Remembering the Rivalry on 9/11

Two years ago, officials postponed the Iowa-Iowa State game after our generation's greatest tragedy. Senior Iowa writer Rob Howe remembers that day, and the decisions and reactions that followed.

The intent of this piece is not to bring you down during such an exciting time. I look forward to Iowa-Iowa State week, and value its importance to our the state. I feel fortunate to be a part of it.

Unfortunately, this day, Sept. 11, also will forever be know as the one that changed us immeasurably. We all remember where we were when this country, and the world, experienced one of its greatest horrors.

In reading and watching the news this week, I was reminded of that tragic period two years ago. It affected the entire world, even our little sports niche.

I was working at the Press Citizen, and I remember talking on the phone with my colleague Pat Harty and IA SID Phil Haddy. We were discussing whether or not KF would have his press conference. It was a Tuesday.

These conversations were happening while we were watching giant, smoking holes in the Twin Towers. These were the same buildings that my mom and stepfather took me to shortly after they were built. I was little, and they were amazing.

That morning, I had been trying to get through to my mother, who lives about an hour north of NYC now. I finally reached her. She held it together for about a minute before breaking down in tears and telling me how scared she was. Nobody knew what could be coming next. I can still recall the feeling the emptiness in my stomach when hearing a parent ask for comfort.

The press conference ended up being canceled. I went into work and did a couple of local news stories. The sports focus shifted to the Iowa-Iowa State game that was scheduled for that Saturday.

School officials first decided to play the game. I wrote what I felt was a heart-felt column explaining why I thought the game should be postponed. Many people thought the game would help take people's minds off the tragedy. There was no right answer.

The decision was later changed, and the game was moved to the end of the season. I remember asking Kirk his feelings after everybody else had left the press conference later that week. He grew up and his parents still live not far from where the heroes of Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.

Kirk said during the press conference that a football coach's opinion did not mean much. I don't think that he wanted to have it out there on TV and all over the place. He told me how tough it was on him and how football seemed so unimportant at a time like that. He encouraged his players to talk about it.

Sometimes we might get lost in the greatness produced by these athletes on Saturdays. We forget that they are so young and really just starting to live.

Nate Kaeding admitted to not really wanting to play. I had known Nate since he was a freshman in high school. He asked me what NYC was like and how my family was doing. I asked how the players were doing. He said that they were trying to make sense of it all like everybody else.

Late in the week, I remember having talked with former Hawkeye quarterback Matt Rodgers a few months earlier for a story. He was a big shot on Wall Street. I called him to see how he was doing. He was noticeably shaken and asked me to phone him the next day, a Saturday. He would be home and could talk extensively.

Those people that know Matt know that he projects a lot of confidence, but that was gone on this Saturday. His guard was lowered and he asked how my family was doing. He spoke very softly and deliberate.

Matt had gone to work on Sept. 11 just like every other week day. He remembered how great the weather was that morning before heading into his office. Shortly after he arrived there, he felt the earth move and his windows rattle. People's voices grew louder in the hallways. They headed out into the street. They could see the devastation.

Matt and a friend quickly reached their car and headed out of the city. They were among the lucky ones that escaped. He never felt so good to be home with his family.

Matt's voice started to break up as he explained going back into the city later that week. When he looked up at the skyline of lower Manhattan, his eyes welled up. I would have this experience that December when I returned to visit Ground Zero. He said that it looked like Pittsburgh. I thought it looked empty.

Matt and I spent about an hour on the phone. Some of the conversation went into my story. A lot of it just went into our healing process. We have not spoken since that Saturday, but I often think of Matt and how horrible that day must have been for him.

On Sunday, I called Iowa assistant coaches Bret Bielema (football) and Jan Jensen (women's basketball). They traveled by plane a lot for recruiting responsibilities. They wondered how things would change, knowing full well that they would change. Jan was heading out of town in a few days. She was concerned.

The next week, I talked with the football players to ask what they did with their rare Saturday off. Pro and college sports were shut down. Most of them watched news coverage of the event and spent time with family and friends. They did what most of us did.

The season picked up with a Sept. 29 home win against Penn State. I remember the stadium security concerns making the headlines. There were bomb sniffing dogs at Michigan State and Wisconsin that season.

The Hawks went on to win the Alamo Bowl. It was a nice way to end a tough year.

I agree with Kirk that sports are small in comparison to the greatest tragedy of our generation, but they are huge in our lives. Sports are a great tonic for our troubles. They represent freedom, enjoying life and what helps to make this country great.

I listen closely and often whisper the words to our National Anthem before games these days like I never did before. I have a greater appreciation for the people that protect our freedom and allow us have luxuries like this Saturday's Iowa-Iowa State matchup.

I'm not here to preach to anyone or suggest that they feel like I feel. America is great because everyone can remember or forget Sept. 11 in their own individual way. These are one person's memories, and I thank you for reading them.


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