Fight For Iowa Goes To The Rose Bowl

by Eric Ponto August 04, 2016
The Rose Bowl

Fight for Iowa Goes To The Rose Bowl

The Rose Bowl

It's Time to Go

Monday, December 28. 5:15 p.m. We had spent the day at my parents' house in Cedar Rapids celebrating Christmas. We opened presents in the morning. While my daughter opened even more Frozen stuff, I received my lone gift and it was a big one -- Rose Bowl tickets. It wasn't a surprise, so there aren't any videos of me freaking out floating around YouTube. My dad, brother, and I had been planning on going from the day bowl placements were announced. But having the tickets in hand was still exciting and it finally started sinking in that I was actually going to the Rose Bowl.

After lunch and a rousing game of Catan Junior (which I won thanks to my large supply of gold that let me buy Coco Tiles) it was now time to take my wife and kids back to my in-laws'. The plan was for me to drive the family over with my dad following behind to take me back to his house so we could leave early the next morning for California. It had been snowing all day so wanted to get them back before it was too late. My parents only live 1.5 miles apart, so even though the roads were covered with snow, I didn't think we'd have any problems. I was wrong.

Less than 2 blocks into our short drive and I couldn't make it up the smallest of hills. I tried backing down the hill and turning around, just to get back to my parents, but nestled in a spot right in the middle of an intersection and got stuck. My dad, trailing behind, tried to help push us out, but no luck. He at least was able to take my family back to his house and went to his neighbor to ask for help.

I sat in the middle of the intersection waiting for my dad to get back...and within two minutes, another person got stuck in the same intersection just a few feet away from me. She called her husband to come help. A random person snowblowing his driveway came out as well. A few minutes later and we had a whole team of people trying to push these cars out.

We still didn't make it.

We pushed and spun tires and pushed some more and got the car really moving forward, but only made it about half a block before we could push it no farther. One of the guys who came out to help went to get his truck and a tow rope and was able to pull my crappy car back to my parents' driveway.

Tuesday, December 29. 6:45 a.m. The plan had been to wake up at 4:00 and get on the road right away. We wanted to make it from Cedar Rapids to Albuquerque, a 17-hour drive. The weather had other plans. I still woke up early with the intent of helping shovel the driveway, but my dad had already finished. So instead I ate breakfast, got my phone loaded up with all the latest Hawkeye podcasts, and waited for the rest of my family to wake up.

Around 8:30 I successfully drove my wife and kids to my in-laws'. To be safe I took an alternate route that was probably an extra mile, but primarily allowed me to stay on the roads more traveled. After goodbyes it was time to go.

By the time we hit the interstate around 9:00, the road was mostly clear of snow and ice. But there was plenty of evidence of its existence the day before. Car after car and truck after truck were abandoned and stranded alongside the road. I was going to try to keep track of them all as we headed west on I-80, but quickly lost count. So even if we were five hours behind our initial plan, it was probably worth it.

Two hours into the drive and we had to make a pit house. With all the snow and the complete inability of the car my wife would be driving when she returned home the next day to make it up any sort of incline covered with snow, we stopped to shovel my driveway (and to eat lunch). I really need to invest in a snowblower, especially with the extra sidewalk thanks to our corner lot. But at least with the two of us we were able to get it cleared fairly quickly. And then we were back on the road heading towards the long nothingness of Nebraska.

Moving My Brother

My brother, Evan, had been talking about moving to LA for months. He works for Rockwell Collins and had visited their LA office multiple times feeling out the area, networking, etc... He finally decided to pull the trigger in the fall and got his house in Cedar Rapids on the market. The plan was to move out to LA sometime in January. That plan quickly changed when Iowa was selected to play in the Rose Bowl.

The pieces quickly fell into place and a new Rose Bowl-centric plan emerged.

Instead of moving to LA in mid-January, Evan pushed up his move date and left for California on Christmas Day. He took as much of his stuff as would fit in his Toyota Corolla, but left a lot behind. So my dad rented a van and he and I drove the rest of my brother's stuff out to California for him.

He didn't move any of his furniture. It wouldn't have fit in the van anyway. No bed, no chairs, no anything. So after we arrived Thursday night and unpacked the van on Friday morning, we headed to the only place a young, single man would buy new furniture...IKEA.

