Klinkenborg Carries Heavy Heart

Sometimes real-life reality interupts sports and puts everything back into perspective, even during the Iowa State week. Mike Klinkenborg losing his father, Myron, represented one of those times. Mike heroically played in Iowa's 27-17 victory against ISU. HN.com Senior Writer Rob Howe spoke with Mike after the game and wrote this feature story about a very tough week in the Klinkenborg family.

Last Sunday night, Mike Klinkenborg sat around his parents' farm house waiting for the rumbling sound of his dad's truck. It remained silent.

Myron Klinkenborg died of a heart attack earlier in the day. His son was finding it hard to process that information.

"It felt like a dream," Mike said after Iowa's 27-17 victory against Iowa State on Saturday. "You hear (the truck) a mile away. You're waiting for that. I mean, it just felt like a dream the entire time. Even at the funeral, you're just waiting for him to wake up and say, "I'm just joking.""

While the rest of us were wrapped up in the annual Iowa-Iowa State battle, the Klinkenborgs were not only in a dream state, they were living a nightmare. One minute, Myron was enjoying his son's first season as a starting Iowa linebacker. The next, the 60-year-old farmer was gone.

"He had no symptoms, nothing," Mike said. "That morning (Sept. 10), he just felt a little dizzy and then fell back. He was out for a little while."

Mike and his two siblings returned to Rock Rapids, Iowa that night. That's when Mike heard silence instead of his dad's farm truck.

The Klinkenborgs took part in Myron's funeral arrangements, while the rest of the state focused on the intrastate rivalry. Reporters asked Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday if his middle linebacker would take part in it. He said he would respect whatever his player's family wanted to do.

Mike wasn't sure how he should handle the situation. His thoughts were unclear. His mother, Mary, aided him.

"That first night that I came back, she said, "You're going back on Saturday,"" Mike said. "She wanted me to be back. She said that was what my dad would want me to do."

Still, unconvinced that was the right thing to do, Mike received a series of second opinions at his father's wake. Family and friends chimed in.

"The night the public can come and view, everyone just came through and said the same thing over and over again," Mike said. "This is what my dad would want me to do. That's exactly would I did. I realized that's what my dad would have wanted me to do, too."

On Wednesday, the Klinkenborg family held a funeral for their loved one. Ferentz and Iowa players Mike Humpal, Devon Moylan, Bryon Gattas, Bryan Mattison and Zach Gabelmann attended the service.

"I can't put myself in his shoes, but I can only imagine it's been the worst possible week you could go through," Moylan said. "We're all here to support him. It was good for him to get out here. His dad would be awfully proud.

"I don't think you can say anything in that type of situation. You just say, "Hey, I'm here for you. I'm sorry. Go out do what makes your dad proud." He did that today.

"Klink", as his teammates call him, was comforted by seeing his coach and teammates at the funeral. It also proved therapeutic for the guests.

"It meant a lot to him, but it meant a lot to us to get the opportunity to go up there," Moylan said. "I'm glad we got the chance to go up there and see him."

Mike returned to the team on Thursday. His teammates had adorned his locker with sympathy cards and told him that they were there for support if he needed it.

"After practice, guys were coming up to me making sure everything was all right," Mike said. "Mattison and Moylan, I was with them the whole time. They were just watching out for me, too. They're great friends; great teammates."

The last thing left was running out in front of 70,000 fans at Kinnick Stadium to take on Iowa's arch rival. Mike called it an emotional roller coaster for the entire game.

"The whole time I was thinking about him," Mike said. "I did all right. There were a lot of mistakes still, but I'm just glad we came out with the win for him."

Klinkenborg recorded eight tackles, including ½ for a loss. He helped the Hawkeyes limit ISU to just three second-half points.

When you looked into his glassy eyes during the post-game interview, you could tell he wouldn't remember those numbers. As he fought back tears several times, he just kept saying how glad he was that Iowa pulled out the win. The alternative seemed incomprehensible after an intensely difficult week.

"This is a week he'll remember for the rest of his life," Ferentz said "He'll remember this game a long time, too. It'll be a real special memory for him."

Ferentz easily related to his junior this week. The coach lost his father before playing Penn State in October of 2004. He broke down on camera after the Hawkeyes escaped with a 6-4 win in Happy Valley.

"We talked during the week, certainly," Ferentz said. "Starting Sunday, a guy walks into your office, you can tell something's really wrong. The only thing I can say to console him is that his dad's had a great full life.

"All any parent can ask for is to be proud of his children. Mike's more than taken care of that duty. He's given his parents tremendous pleasure. I know they're extremely proud of him; rightfully so. He's done his part. His dad will continue to watch him."

Mike knew that the pain and suffering related to his dad's death didn't end with a win against Iowa State. He was meeting up with his family after the game, and on Monday would say goodbye to his sister and brother, who would return to their homes in Colorado and California, respectively.

"We're just going to try to get back to reality," Mike said. "It's tough, though. There will be times, I'm sure, for all of us. We'll break down a little bit."

Myron didn't show medical warning signs of a possible heart attack. His father has already celebrated his 87th birthday. But Myron's father's father died from the illness, and that has opened the eyes of Mike and his siblings.

"We'll be getting checked out a lot now," Mike said.

Myron and Mary didn't make it out to Syracuse last week, when their son stuffed Orangeman Quarterback Perry Patterson during a tremendous goal-line stand. They were attending a family wedding and shuffled back and forth between the reception and the car radio to check on the Hawks.

Iowa's plane returned home late from Syracuse, and Mike never got a chance to speak with his dad.

"It was just hard because I didn't get to say goodbye to him," Mike said.

While he never got that opportunity, Mike stood up on Saturday and showed the media, Myron. Mike reflected his parent, as most of us do. Mike played because Myron would have played. Mike continued the healing process because Myron would have wanted that.

Best of all, Myron would have been proud.


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