I love this time of the year. You wake up in the morning, step outside, and when you breathe in you feel the bite of the crisp fall air as it hits your lungs. The trees create a kaleidoscope of colors. Football is on TV almost every day of the week. For some of you it means the beginning of hunting season. For me, the suburban kid, it means tailgate season.
The tailgate is almost as important as the game itself. I'm willing to bet that most of you who have been so fortunate as to attend a game at Kinnick Stadium have engaged in some sort of pre-game revelry in the near proximity of the Stadium. Whether it be strolling the vendors on Melrose, throwing bottles at people in Lot 6, getting ramped up at the hospital or taking a ride on the Magic Bus, Saturdays in Iowa City are unique and special. Good food and good times can be found everywhere in Iowa City, but most importantly, Iowa football brings together good people.
One Friday night/Saturday morning during my junior year of college, as a typical party stretched into the early hours of game day, a good friend of mine named Chad Snyder invited me to crash his family's tailgater. Armed with four hours sleep and a six-pack of something cheap, cold and domestic, I trudged to the parking lot that forms the cleavage between the Dental Building and Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was there that I met a most colorful cast of die-hard Iowa fans who taught me a few things about what it means to tailgate Iowa style.
I was introduced to Chad's father, Lynn Snyder and uncle Loren "Doc" Snyder, two die-hard, blue collar, salt of the earth Hawkeye fans from the Quad Cities who have had a virtual lock on the same two parking spaces for a least a decade thanks to their dogged domination to be in the lot before the parking lot attendant can wipe the eye boogers away. After receiving a couple cripplingly firm handshakes of the likes not often given in boardrooms or law offices, I was invited into their tailgating family and made to feel welcome. In subsequent weeks, other friends were made to feel equally welcome.
For the remainder of our college existence and beyond, Lynn and Doc invited all friends and friends of friends to join them for an indoctrination of their tailgating rituals. News that Chad's family was willing to feed anyone who showed up spread faster than rumors of SARS in Toronto. In a matter of weeks, it was not uncommon for 20-30 strange kids to be milling about the Snyder family tailgater.
Each week, dozens of college kids would converge upon the giant vat of chili cheese dip which bears a nickname that is not fit for print here. Lynn and Doc simply coped with the increased numbers by purchasing an industrial sized bag of corn chips so large that there would be leftovers at the conclusion of the season-ending Minnesota game. Chad's Mom just made more breakfast casserole and brought more paper plates and sporks. Doc just mixed up a larger batch of his remedy for the cold weather; a blend of schnapps and liquors that nicely compliments a cup of hot chocolate and effectively strips paint off furniture. If Iowa were to prevail on the football field (not necessarily a foregone conclusion at the time), we knew that Doc would be waiting at the tailgate spot ready to offer anyone a big enough victory cigar to make Castro blush.
Whatever the Snyder's had to share was unconditionally offered up to an increasingly larger group of college kids. For those of us who were out-of-state students living many hours from home, we could not travel home every weekend. During the fall semester, football weekend tailgaters with the Snyder family were the best alternative to a home cooked dinner from Mom.
Even now, many years removed from those days of an impoverished undergrad existence, any time we can get away from the press of daily life and make the pilgrimage to football Mecca, we know that we have a place to meet up with old friends.
To rekindle those warm feelings that made football Saturdays in Iowa City such a special part of our college existence, our not-so-little group of friends gather on the last home game in October every year. As such, this weekend, over 40 of us will again be joining Lynn and Doc for a few hours of tailgating kinship before cheering our beloved Hawks on to victory over Penn State. Only now, we have some money of our own, so we'll bring the food and beverages. And I'll have a quality Havana-rolled Montecristo #2 ready for Doc that he'll claim is "wasted on an old guy like him." If you see me or our group, swing by, say "hi" and help us eat some of our food.
As much as I'm grateful for the manner in which the Snyder family enriched my college existence, I know that there is nothing unique about their selfless acts. One only need to walk around the stadium on game day to see that there are so many unique people with divergent tailgate traditions. From the sea of motor homes, to the elaborate bean bag toss games, to the deep fried turkeys to the children being trained in the subtle science of tailgate rituals, I get the sense that many of you are sharing your own traditions with old friends as well as a few new friends.
In the end, that's what Football Saturdays in Iowa City are about. A diverse group of people coming together to celebrate life, rekindle friendships and back the greatest university in the nation as its representative football team mirrors the work ethic of the Iowa people. So this Saturday, be safe, respect others and have a great time in Iowa City.
Finally, I have to get a commercial in. As part of our reunion weekend festivities, my very good friends Steve Dostal, Sherwin Samson and their band Grassroots Revelation will be playing Saturday, October 25 at the Mill Restaurant on 120 E. Burlington St. around 9pm. Swing by and check out this talented band as they play original acoustic singer songwriter material as well as songs you know by heart. A renowned Kansas City rock critic once said that "they've got this world by the balls!" Check em out!