Neither my dad nor my brother had ever been to an IKEA before. My house is full of IKEA furniture. I've been to the Minneapolis location several times. And with the semi-recent opening of the Kansas City location, I've been there multiple times too. So I led the way around the store.

It's definitely different shopping there as three men with a purpose. Evan quickly settled in on a style of furniture he liked, picked out the desk, the night stands, the dresser, the coffee table, and mostly importantly the TV stand that matched. We wrote down the warehouse aisle numbers, picked up all the boxes and were out of there. Not before picking up some cheap hotdogs and cinnamon buns though.

Fact: there are as many IKEAs in LA as people.

More Driving

Passing Omaha marked the farther west I've ever driven. I've never really seen any of the country between Omaha and California. I've been in the Denver airport a handful of times, but that's about it. So everything was a new experience. Nebraska was uneventful. There were a lot of fields with irrigation systems, a rainbow-striped watertower that looked like a hot-air balloon, and a museum-like thing built over the interstate.

It takes a long time to get through Nebraska, too. It was already getting dark when we started down I-76 towards Denver and into Colorado. We stopped somewhere, I think still in Nebraska, to eat dinner at McDonalds and use their wifi. With our late start that morning, we shifted our plan to stop in Denver for the night. But I felt like we were making pretty good time and wasn't tired, so started looking for places to stop beyond Denver.

There isn't a lot immediately west of Denver except for mountains. But I found a little ski town, Glenwood Springs, that looked nice and had rooms that weren't outrageously priced. It was only supposed to be about 2.5 hours further than the west side of Denver and with the time zone change we'd get there before 11 p.m. So we booked a room and headed towards the mountains.

Iowa 83 Michigan State 70

The 29th was the night of the first game against Michigan State...the at-the-time ranked #1 Michigan State Spartans. I did a little bit of Googling to see if I could find a place in Colorado that would for sure have the game on, but I came up empty. And really, with our late start that morning, we didn't have time to stop for 2 hours to watch the game. So my plan was to just follow along on Twitter and then try to find a place with free wifi to stop and catch the end of the game on BTN2Go, if it was close.

I decided to give the radio a shot, hoping that with the top team in the country playing that some station would pick up the game. I scanned through the channels, stopping at anything that sounded like luck. I heard a lot of sports announcer types, but didn't hear any names that I recognized. With enough staticky channels that *might* have been a basketball game though, I went through the channels once more and landed on 1040. To my surprise, good ol' WHO was coming through 600 miles west of Des Moines. It wasn't perfectly clear, but it was more than good enough.

Listening to the game was the fastest two hours of the drive. Iowa played fantastic. Gessel had maybe his best game of the season. Baer had a series of plays that include a jumper, a block, and a dunk. Jok put up 19. The Hawks built a big half-time lead...increased it early in the second half, and then cruised to a 13-point win.

It was awesome. It felt like a little revenge for the tough, tough football loss in the B1G title game. It felt like the start to an amazing week of Iowa sports.

The Snow

The snow started to fall shortly after the basketball game finished as we made our way into the mountains. The snowfall was just a light dusting on the road. I, like any good Iowan, am comfortable driving in a little bit of snow. Even with the trouble I had the night before, I initially didn't think much of the flurries. But with the sun setting and the tall mountains lining either side of the road, visibility soon became very limited. And the snow became worrisome.

The mountain roads were full of bends and curves with very little warning they were coming. They had sleep climbs and steeper descents. And with the snow collecting on the road, there I was in the middle of the Rockies, white-knuckled, driving 35 mph (with presumably local mountain-folk flying by me without a care in the world), sure that any slip and we'd be rolling down the side of the mountain.

Around 11:15, the hotel owner called. The 2.5 hours I thought it'd take past Denver had passed and now we were late to check in. But the woman was very nice and said she'd wait up for us. Still we took our time and rolled in to Glenwood Springs half an hour later, exhausted from the nerve-wracking drive.

