Last season played like a nightmare for Iowa football fans. The Hawkeyes stumbled to their first losing record since 2000 and showed little of the toughness they had exhibited throughout much of the decade.
As rocky as the road became, it carried linebacker Mike Klinkenborg through the most difficult time of his young life. His father, Myron, passed away shortly after the Hawkeyes defeated Syracuse in Week 2.
"Even though it was a season that we didn't want to go through, it still was good for me to be around the guys and play football," Mike said. "It helped get me through it. It's still helping me get through it right now."
Myron's sudden death from a heart attack at 66, understandably hit his soft-spoken son like a ton of bricks. His family recently sold its farm in near Northwest Iowa town of Rock Rapids sending another set of emotions through the Hawkeye senior.
"I still deal with it today," Mike said of Myron's passing. "Selling the acreage, that's a pretty tough thing to go through as well. My mom bought a lot and moved to town. I'm still dealing with that all of the time."
It's these types of stories that keep football in perspective. Many of us sports fans get caught up in the competition and forget about the personal side of these athletes, especially on the college level.
These guys that suit up on Saturdays in the fall aren't above criticism, but when it becomes personal and mean spirited, one needs to remind themselves of the Klinkenborg story and others like it, even if they're less serious than death.
These young men are human, don't get paid and are students, too.
Such is the case with Bryan Mattison, who played last season knowing his father, Greg Mattison, was undergoing treatment for lymphoma. The elder Mattison serves as the defensive coordinator at Florida, the reigning national champs.
"He was putting his shirt on one day and he felt a lump in his throat," Bryan said. "There are three stages of it and it was like the least serious stage of it. The doctor told him that he has a 99.9 percent chance of getting through this.
"He wasn't worried about it. He didn't like talking about it. I'd call and ask how he was doing and he would say, "I'm fine. How are you?" I remember my mom saying he didn't want to talk about it because he didn't want to think about it. That's just the kind of guy he is."
And really, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Bryan really downplays the illness to his father and jokes about his dad being old. That's how the Mattisons handle some serious things, trying to smile through the pain.
"He was sick," Bryan said. "That's part of life. You have ups and downs and you have to work and play through them like you do in football. He's fine now and he probably wouldn't be happy we're talking about it."
Bryan does show a little crack in his protective armor when talking about attending the funeral in Rock Rapids for Myron Klinkenborg.
"When we heard about Mike's dad, I didn't even think about my family that much," Bryan said. "All of our attention was turned towards Mike. But I guess on the way back from his home town, I probably thought about it a little bit."
Klinkenborg decided to play against rival Iowa State the week after his Myron's death. The Hawkeyes won the game and his teammates handed Mike the Cy-Hawk Trophy to carry off the field. He stood up in front of reporters with emotions pouring out of him.
ESPN sideline reporter Jimmy Dykes offended some viewers by starting off a postgame interview with Klinkenborg by saying, "…three days ago, you bury your father…" then asks what Mike would say to Myron if he could speak with Myron. "I love you. I'll see you someday," Mike answered.
"That's the kind of guy that Klink is," Mattison said. "I don't think that he even was necessarily offended by those questions as much as all of us were. He's just a good human being.
"It was just a difficult week for him. I'm just glad that we could get that win for him and his family. It was emotional. Seeing him hold up the trophy and hugging his brother (Monte)…I'm just glad that we could help him out a little bit."
For Mike, the pain remains.
"There hasn't been a day where I haven't thought about my dad," Klinkenborg said. "I drive past the farm once in a while. So, that's probably the toughest thing to deal with right now.
"I try to think about the good times that we had and use that to focus my energy. I still try to spend a lot of time with friends. I try not to have a lot of alone time."
Thankfully, the season starts this week and he'll have football to take his mind off of Myron, if only for awhile, win or lose.