Coming out of Omaha, there was very little reason for me to be excited about this new "Big Ten country". But after 10 years of living in Iowa's capital city - Des Moines - I can also say that the broadening of my college football vista has been a great thing. With some gentle "influence" from the in-laws, I've come to respect the history and traditions of the Big Ten. It also brought me strangely back to what I love about Nebraska Football, and forced me to defend it with vigor at times.
Not sure what the deal is, but it seems that both sides of the state line have it all wrong when it comes to each others territory and athletics. ( Attn Omaha residents: Council Bluffs is not Iowa. Even Iowan's won't claim Council Bluffs. It's an armpit, ruined by the Casinos and should really be it's own state.) My guess is that the conference divide kept a lot of people away from what really exists on the other side of the Muddy-Mo. Shoot, most people take pride in Nebraska's corn production, but Iowa is #1 in the country.....that's all you see here, corn.
Anyhow...whether you're from the sandhills out west, or from right over the bridge in Bellevue...Here's the skinny on the Hawks:
Location: The University of Iowa sits in the city of...well, Iowa City. Duh. Similar in feel to Nebraska's football central, although Lincoln's population is about 3 times as big. It's 300 miles from Lincoln to Iowa City, which means it won't take long for fans on both sides to get um...aquainted. The city revolves around the University, is clean and safe, but really has very little else to offer outside of a top-notch medical center and thousands of drunk college girls. (The alcohol flows very easily around this town...19 and 20 year olds are also allowed into bars). If I'm going to a game in Iowa City decked out in Husker red, I'm probably heading out of town right after the game...whether we win or lose.
Traditions: Iowa has a few kooky traditions, but one stands out in particular. The pink locker room. Some time ago, back in the good ol' 1980's, legendary coach and self-proclaimed expert in psychological warfare - Hayden Fry, decided to paint the visitors locker room at Kinnick Stadium. Bright pink. His theory was that the color calmed the opponent, and therefore led them to certain defeat at the hands of the boys in black and gold. Not sure if this really works, but opponents do struggle when coming to Kinnick stadium. Plus, it's funny. Other traditions include massive tailgating along streets leading to the stadium, and the singing of Iowa's un-official victory song after any Hawkeye sports win - "In Heaven There Is No Beer".
Trophies: Iowa plays for a few trophies each year. The first usually being the annual Cy-Hawk trophy, which goes to the winner of the inter-state rivalry game against Iowa State. I think it just says...Cy-Hawk. Whatever. Iowa also plays Wisconsin for the Heartland Trophy (lame), and the oldest of them all...Floyd of Rosedale against Minnesota. Let's hear your suggestions for a Nebraska -Iowa trophy. I suggest that Nebraska play Iowa for a bronze slab of ribs. Depending on who wins, they can be labeled beef ribs (Nebraska) or pork ribs (Iowa).
Connections: We have a few individuals on the Husker coaching staff that made there way to Lincoln via Iowa City. James Dobson was hired away from Iowa as the Huskers strength and conditioning coach (I love this guy. I think he is under-appreciated and has done wonders for our players.) But most noteably our main-man Bo Pelini, who was a GA under Hayden Fry during his early years. Nile Kinnick, Iowa's only Heisman Trophy winner, was born just down the road from Des Moines in Adel, IA and moved to Omaha to attend my alma-mater Northwest High School. He returned to Iowa and won the 1939 Heisman Trophy - only to be killed a few years later in a fighter plane accident. Both high school stadiums, as well as Iowa's stadium share his namesake. I sometimes wonder if I am the only person alive who has stepped foot on all 3?
History: Nebraska is 26-12-3 all time versus the Hawks. Their first game was played in 1891, in Omaha of all places. Iowa was victorious 22-0, but Nebraska has owned the birds in the modern era. ( See 2000 - Eric Crouch turning an Iowa DB into a limp bag of potatoes) Iowa hasn't beaten Nebraska since 1981, when the Huskers went down 10-7 at Kinnick. The people here are pretty loyal and fair, even when their team is crappy. Although sometimes I wonder if fans don't know how to behave with this new found success. Their arrogance can be a bit out of place at times. But I would also venture to say that small town farmers were probably hunched over little radios on Saturdays as far back as anyone in Nebraska ever was. Solid tradition. Just lacking the hardware.
Other sports: The Huskers and the Hawks are serious National Title contenders every year in wrestling. I don't follow that sport, but it should make for some interesting rivalry arguments. Iowa has had some successful basketball teams in the past, much more so than the Big Red. Lots of wins during the 70s and 80s, reaching the final four in 1979-80. Baseball has been lousy, reaching .500 on average, and I can't recall ever seeing them in Omaha during mid-June.
Kinnick Stadium: Nile Kinnick Stadium is certainly not the biggest or most updated, but surely a great college atmosphere. It's no secret as to why opposing teams have a tough time here. The sidelines are so close, you can molest the cheerleaders. I like this (not for the molesting part), but because you can't really get close in Lincoln, even with front row seats. I hate that. This intimacy also allows for serious field-storming after a major win, although they'll never get that chance when we play 'em. Historic, but finally getting some updates now that they've been winning these past 10 years. Seating is notoriously tight, so plan on shedding a few pounds or standing in the aisles during big games. Traffic mirrors I-80 outside of Lincoln on gameday, but you can apparently park way off-site, and take a little train right up to the stadium. Pretty cool.
If I had to bet on what rivalry sprouts up the quickest for Nebraska in the B10, I'd put my money on Iowa. If an expansion happens, there will likely be East/West conference divisions, and these two teams should be the ones battling it out along with maybe Missouri. I mean, who the hell is gonna drive all the way to Happy Valley or Ann Arbor every other year?
It's all going to depend on how long Iowa can stay relevant. If they keep up these top ten finishes, they could be just as much trouble as Michigan or Ohio State, and given the frequency of our visits back and forth....it should foster some serious grudges. 200 miles of shared state border, yearly matchups, top ten rankings, and fans that travel....yeah, that's gonna be sweet. I say, Husker fans bring the beef, Iowa fans bring the pork, and we can have one hell of a pre-game grill-out before the Huskers de-feather the Hawks.
Heck, throw in a good Mizzou team...and we could have ourselves one heck of a hate-triangle.