Wednesday, December 30. 6:30 a.m. It snowed very lightly throughout the night and we woke up the next morning to a picturesque scene. With the snow, we once again decided not to push it and leave too early in the morning. We checked the local news to see if any more snow was forecasted to be in our future, and then hit the continental breakfast. The food was okay. I had a yogurt, a banana, and a kind of chalky-tasting muffin. But a cup of hot, black coffee and we were ready to go. It was my dad's turn to deal with the snow on the mountain roads, but in the morning light the drive was easier. We made it through the mountains, stopped for a refill on coffee, and then made our way out of Colorado and into Utah.


I had plans to travel to Utah years ago. My sister-in-law attended the University of Utah as a freshman, and it was always our plan to drive out there when she graduated and make a little trip out of it. But she ended up transferring to a small school in the middle of Missouri. We still attended her graduation, but the drive south into Missouri doesn't compare to driving through Utah.

I didn't really expect Utah to be such a lovely state. There was nothing for miles and miles. Just an alien landscape. Every few miles there are lookout spots along the side of the road. You can pull off and park and take a picture of mountain or a vast field of rocks and sparse little bushes. There were actually some really cool views. With a long drive in front of us, we didn't take long to stop. It was pull over, put the car in park, jump out, snap a couple pics in each direction, and then jump back in the car and go. We saw a handful of people in Hawkeye gear doing the same thing.

We listened to a few Hawkeye podcasts as we drove through Utah and speculated about Iowa's chances in the Rose Bowl. But mostly we just talked about life. I know my brother moving 1,800 miles away, after living within 15 minutes of my parents his entire life, was a hard thing for my dad. And it brought out amazing stories of the adventures he had when he was in his twenties, just like my brother is now. Stories of hitchhiking, a summer spent in the Oregon wilderness, and on and on. My brother transferring to the LA office didn't feel like such a big adventure anymore.

The Final Drive

We drove on through Utah into the Nevada and made our way through the desert. A little after 3:30, we started to close in on Las Vegas and the traffic started to pick up. It would have been nice to have an extra day while driving to stop and take in more sites. That was the closest I have ever been to the Grand Canyon, or the Utah arches, or the Hoover Dam, etc... But with miles of driving to go, there just wasn't enough time for a detour and a lengthy stop.

We made an exception for Vegas.

Vegas doesn't actually interest me all that much. There are so many other places I'd rather travel. And we didn't actually stop anywhere. But with the traffic on the interstate, we decided that if we were going to drive slowly through Vegas, we might as well be driving slowly down the Strip. So we pulled off and did some site-seeing from the inside of the van. It was pretty fun, though. For the most part it was just crowded sidewalks and large colorful videoboards. But some of the hotels and casinos are quite the sight to behold.

Vegas...from the car.

Shortly after we got back on the interstate we hit some even heavier traffic. It was slow going from just outside of Vegas until we were well into California. It was past dinner time by the time we got out of traffic and we found a Del Taco, which was another first for me on this trip. We got a lot of tacos. We were hungry. And they were pretty good.

It really doesn't look very far on the map, but the final portion of the drive through the southern part of California took a couple of hours. We finally arrived at my brother's apartment right at 10:00 p.m. (midnight Iowa time, though). After two attempts at getting buzzed through his complex's gate, we drove in, parked the van in his garage, and headed up the stairs to lie down and go to sleep. He actually had bought a bed and had it delivered in the very short time he had been out there, and had an air mattress as well. I got the blowup camping mattress with very little padding...but was tired enough that it didn't matter.

The Invasion of the Battleship

Thursday, December 31. 2:45 p.m. We arrived at the USS Iowa a little bit late. After our trip to IKEA and subsequent hauling all the furniture up the stairs, it was a little bit of a drive to the LA Waterfront where the battleship is docked. The parking lot was closed and it looked like an Iowa game day in Iowa City. Police blocked the entrance as thousands of Hawkeye fans filled the area around the ship.

The event had started almost three hours earlier and the line to tour the ship was incredibly long. And though the pep really was going through 5 p.m., we were some of the last people to get a ticket to board. So we stood in line and stood and stood.

They ran out of beer. They ran out of time. Iowa fans nearly tripled the previous attendance record of the ship as over 8,000 fans made their way through a tour.

A quarter after four, it was finally our turn.

