Kinnick Stadium was hellaciously loud for Saturday's 23-20 victory over Penn State. That much was well-documented at the time of the broadcast, both on television and radio. You've likely also seen Mike Graham's 117-decibel reading from the west stands by now; multiple replies reported similar or higher readings closer to the field.
Having been in the stands and having had 24 hours to ruminate on it, I'll paraphrase and echo what every single caller on the 1040 AM Soundoff show who attended the game said on the drive back: That was the loudest I have ever heard Kinnick Stadium.
Being at the game felt like mainlining an entire season of Ted Lasso in three hours' time.
In some ways, this is an unfair fight for most of history, as one of the single greatest contributors was the north end zone, recently renovated and closed off into a tiered bowl structure in 2019. The tiering was in some ways a necessity, as it afforded Iowa the space for its amenity upgrades without encroaching on the limits of its stadium footprint. But the improvement in sound quality was hardly an accident, even if the architects likely couldn't have imagined the extent to which that end of Kinnick would become a cauldron of sound.
Still, the sound has to come from somewhere, and Iowa's crowd rose to the occasion in the second half to create a truly hostile atmosphere for the Nittany Lions.
In addition to the obvious factors — sold-out crowd, top-5 matchup (and its concomitant hype), extremely competitive game — three things turned the Kinnick Stadium faithful from loud to LOUDDDDD.
1. Bob Stoops, Big E, Marshal Yanda, and Tom By God Brands
This was The Weekend Of All Weekends for Iowa's recruiting, across virtually all sports, so the on-field festivities were at their peak on Saturday. WWE champion Big E, a former Hawkeye football player and Big Noon Saturday special guest, came out through the tunnel in the first half to whip up the student section. That proved necessary, as Penn State's early offensive aggression had clipped the faithful's enthusiasm at that point. Bob Stoops* and Marshal Yanda also made appearances in the first half to thunderous applause, and all three men genuinely appeared to revel in their moments.
*The stadium's response for Stoops in particular was tremendous; suffice it to say there's zero ill will remaining among Hawkeye fans for how 1999's coaching search turned out.
After both teams traded inconsequential possessions to start the third quarter and a subsequent media timeout — a danger zone for crowd momentum, with the Hawkeyes having just punted once again — the Hawkeye wrestling team took the field to celebrate its 2020-21 national championship and its numerous individual awards, and Tom Brands (quite literally) seized the opportunity to reignite the Hawkeye crowd one more time.
A pedant may point out that Penn State drove for its only scoring drive of the second half in the immediate aftermath of that appearance by Brands, but fans around us were talking about the speech for the rest of the third quarter. It played great in a loud crowd.
2. Exeunt Sean Clifford
First off, here's to hoping Clifford is able to play by PSU's next game on October 23rd. Rooting for injuries is gross and bad. But there was an audible buzz throughout the crowd when backup quarterback Ta'Quan Roberson lined up behind center for the Nittany Lions late in the 2nd quarter.
Clifford had taken a stiff (and inarguably clean and legal) hit from Jack Campbell on what ended up being the last play of Penn State's prior possession, and while he was in obvious pain in the aftermath, he also managed to make it off the field on his own, placing him above several PSU players who would make triumphant returns to action shortly thereafter.
So when Iowa fans -- already buoyed by a long touchdown drive that had chopped the Penn State lead in half to 17-10 -- saw Roberson enter the game, there was some extra oomph in the crowd's volleys of yells and cheers. Roberson's first play: a four-yard loss on a botched play. And then he stayed in the game. This wasn't a gimmick Franklin was trying, it was his Plan B.
Second down saw an off-target throw to Jahan Dotson. Incomplete, 3rd and 14. And then all hell broke loose.
3. Blood in the Water
Penn State was already in a spot of trouble, facing 3rd and 14 at its own 21-yard line. Then the left tackle twitched, whether unable to hear the snap count or otherwise alarmed out of his stance. The crowd got louder. 3rd and 19. Another false start, this time a late snap, more exhortations from the Hawkeye defense, and the crowd got louder. 3rd and 24. Another false start. Bedlam in black and gold. I've never heard anything like it. 3rd and 29. Three consecutive false starts.
(Officially it was 3rd and 29, not 3rd and 28 as Fox put on screen. Yes I care about this.)
Penn State would eventually get a punt away a couple plays later, but the crowd had already figured out it could wreak havoc on the PSU offense, especially on that side of the field. And thanks to a curious opening coin flip decision by Penn State's captains, having deferred the opening kickoff to the second half and then choosing which direction to kick, the Nittany Lions would be operating out of that End Zone of Hell in the pivotal 2nd and 4th quarters.
Aside from that one 42-yard drive for a field goal in the third quarter, It never got better for Penn State.
Once Roberson's last-gasp pass clanged harmlessly to the turf with two seconds left in the game, the 4th-quarter damage was clear: Penn State managed just 43 yards of offense in the decisive quarter, 27 of which were erased by penalties that included four false starts. The Nittany Lions were 0-for-5 on third down conversions in the 4Q, which included two fourth-down stops as well. Roberson had been harassed into 4-for-12 passing for just 12 yards in the last quarter of play, including an interception with 2:13 left in the game.
Most importantly, Iowa had surged ahead and taken a 23-20 lead that never stood danger of being vanquished.
The party was officially on at Kinnick Stadium — most notably in the student section that spilled its thousands upon thousands onto Duke Slater Field, a rare but wholly earned field rush from a top-five home team. Around the rest of the stadium, the mood was a mélange of euphoria, relief and outright exhaustion as the enormity of the situation finally descended upon our hearts and minds.
Tears flowed. Strangers hugged. Selfies backed by the packed field or the final scoreboard will be our I WAS THERE claim tickets, and if you weren't, man you should wish you had been.
Being at the game felt like mainlining an entire season of Ted Lasso in three hours' time: incredible arcs of doubt, trust, familiarity, surprise, adversity, luck, outrage and joy, all playing out simultaneously where even the media breaks delivered little respite in the way of deep breaths.
And just as thermodynamics maintains that energy is neither created nor destroyed, all of that emotional energy brought onto the fans on Saturday was echoed back: hours of deafening roars and responses that, once the clock struck zero and the students emptied onto the field, left most fans feeling as drained as the players themselves.
If that all sounds just a little hard to believe: if you weren't there on Saturday, yeah, I bet it is! I've been to plenty of games at Kinnick that were plenty of fun, but wouldn't merit flowery prose. I've rushed the field a few times. I've witnessed greatness, and I've witnessed games that I'll be telling kids about decades from now.
That was the loudest I have ever heard Kinnick Stadium.
It was an experience. It was draining. It stood for hours on a razor's wire. It required all 60 minutes of game time. It exceeded every possible scintilla of hype that had been put onto the game. Plainly: it ruled, and those of us who were lucky enough to witness it can thank each other for the magical atmosphere we created on that October Saturday afternoon.
GO FANS AWESOME. GO IOWA AWESOME.
BONUS: Watch me, dead on my feet, try to conduct a livestream once we finally got back to town that night. We made it 80 minutes and it ruled. Also hey, do the like and subscribe on our partner channel!
Here are some choice clips: