Don’t let the sweltering heat fool you… It’s fall. While the leaves are gradually beginning to change and pumpkin spice is slowing creeping into everything everywhere, nightfall is inching closer and closer into our evenings.
And, despite it currently feeling like two-a-day weather out there, college football is already sauntering into its fourth week.
To me, one of the best things about college football are the traditions surrounding each team. I’m not talking about history necessarily; I mean the things, acts, songs and mascots each school and its fan base passionately uphold week after week, year after year. Some are born from the obligatory nature of upholding history—“This is how we’ve always done it.” Others are born from sheer superstition. Some, possibly, are simply a bi-product of a big crowd assembling together with a little beer and a lot of energy to burn. Regardless, it’s more than football—it’s religion; a part of daily life for many fans for at least for 15 weeks every fall.
The constant and obnoxious ringing of thousands of cowbells. A marching band spelling out its home state. A “midnight yell” and a “Woo Pig Sooie!” and a banana slug as a school’s mascot. The weirder the tradition is, the more charmingly wonderful it is to me, and each tradition is as varied as the schools it represents.
Fans will always defend their school’s football traditions as the best in college football, but they’d be wrong. No matter the legacies or unique way a tradition began, no school’s tradition is better than the one the University of Iowa just began.
It wasn’t my choice to watch Penn State take on Iowa on Saturday night. My dad had commandeered the remote and, having previously forced him to watch a sappy movie on the Hallmark Channel, I had no choice but to compromise.
Somewhere during Saquon Barkley’s unbelievable performance and a final few seconds that left me, with no dog in the fight, completely breathless, something special happened at Kinnick Stadium.
As the first quarter of the game, one that was quite unspectacular compared to what was to come, came to a close, the fans inside Kinnick did something I’d never seen. They stopped what they were doing to stand up and fall silent. Facing (many turning to do so) the east side of the stadium, 65,000 fans waved in unison at an egg-shaped building that overlooks the field. Fans break into laughter and cheers, grins spreading across faces so quickly, it’s like they can’t help but not. On the 12th floor of that egg-shaped building, a smattering of children, some in wheelchairs, some with little noses pressed up against thick glass, beamed. For those Iowa fans aren’t just waving to a building, they’re waving to the children inside.
Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital isn’t just next door to Kinnick Stadium, it’s so close it looks like it’s sprouting from the arena’s side. Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer described the hospital as feeling “Like an extension of Kinnick—like some sort of high-tech treehouse of the future sitting over its shoulder.”
On Stead’s 12th floor, with glass walls and breathtaking views, sits a room that has been dubbed the Press Box. It’s where children who are sick and brave and healing and fighting come with their families to enjoy game-day snacks, play foosball and cheer for their Hawkeyes.
The idea for Iowa fans to wave to the children inside began on social media. While children she looks after napped, lifelong fan Krista Young posted it in earnest to a Facebook page called “Hawkeye Heaven” in May.
“It was two sentences. It was just a thought,” Young told Land of 10. “I kept seeing pictures of those kids [at the hospital] before football season. And practice started and seeing them looking down on the field, it’s heartbreaking. Just a quick thought, two seconds to type and it turned into this amazing, amazing blowout. There’s not a fancy story behind it. Just short and sweet, and it took off.”
Young’s idea gained traction on Facebook, spreading like wildfire across Hawkeye nation through comments, likes and shares until the hospital took notice. Before Iowa’s first home game against Wyoming in the beginning of September, a plan for “The Wave” was in place.
And now, as the first quarter of every Hawkeye home game comes to a close, the 65,000 fans inside Kinnick stadium pause for a moment to wave to the mighty and small residents of Stead Children’s Hospital. A sea of black and gold, offering a simple gesture that means so much more.
For many of us, college football Saturday means wings and beer and occasionally yelling at the TV. It means giggling at Gameday signs and painting your face and high-fiving the guy next to you. It’s heartbreaking when your team loses, but it’s nothing like the heartbreak these kids—and their families—endure daily. It’s a break from the struggles. It’s a moment for these kids to shine, suspended in time, where all is right.
Iowa’s “The Wave” isn’t just college football’s newest tradition, it’s also its greatest. Have a great Thursday, you guys.