The battleship was quite remarkable. Nearly the length of three football fields, it was a maze of hallways and stairs and small sleeping corridors filled with bunks stacked so compact that even a child would have a hard time sitting up. But among the tiny living corridors was the presidential suite that Franklin Roosevelt used during a secret meeting between Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and himself during World War II. Special accommodations for the president were added to the ship: a bathtub and an elevator.

Flags flew above deck along with strings of Christmas lights and a giant wreath still hanging from the holiday the week before. There was a lone gold flag with a Tigerhawk that flew from the ship's highest point. There were pictures and plaques detailing life aboard the ship and its past mission.

I wish we would have had more time to explore, take in the history, talk to the men and women the lined the ship who had previously served on the USS Iowa or another ship like it. But we had a dinner reservation to catch in Pasadena and the sun was setting quickly.

New Year's Eve

My cousin, Ryan, and his wife live in Pasadena. Their apartment is in a great location regardless of the time, but the location is absolutely incredible for the Rose Bowl. Traffic in LA was not too bad on New Year's Eve, so we made it from the USS Iowa in Long Beach to Pasadena in good time.

We settled in to Ryan's place (he and his wife were gone for the holidays but left their key with my brother) and with a little time before dinner we started to plan for the next day...which meant finding some beer.

No place was open. Though we were a block away from a Whole Foods and Trader Joe's was just another block down the road, both were closed by 7:00 PM. We thought about hitting up a gas station, but found a BevMo! liquor store just a few blocks away and stocked up.

Thursday, December 31. 8:30 p.m. Whenever I travel, I'm always on the lookout for a good sushi place. So as we started figuring out our plans in late December I had asked my brother to make reservations at the best sushi place he could find in Pasadena.

The restaurant was a few blocks away from Ryan's apartment and right along the Rose Bowl Parade route. To my surprise the sidewalks were already lined with people camping out for the parade. I had never seen anything like it. People had open flames and were cooking out. There were sleeping bags and camping chairs everywhere. Families were there bundled up with their blankets and pillow, holding their spot curbside to catch the parade the next morning. I saw children as young as a few months old ready to sleep overnight on the side of the road. The shops along the street where all boarded up with plywood covering their windows. I looked more like a scene from a post-apocalyptic world where everyone was living on the streets, than the night before a parade.

The sushi place was nice. We order a few rolls apiece, a couple beers, and a bottle of sake. We made plans and talked up a big game about going out for New Year's Eve. But after dinner, we walked back to the apartment, sat down on the couch, and fell asleep before we could count down to the new year.

Rose Parade

My brother was skeptical of the merit of attending the parade. I don't blame him. In Iowa parades aren't exactly something to write home about. A line of a few police cars and fire engines, local politicians you don't remember voting for sitting atop the back of red convertibles, floats that are little more than a hay rack ride with a banner tacked on the side, the middle school band trying to learn to march and play their instruments at the same time... They're really just about kids fighting over hundreds Tootsie Rolls lying on the side of the street.

But The Rose Bowl Parade is something else. Something better. Something quite incredible.

We got a little bit of a slow start on New Year's Day. The parade had already started when we headed out from the apartment in search for caffeine and food. We stepped outside and there it was... The parade route ran just 2 blocks away from where we were staying. We quickly found a small tea-house/bakery right around the corner and I got a coffee and a savory pastry thing that had a sliced up hot dog baked right inside.

After getting fueled up, we made our way closer to the parade route. The mass of people ran 20 deep. The people who didn't camp out overnight were stuck in the back with us. The smart ones brought step stools or ladders to get a better view. The majority of the crowd was local families, but the Iowa contingent was strong. The Stanford fans were so scarce that a couple of men standing near us were trying to figure out who Iowa was playing. One thought it was Texas. I can't remember the other.

On the intersection where we were standing watching the parade, three street vendors showed up. And it was as the weirdest thing. All three vendors had nearly identical make-shift grills on wheel and were selling the same sausage/hot dog thing with grilled onions and peppers. I guess it is a really popular thing in LA. I just couldn't figure out why three people felt like they all needed to be selling them all within a few yards of each other.

