Blog Entry

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

Posted on: February 20, 2010 12:38 am
Edited on: February 20, 2010 3:40 am

By C.M. Tomlin

11:10 PM

If there was supposed to be a giant onslaught of awful winter weather, we didn't get the memo. But it's apparently sitting right on top of our heads. And collecting at an alarming rate.

No one in Cedar Falls seems to be bothered much by it, though. As it is, snowy roads had us rolling into the McLeod Center just in time to catch Northern Iowa's Panthers taking on Old Dominion's Monarchs.

The drive from Milwaukee to Cedar Falls had us passing through miles of snow-covered, barren farmland and through Dubuque, where we stopped at a hotel just in time to catch a mafia-themed wedding party. I'm not sure if this is the norm for Dubuque, but it seemed natural. On the way, we listened to an AM stion that some might argue overcovers the high school wrestling landscape here in the Hawkeye State. And we learned that Iowa is so flat that you can see Oregon from your car window.

Full disclosure: we weren't prepared to be impressed by our UNI experience. It definitely had chips stacked against it. We'd been driving for hours with little to no signs of life. Roads were a little dicey. The fourteen-foot mound of plowed snow backed up to the McLeod Center didn't exactly seem inviting. Plus, it's hard to get excited about a smaller D1 school when you have porterhouses like Kansas, North Carolina and Syracuse on the menu.

Despite the increasing nightmare of frozen terrain outside this arena, however, Panther fans were in full regalia and ready for battle. Something tells me these folk know how to handle a little inclement weather -- and far be it for them to let a dusting like this make them miss a nationally televised outing like this.

I'm here to tell you -- firsthand -- that Northern Iowa fans do it up ght. The McLeod Center,, small potatoes compared to a monstrosity like the Carrier Dome, was lit to the rafters and louder than a 747. What's that? Elaborate further? Don't mind if I do.

-Normally, at any reputable college basketball game, there's a distinction in the level of excitability dictated by the age of the fans. Not so here in America's heartland. Don't get me wrong: the Panther student section was as loud, if not louder, than many large schools you'll visit. And they're absolutely rabid. But everyone else is in on the act too. Northern Iowa basketball isn't just a sport, it's a collective push by an entire community. John Mellencamp could write a song about this kind of familial camaraderie. (Ed. note: I'm watching you, John Mellencamp, I'm already writing my all-American tune for Northern Iowa.)

-If you sell white body paint in Cedar Falls, you're making a killing. The laws of probability in sports fandom (Schleppenfelder's Fan Love and Outward Expressions Thereof; page 63, paragraph C) dictate that in any large crowd of supporters, there will be at least two body painters. Northern Iowa had tonight, at best estimation, upwards of 25 frothing Panther hooligans decked out mimes on a bender. Don't get me wrong, Northern Iowans are already white as it comes, but with this much body paint it's like the college basketball scene from Night of the Living Dead. You remember that scene, don't you? No? Moving on.

-Children play a huge role in the proceedings. That's actually pretty rare. At larger schools, where season tickets cost a cool thousand, you're not going to find many parents wasting a ticket on a child who'd be just as entertained by  same episode of Yo Gabba Gabba on loop or a refrigerator box. They're going to bring colleagues, friends, people they want to impress. At the McLeod Center, it's a family affair. Not only are the stands littered with entire families having a great time, but children help the mascot do its routines and play in the foyer.

-You don't want to make the wrong call here. Iowans take any things very seriously. Corn. The Andy Griffith oeuvre. Hay. And fair and balanced judgment of a basketball game. The din of madness that overtakes these fans when they feel slighted is terrifyingly sincere. Not a good idea to break up with a girl from Northern Iowa, I'll bet. There were moments when the rush of noise from a supposed malfeasance portended to erupt into the Watts riots. (Note to John Mellencamp: that song is the one I'm writing after the one about community fandom.)

So, yeah, consider me a new fan of the Northern Iowa Panthers. They've got it right. Somewhere, out there in Midwestern America, they know the score.

Speaking of scores, the final was 71-62 Panthers, and this small portion of the state is sated until the next skirmish. As we left this monument to great feeling, however, we skidded back into the hellish reality of snow-covered roads and buckets of powder dumping from the sky. And that, dear readers, is why this particular missive comes to you from the welcome dining room of Junie's Diner at a truck stop in Evansdale, Iowa.

The snow continues to fall gently but quickly, stars falling from the sky and onto the families and fans of Cedar Falls. And all is well in Northern Iowa tonight.

(Don't take that awesome line, John Mellencamp.)


Since: Jan 5, 2009
Posted on: February 23, 2010 9:06 am

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

Great description of an amazing atmosphere @ UNI that night.  On paper we were probably outmatched, height-wise & talent-wise...but that didn't seem to matter to the players.  They really thrived off of the frenzied crowd and pulled a fantastic victory out.  Besides the time we beat UofI in the dome the '90 season, this was the best college game I'd seen by UNI!  You definitely captured the essence of the night as the snow really piled up while we were inside.  With the "W" it all seemed to fade away, though.

Since: Feb 19, 2010
Posted on: February 20, 2010 1:06 pm

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

Does John Mellencamp still exist? I mean, I figure he's probably booked for the SuperBowl next year, but notwithstanding...

Since: Jan 11, 2007
Posted on: February 20, 2010 12:49 pm

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

High scool wrestling is HUGE up there, even girls wrestle on the "boys" squads. Really?  Is mud, somehow, involved?  Talk about your fieldhouse dreams!

Sign me up, Scotty.

Since: Dec 31, 2008
Posted on: February 20, 2010 9:58 am

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

That did appear to be a fun environment to be in last night. Better watch out for the Kansas people when you all make it there. Nice write up to capture the moment. Have fun on the rest of you trip ladies.

Since: Feb 20, 2010
Posted on: February 20, 2010 9:08 am

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

Hey, my nephew is a highly ranked high school werestler up ther i Iowa. High scool wrestling is HUGE up there, even girls wrestle on the "boys" squads.

Since: Feb 20, 2010
Posted on: February 20, 2010 2:54 am

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

Snow falling on Cedars (falls, oh and by the way I'm watching you David Guterson).  Great job guys, been enjoying reading posts about your trip so far.

Since: Feb 18, 2010
Posted on: February 20, 2010 1:49 am

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

Nice job fellas.  Stay safe on your way back to the Hoosier state.  Great read.

Since: Feb 20, 2010
Posted on: February 20, 2010 12:53 am

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

Jesus.  I just wanted to post a comment here but instead of posting my thoughts I had to submit to a full body groping  I digress.  Awesome writeup Tomlin.  I've always been strangely fascinated by going to random college basketball games just because I love the sport, and your post makes me want to go to Northern Iowa.  Yes, you made me want to go to Northern Iowa.  Let that sink in.

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