IOWA CITY, Iowa — 20 years ago Wednesday, 40,000 Iowa fans overwhelmed Minnesota’s old Metrodome, which the invaders dubbed Kinnick North, adding another chapter to the 130-year football rivalry.
The Hawkeyes secured an unbeaten Big Ten season by beating their northern rivals 45-21 this afternoon. More than half of the fans in attendance then poured across the field and ripped down Minnesota’s goalpost. They led her into the field and up the stairs. Only the revolving doors prevented them from staging an impromptu parade in downtown Minneapolis. The infamous moment cost the Iowa Athletics Department $2,761.15, and the goal post stump is located at the Texas home of former athletics director Bob Bowlsby.
Condra Allred, Katie Neely and Anne Edwards, who did not know each other at the time, watched the scene from their seats. Penetrating noises over the speakers should drive Iowa fans out of the stadium. Instead, the noise became a minor annoyance to those still in the stands and annoyed those on the field.
“I was staying with my father-in-law,” said Allred, 47, “so I was very observant. However, we stayed until it was finished. We watched the whole thing. We were like, ‘Oh, that’s great!’”
“It was the first time I went to an away game with a friend of mine,” said Neely, 42. “Then I just went there. I was only 21 then. I should have been on the field like I had a very good body.
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Twenty years later, the women sit close together at every home game and drive together afterwards. Meet at 1122 Melrose Avenue, about two blocks west of Kinnick Stadium, about four hours before kickoff. It’s one of the liveliest spots in Iowa City, with about 300 other fans gathering before home games. Awnings line both sides of the parking lot, and the address even has its own Twitter handle (@1122_melrose).
On a day when wind chills are in the high teens, the party mile is as electrifying as Iowa’s party reputation. From 2012 through 2016, Iowa City ranked as either #1 or #2 in the Princeton Review’s annual ranking of party schools. And these women were in the middle of the box two hours before kickoff against Wisconsin. They weren’t just there for the party; You were part of it.
With assorted drinks in hand, a big-screen TV under a tent, and friends all around, the Melrose grounds are part carnival, part open-air sports bar. Half of the people only know each other by their Twitter handle. That’s especially true for Neely, one of the most popular Iowa fans to follow on the platform.
“I only know all these people on this tailgate because of Twitter,” Neely said. “In that way, social media is great. And then it turns out that we all have the same views on life as well.”
— katie💫 (@katiejo_ia) October 21, 2022
Neely, Allred, and Edwards call themselves “Hawkeye Besties,” which is what they refer to in their group lyrics and annual trips to other stadiums. Football is her lifeblood. They didn’t meet at a tailgate but at the Iowa Ladies Football Academy, which began in 2010 and ended in June.
Mary Ferentz, wife of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, wanted to connect women with the sport while supporting a good cause. For a donation of $500, the women spent a full day at Kinnick Stadium learning soccer drills and strategy from players and coaches. All proceeds went to UI Children’s Hospital, and the previous 10 academies (2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the pandemic) raised more than $3 million.
The confluence of cause and sport piqued Allred’s interest. Her older brother Scott was 12 when he died of cancer in 1985, so raising money for Children’s Hospital is something personal. Another older brother, Mark, played high school football, and Allred played other sports growing up. Allred and her husband Aaron had season tickets to Iowa, so she enrolled in the academy’s second year.
“It just seemed like a good way to connect with other people who had the same interest as me,” Allred said. “It was for a good cause, so why not?”
Neely and Edwards, 59, attended the first academy in 2010. Edwards, an X-ray technician at Radiology Consultants in Cedar Rapids, graduated from Iowa and attended the most famous game in Kinnick Stadium’s history while in high school. In 1985, in the last game of the game, Iowa kicker Rob Houghtlin drilled a 29-yard field goal to lift the No. 1 Hawkeyes past No. 2 Michigan 12-10.
“Houghtlin’s ball landed three seats to my left,” Edwards said. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s it. This is the high point.’ So I went down to the field and took pictures.”
Neely and her older sister, Melissa Reck, were raised in Cedar Rapids in an Iowa season ticket family. Her parents also attended the 1985 clash. Neely went to nearby Kirkwood and her interest in Iowa football skyrocketed during her college years. When Iowa fans smashed Minnesota’s goal post in 2002, Neely was hooked.
“Our whole basement was like Hawkeyes, Hawkeyes, Hawkeyes,” Neely said. “I had to get season tickets.”
They all signed up for the academy on a whim. At the academy, Neely and Edwards became fast friends. In the third year, Allred joined them. Reck, 47, completed the group, and they looked forward to their annual Ladies Football Academy get-togethers for years. To pay for the $500 donation fee, Allred often sold baked goods — cookies for Condra — while Edwards met doctors during X-rays. RayGun sponsored Neely after her idea of Vaccinated AF t-shirts drove sales across Iowa and the Midwest.
I had a dream last night that I got my vaccinations and was wearing a t-shirt around me that said Vaccinated AF, so now, yes, that’s actually going to happen.
— katie💫 (@katiejo_ia) March 11, 2021
During the one-day academy, the women received practical instruction from the players and coaches. Many players’ mothers also attended, and afterwards they shared drinks and dinner with the participants. The Hawkeye Besties also took a liking to the players and sometimes stood up for them during games.
“You’re not playing this game for me; they play it for themselves,” Neely said. “Melissa said someone said something bad about one of the players in the game. She’s like, ‘Hey, that’s my son.’ Obviously it wasn’t, but he was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry.’ But you’re really in there like it’s someone’s kid. They are one person and they play as hard as they can.”
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Allred, a Northern Iowa grad, originally had donor cards at Kinnick but gave them up to sit with her soccer buddies. Her first Hawkeyes Besties road trip took her to Champaign, Illinois in 2014. The following year they traveled to Evanston, Illinois to celebrate Allred’s 40th birthday, which coincidentally ended in a 40-10 win in Iowa over Northwestern. Their favorite station is Wisconsin, and this year they traveled to Purdue for the first time. Allred and Neely are considering a trip to Penn State for next season. Wherever they go, they’ll be celebrating Edwards’ 60th birthday in style.
“When we met these guys, we just got seats right next to them so we could all sit together,” Allred said. “Our husbands too.”
“It’s hard to find people who are as into this as you are,” said Neely, who works for the Cedar Rapids water company. “So if you find someone who is, it’s fun. I’ve always been a fan of Hawkeye Football. But then, maybe 10 years ago, I got my sister involved too. Now she’s just as crazy as me.”
(Photo by Anne Edwards, left, Katie Neely, Condra Allred and Melissa Reck: Scott Dochterman/ the athlete)