With the size of the floats it was easy enough to see from a distance. The things people make with flowers is amazing. The artistry and scale of some of the floats were just remarkable. The Disney float was enormous and featured everything from Star Wars to Frozen. We saw the Hawkeye Marching Band play the fight song and Herky and the cheerleaders riding what was clearly the best float in the parade.

We left the parade a little bit before it was over to grab our tickets and beer from the apartment then start the trek over to the stadium. As we were leaving, a plane flew overhead skywriting a politically charged message...

Good thing Donald wasn't there.


Friday, January 1. 11:00 a.m. The scene around the stadium was magnificent. There was the slight feeling of it being game day in Iowa City walking through a neighborhood towards the stadium. Black and gold was everywhere. There were vendors all around.

The majority of the space immediately surrounding the stadium was taken up by large grass parking lots. High, floating balloons tethered to the ground below marked different sections of the parking and were the key to keeping your bearings. We, like everyone else, first made our way to the south side of the stadium to take the iconic picture of the sign of the single rose and script "Rose Bowl." (See: the top of this post) Then we set off to find my cousin's cousin, who had our last ticket.

We found Nathan parked near balloon 1A, exchanged pleasantries, got our ticket, and set up shop (which really just meant putting our case of beer down) under a nearby tree. We drank and talked for a while. My brother wandered off to find a group of his friends and my dad and I headed over to a circle of food vans to grab something to eat.

While my dad was standing in line for some barbeque (and I was off standing in a port-a-potty line) he began talking to the Stanford fan behind him. Between the usual rival fans banter, the Stanford fan began telling a story that he stumbled upon online. It was a story about a guy, who back in 1982, lost his Rose Bowl tickets while attending the parade and then miraculously found them hours later untouched in the middle of the street. That story was about my that I had just published on Black Heart Gold Pants the week before.

After eating, I met back up with my brother and it was time to head in. The line was long. It was so, so long. We tried to be "those guys" and sneak into another line that looked less orderly, but our attempts to cut were thwarted. So we stood there and waited and waited to get in.

We missed all the pre-game stuff. The National Anthem. Maybe a fly-over? I don't even know. But we finally made it to our seats with just minutes to spare before kickoff. We decided that we were going to stand the entire game and let the people around us know, because this was THE ROSE BOWL!

The view when we were still standing...

And then the game started.

The Rose Bowl
Stanford 45
Iowa 16
January 1, 2016

There really isn't much to say about the game. Needless to say we didn't stand the entire game. My brother would disappear every now and then and reappear with more beer. My phone died at halftime (which was probably a good thing as my tweets were getting pretty bad). And the rest I have mostly purged from my memory.

The post game was bad. Evan and I argued about the worthiness of the return on investment from Disney spending boatloads of cash on their giant parade float. (I was pro-Disney.) That was the entire walk back. Then at dinner we argued about Kirk Ferentz. (I was pro-Ferentz.)

After dinner Evan "had to" go out. I fell asleep on the couch.

The Morning After...and Today

Saturday, January 2. 2:30 a.m. Evan returned from going out and woke me up. I showered, then it was time to head to the airport for my early morning flight. Evan was nice enough to drive me. The anger was gone and we had a good talk...a farewell as for the first time in our lives we wouldn't be living in the same state. My season ticket partner, no more. But we made plans for him to come back at some point this fall and go to a game together, just like old times.

Monday, August 1. 9:00 p.m. It has been seven whole months since the Rose Bowl. It took me that long to finish writing about my experience. I have a friend at work that told me he wanted to first experience the Rose Bowl without Iowa playing in it, because if Iowa lost it would ruin his memories of the trip. But having gone and having saw Iowa lose terribly, I can honestly say it has not ruined my memories of the trip at all.

I remember growing up hearing the story of the time my dad went to the Rose Bowl. It was told many times at family gatherings. Iowa didn't win in 1982 either, but that didn't make the story any less joyful. And I hope that when I tell my kids the story about the time that I drove 30 hours with Grandpa, and helped Uncle Evan move to California, and went on a tour of a big boat, and saw Anna and Elsa in a parade, and watched the Iowa Hawkeyes play in the Rose Bowl... that it'll be just as joyful.

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