by Steve Clem on August 30, 2013

nileatkinnickTen years ago today, I had one of those magical moments as a parent.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m an Iowa Hawkeye football addict. My oldest son is named Nile, for God’s sake. And it was ten years ago today that he gave me one of my best moments as a dad. Ever.

Back then, I still had enough extra money to justify buying season tickets to Hawkeye games. My seats were incredible. Fourth row. Ten-yard line. On the visitors’ side in the southeast corner of historic Nile Kinnick Stadium.

It was easy early on. I lived in Iowa City and could walk to the stadium, or take a cab for five dollars. Then I moved to Minnesota in 1999. I still made it back for usually all but two or three home games.

The fans sitting around me were like family. I watched them raise their kids, or teach their grandkids to be good Hawk fans. And they watched Nile as he grew up, practically from birth; he attended his first spring game at the age of two months, got a sunburn on one side of his face, and nobody in Iowa City questioned my parenting skills.

In the fall of 2003, when Nile was five years old, my then-wife and I took the family to Iowa City for Labor Day weekend and the opening game of the season.

I don’t remember who Iowa played. It was probably some directional school from Illinois or Michigan. Or maybe even a patsy Division 1-AA school. Or a MAC team. That doesn’t matter, because everyone knew the Hawkeyes were going to win that day.

You have to remember, at this time, they were coming off an undefeated Big Ten season, and an appearance (though a disappointing loss) in the Orange Bowl the previous year.

Nile knew from many previous games with me at Kinnick Stadium that sometimes, after the game, we’d jump over the fence and go out on the field to celebrate with the players and other fans.

As the game came to an end, I remember watching as my five-year-old boy — decked out in Hawkeye football pants, a #46 Ladell Betts jersey, and a Hawkeye football baseball cap — leaped over the barrier between the stands and the field, and went running out to celebrate the win.

His mother looked at me and said, “You better go catch him. You’re faster than me.”

I ran out with my vintage 2003 digital camera in tow and found Nile standing contentedly, about 20 feet in front of the team, as they lined up to go back into the locker room together in their infamous “swarm.”

I tried to take a picture. On the camera screen: Battery Low. I saw no evidence that the picture had actually been taken, and now I noticed the team heading to the locker room. My four-foot-something munchkin was about to be turned into a pancake if I didn’t go grab him.

Disappointed that the picture didn’t take, I ran to grab Nile and pull him out of the swarm of 6-foot-plus giants before they ran him over.

It wasn’t until two days later that I realized the picture DID actually happen, and a few hours later, a coworker of mine had created a cleaned-up version that made a perfect 24 x 36 poster for Nile.

Nile still has the poster tucked away.

As I look at him tonight, I realize that at age 15, he is as tall as many of the “giants” that were in the picture behind him ten years ago. But because he’s a beanpole, he’d still get crushed by them.

I’d still drop my iPhone to save him from pancake status.

Added to my schedule for this fall: to take both my boys back to Kinnick Stadium. Because even if we lose the game, it’s still GREAT to be a HAWKEYE!

* * * *

Steve Clem is a divorced dad, a recovering Republican, and a Prisoner in the Tundra. He is in The Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the largest Hokey Pokey of all time. He was the founding editor of the Iowa City weekly The ICON and is a contributing editor of The Spleen.

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