Oct. 18, 2004
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EDITOR’S NOTE: On Mondays, hawkeyesports.com will bring readers a Kinnick Stadium Memory from the thousands of stories that have been submitted to the website for the 75th Anniversary of Kinnick Stadium.
Every time Gary Douglas logs into his computer, he can look across his desk to find a small artificial rose gracing the other greenery he keeps nearby. And in that glance, he can remember one of the most important events in Hawkeye history inside Kinnick Stadium.
In 1981, Hawkeye fans had to look back 20 years to have a winning record. And one time in that period the faithful had to go the entire year without a win, an event that had happened only in the first season of Iowa football when the team played just one game.
“That’s a long time,” Douglas says. “It becomes very frustrating and very difficult to keep going to the games.”
But in 1981, fans felt that their team’s new coach, Hayden Fry, was about to turn that tradition around. And not unlike the country that was about to turn a corner under a new president, the Iowa football program was on the verge of something great.
“I realized that Hayden was going to turn the program around,” Douglas said. “He was so charismatic, and because of him, I went ahead and bought season tickets. When Hayden came in, there was a lot of hope and excitement.”
The purchase of season tickets was a good decision for Douglas.
The Hawkeyes lost only once inside Kinnick that year, lost four times in the entire season and finished with a winning record for the first time in two decades.
In that magical year where Fry could do no wrong and the Hawkeyes were finally winning, one thing was missing – a return trip to Pasadena, a voyage that hadn’t been made in more than two decades.
However, that trip isn’t something that is determined by one team alone. And is so often the case in sport, the Hawkeyes’ fate was in the hands of a storied rivalry – that between Ohio State and Michigan.
And it was on a cold afternoon in November, with a January trip to California hanging in the balance, that Iowa entertained Michigan State in the final game of the season.
“Before the game, that was all the talk in the media,” Douglas said. “It was just a dramatic scene – one of the best.”
The Hawkeyes didn’t have any trouble dispatching the Spartans, crushing the visitors 36-7. Indeed, the real game of import was in Ann Arbor, and all the fans had their portable radios tuned in to hear the call.
And when the news came in and the game ended, roses poured out from the five-storey press box.
“It was getting late in the afternoon and getting dark and people were hollering and that was quite the sight. It was a fantastic day.”
“It was getting late in the afternoon and getting dark and people were hollering and that was quite the sight,” Douglas said. “It was a fantastic day.”
It was a day that Douglas – like thousands of other Hawkeye fans – would never forget. So “fantastic” and so “tremendous,” that it seemed ordained from another place.
“My dad had been a sergeant in the Iowa State Patrol, and he had 36 as a badge number,” Douglas recalled of his late father at the time. “We had 36 points, and I took that as an omen.”
After the game, as Douglas made his way to his car, he ran across a vendor with leftover artificial roses from the celebration. The fraud investigator picked one up and saved it, a memento of some 42 years as a beleaguered Hawk fan and a charm for 23 better ones.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com