

They paid $100 for the parking pass through on online vendor. The college kids couldn’t get tickets. Only about 4,000 of the 82,000 seats inside Memorial Stadium were allotted to Iowa fans.

That’s fine. Nebraska officials are kind enough to have satellite TV hookups on the sides of light poles in the tailgating lot. Craft and Callender drove nearly five hours from Iowa City to watch the game on TV in the parking lot. They watched pregame on ESPN and flipped over to “SpongeBob SquarePants” cartoons.

To the young men’s way of thinking, their seats illustrated another Midwestern value: frugality.

“It’s cheaper than buying tickets from a scalper,” Craft said.

And when the game got out of hand for the Hawkeyes, at least they had cartoons.

 

 

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