Opinion | Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium almost felt normal

Daily Iowan Sports Editor Austin Hanson reflects on the sights and sounds he saw and heard at Iowa football’s open practice at Kinnick Stadium Saturday morning.


Jerod Ringwald

The Iowa wrestling team lifts up their trophies during Iowa football spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, April 17, 2021.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

On Saturday afternoon, Kinnick Stadium felt normal for the first time since November 2019.

Prior to the start of the Hawkeyes’ 9:30 a.m. practice Saturday, fans hadn’t been welcomed into Kinnick Stadium since Nov. 23, 2019, when Iowa downed Illinois, 19-10, on senior day.

When my Daily Iowan peers and I pulled into one of Kinnick Stadium’s parking lots ahead of the Hawkeyes’ open practice, we were greeted by some comforting and familiar sights and sounds.

The lots surrounding Iowa football’s home were filled with cars and people donning sweatshirts and jeans to combat the 50-degree temperatures — much like a regular game day Saturday in Iowa City.

Hawkeye fans were queued up outside the stadium, filing through the gates to get an early glimpse at head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 2021-22 squad. Others stood in line at the merchandise truck, waiting to purchase some new Iowa gear.

Shortly after we arrived and took our seats in Kinnick Stadium’s press box, we were greeted by Ferentz himself. The head Hawkeye stopped by press row Saturday to greet reporters and voice his appreciation for their work and attendance of the Hawkeyes’ open practice.

Ferentz noted that he was glad to finally see some reporters in-person. Big Ten and Iowa Athletics protocols hadn’t allowed him to do so since October 2020.

Ferentz then jokingly said that fans had been tailgating and drinking Busch Lights in Kinnick Stadium’s parking lots since 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

“It was certainly great to be back in Kinnick, itself,” Ferentz said during his postgame Zoom meeting with reporters. “That’s the first time we’ve been in there this spring, and even better to be there with fans — first time since a year ago, November. Just great to have live people in the stands. That provided a little bit of electricity for everybody. I think, certainly, we’re all hopeful that it’s a sign that we’re moving in the right direction right now as a country. It seems like things are getting a little bit better, not that I’ve been out a lot.”

About 6,500 to 7,000 fans showed up to watch the Hawkeyes practice Saturday, according to The Des Moines Register‘s Chad Leistikow. Even so, the Hawkeye faithful made their voices heard when Iowa’s skill players made big plays during the Hawkeyes’ seven-on-seven and eleven-on-eleven drills.

Also making an appearance in Iowa’s press box was Hawkeye athletics director Gary Barta, who I hadn’t previously seen in-person at any point during my two-year career at The Daily Iowan.

Concluding Saturday’s festivities was a ceremony honoring Iowa wrestling’s 2020-21 team national championship. Iowa’s wrestlers walked out of the south end zone tunnel as ACDC’s Back in Black rang out of the stadium speakers — just as the Hawkeye football team does every time it plays at home.

Senior and 2021 Hodge Trophy winner Spencer Lee spoke after the Hawkeye wrestlers posed for some photos, promising Iowa fans another national championship in 2021-22.

Before the Hawkeye wrestlers exited the field Saturday, they shook hands with Iowa’s football players and staff and traveled to north end zone to take some photos with fans and receive well wishes.

“Also, nice touch, really neat to have the wrestling team out there to be honored,” Ferentz said. “So disappointing a year ago when they were on the verge of winning a national championship, not to be able to finish it a year ago in [March 2020]. So, for them to do what they did this year, and achieve at such a high level, that’s really fantastic.”

Iowa’s next open spring practice at Kinnick Stadium is scheduled for May 1 at 9:30 a.m.

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