THE EARLY LEAD | The black and gold double dip and a weekend to remember
By Brandon Hurley
Sometimes the hype is just that.. hype.
I’ve been fortunate to experience some pretty incredible moments despite my status as a small-town Iowa journalist.
I’m persuasive, what can I say?
I’ve been credentialed for events such as the NBA Finals, the NBA All-Star game, several other NBA contests, state tournaments, the Drake Relays, as well as a professional racing event.
They were each awesome in their own ways.
But this past weekend had potential for something rare and exceptional. It was the coveted double dip, featuring events that hit closest to home.
I somehow pulled off dual credentials to the Big Ten football championship and a Purdue/Iowa basketball game in West Lafayette, on back-to-back days.
This was a golden opportunity, with potential to be an all-timer.
I’m not shy about my Hawkeye fandom. I grew up an Iowa fan and later obtained two degrees from said university.
This was going to be a dream weekend. The Iowa Hawkeyes were battling a pair of No. 2 ranked teams (against Michigan in the Big Ten Championship and Purdue in basketball) , and I’d be there to witness them both.
Sadly, the Hawks let me down, again.
The lead up was rather intoxicating, regardless.
The start of it was all remarkably easy, though, my expectations for a positive outcome were fairly tempered, I must admit.
Within hours last week (shockingly close to the filing deadline) I was locked into Hawkeye heaven, all without forking over a single penny. I applied for the Big Ten championship on Monday, and when I found out I was cleared to go two days later, decided to try my luck with the basketball game at Purdue. That one took even less time to hear the good news. After hitting submit I was credentialed just two hours later.
The success rate climbed higher. It continued to get better.
Late Thursday night I was informed I’d snagged parking passes for both the basketball and football games in Indiana. Borderline miraculous. I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
With free entrance into Iowa’s biggest sports weekend in years, I was ready.
My mind immediately went into overdrive, plagued by the endless amount of possibilities.
Could the Hawks pull off a pair of unlikely upsets and make the dream complete?
My credentials had to be a good omen. Or did my ease of access indicate a weekend of letdowns and disappointment? I had to find out.
In hindsight, the latter rang true, but I remained optimistic.
Surprisingly, it was a bit more difficult to get people to commit to the trip than I had imagined. Something about young kids and work. I don’t know.
So, I left town with my dad and one of his friends. A small crew, but a passionate one. We were ready to enjoy a unique weekend any Hawkeye fan would drool over.
A road basketball game and the Big Ten Championship, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Our luck carried over almost immediately Friday morning. My dad was pulled over on I-80 just outside Iowa City, though he somehow was left off with a warning.
He hasn’t received a speeding ticket since 1980, and that streak continues.
Naturally, I put a $25 bet down on the Hawks to beat Purdue and Michigan, why wouldn’t I?
We had to see how far the look would take us.
Perhaps our good fortune was slowly beginning to crack, though we remained oblivious.
After the relatively easy seven hour drive east, we pulled into West Lafayette Friday night ready to watch the Hawks, without their best player, take on the No. 2 team in the nation.
We were blessed with quite the treat upon our arrival at the foreign Big Ten campus.
Mackey Arena was shockingly loud. And the atmosphere downtown itself had a nice, exciting feel to it beforehand.
What a great place to take in a basketball game. Such beautiful architecture. The stands lead all the way up to the top of the walls, at the base of where the ceiling meets. The concourse is outside of the arena floor, completely blocked off from the interior of the bowl, creating a unique atmosphere, trapping the sound inside.
What a setting for a Big Ten game. The Hawks battled valiantly, and with the seat I was in, the true brutality of Big Ten basketball was hard to miss.
The game started at 9 p.m. local time, which meant it didn’t end until 11:30. We finally pulled into our Indianapolis AIRBNB at 12:45 a.m., but it was well worth it, even in a loss.
Saturday was spent basking in the Big Ten Championship festivities, beginning with a FREE parking spot not even 200 hundred yards from the stadium. We pulled up nearly six hours before the opening kick, because why not?
Now, as a journalist I’m supposed to remain objective, no matter the circumstance.
But what if I was on the precipice of a unique experience any sane fan would kill for?
I had to embrace it, and figure out a way to take in the entire thing as it was meant to be.
The day began with a strategic wardrobe and meticulous planning. This wasn’t the typical sporting weekend. I wanted to appear neutral, though some type of Iowa apparel had to make it into the day’s fit. I wore an Iowa shirt under my black, Iowa quarter zip, which was covered by a vest.
I did my duty of staying true to my fandom. This was bigger than a game, this was an opportunity.
Responsibility was important, as well. Saturday’s championship didn’t begin until 8 p.m., yet I was going to be spending the entire day with thousands of rabid Hawkeyes fans.
I had to be cautious and attentive to my body. There was little room for error.
I could indulge, but not too much. I had to remain in close connection with the sporting events, no matter the circumstances. I couldn’t get rowdy. I had to refrain.
The weather was fantastic. Sunny and warm, with highs in the low 50s. The tailgating was exceptional. We rubbed shoulders with the high rollers (Thanks for the free brats) and mingled in the fan fest area. It was a treat, hoping it was a nice build up for a stirring upset.
The Hawkeyes were set to take on the second-ranked Michigan Wolverines, with a Big Ten title on the line. The stadium field was immaculate, Lucas Oil as a whole was beautiful. A wonderful place to take in the game.
Let’s rewind a bit for comparison’s sake. I was actually in attendance at the 2015 game as well, when Iowa lost late to Michigan State. The atmosphere prior to this one was a little different than six years ago. Iowa came in expecting to win last time, riding a 12-0 record and a top five ranking. Fast forward to 2021 and the Hawkeyes essentially backed their way into the game. The fans were considerably less enthusiastic (there weren’t nearly as many, either) and seemed to be glad to have a game in Indy. While Michigan, with just a short four hour drive from Ann Arbor, arrived in droves. The Maize and Blue Wolverines dominated the landscape all over town, also packing the stadium seats. They were certainly ready for their first Big Ten title game.
Not that surprisingly, my good fortune eventually ran completely out with a disheartening thud Saturday night.
My seats were pretty good, though the press box was fully enclosed by glass, inside an indoor stadium. That was odd, and cut down on the atmosphere a bit, but the view was still quite magnificent for not having to pay a dime.
The Hawks were decent in the first half, but Michigan blew the doors open during the final two quarters. I had hope, but it quickly dissolved.
Even though the Big Ten title game may have been a snooze fest, it was still a piece of a weekend to remember.
The double dip wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, though it makes for wonderful memories and a unique story I’m likely never going to repeat.