It was late in the evening on Nov. 20, 1999. About six hours had passed since the Iowa football team finished a brutal 1-10 season with a 25-21 loss to Minnesota.
The parking lot west of Kinnick Stadium was empty and dark other than a small flame shooting out from a trash can.
Dirk Keller and several of his tailgating buddies were still hanging out near the stadium because that’s what they did back then. Hearing the sound of an engine, Keller and his friends looked up and saw the lights from an SUV approaching their tailgating spot.
The vehicle stopped and out stepped first-year Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. He had just left the UI Football Complex with his wife, Mary, and they wanted to thank Keller’s clan for their loyalty.
“He leans over and he says, ‘Hey, I just want to thank you guys for sticking it out with us this year,’” Keller said. “To make a long story short, he and Mary got out of the car and sat there with us for about 45 minutes.
“I still have the pictures, and every once in a while whenever I see Kirk and Mary, I’ll remind them.”
For the 57-year-old Keller, the pictures are extra special because they show a moment in Hawkeye history that new tailgating rules wouldn’t allow these days. Fans now have to vacate the tailgating areas near Kinnick Stadium two or three hours after the end of the game, and almost immediately after night games.
Joe Wegman, 56, was among those tailgating with Keller when the Ferentz’s made their late-night visit.
“It wasn’t just rolling down the window and saying thanks,” Wegman said. “He got out. He stood there and talked to us for a while. I think the way he is today is exactly the way he was that night.”
The Hawks winning is important to Wegman, but gathering with family and friends seven times a year to tailgate means more to him.
“For me, it’s always been an event to get together with friends and family,” he said. “That’s why I don’t complain a lot about play calling because I don’t know anything about football compared to those coaches. So we try to control the things we can control and that is we make it a social event. When they win, you celebrate a little bit more. And when you lose, you look forward to the next game.”
Shortening the amount of time to tailgate after games is one of the changes that came with heightened security and with more concern over alcohol consumption. But UI Associate Athletic Director Rick Klatt said enough time is still allowed for postgame tailgating so fans don’t have to leave the stadium area in a rush.
“It makes it increasingly difficult to close down the day,” Klatt said. “Sooner or or later, you’ve got to draw the curtain. I think we now have arrived at a pretty acceptable plan.
“And part of that was to assist with the huge amount of bodies and truck and RVs leaving after a game. So by having some of that audience enjoy that postgame time on campus and enjoying the post-game tailgating activities, that helps with traffic flow. But sooner or later you have to say, ‘Hey, guys, it’s time to go home.’”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football