By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The greatest tradition in college sports, maybe in all of sports, will carry on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium when the Iowa football team faces Northwestern in the home opener.
At the end of the first quarter, players and coaches from both teams, and the game officials, will turn and wave to the children and parents who will be looking out the windows from their rooms at the nearby University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
The tradition started in 2017 and has swept the nation with its message of love and kindness.
It’ll look and feel different on Saturday with hardly any fans in the stands, and with the patients staying in their own rooms, due to COVID-19 concerns, but the message of love and hope still will be the same.
The hospital isn’t allowing group gatherings, so patients and their families can’t gather on game days in the event space on the top floor that overlooks Kinnick Stadium from the east.
“We are looking forward to the wave, having an opportunity to do that,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “That’s a good thing certainly and that won’t change.”
The Wave has become symbolic of the Iowa football program, and the players appreciate the connection with the kids.
“It’s always like a really good feeling to look up and know that we’re being watched by the kids, and they’re the ones that we play for,” said Iowa senior linebacker Barrington Wade. “The Wave is definitely a big thing that we’re all looking forward to.”
The Wave started as a suggestion by an Iowa fan on Facebook, and word quickly spread to where it became a movement.
The hospital is located just across the street from Kinnick Stadium, and the gathering spot for the patients is on the top floor, and that gives them a clear view of the field.
And it isn’t just the Iowa players and coaches who appreciate the power of the Wave.
“One of the best, if not the best, traditions in college football (is) showing our appreciation and support and love for those families, children, and those health care providers at the children’s hospital,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told the Associated Press. “The wave is something I personally look forward to, and I know our players will when we get there. It’s a great tradition in Big Ten sports and in college football.”
The pandemic has created a new normal in which uncertainty is about the only certainty.
The Wave will create a feeling of normalcy on Saturday, if only for a few minutes. Fans will certainly be missed because there is strength in numbers, but the message still should come through loud and clear.
This past offseason was rough for the Iowa football program from a public relations standpoint as multiple former black players accused the program of having racial disparities.
Chris Doyle lost his job as Iowa’s strength and conditioning coach as part of the fallout, and eight former players recently demanded the removal of Kirk Ferentz, Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta, claiming they were subjected to intentional race discrimination by the coaching staff and administration during their time as Hawkeyes.
The eight former players also have threatened to file a $20 million lawsuit for “loss of professional opportunities” and to compensate other athletes for the discrimination they experienced at Iowa.
Performing the Wave won’t change anything that happened during the offseason, but it will serve as a reminder that Hawkeye football has a good side, too, a side that cares for those less fortunate and in need of medical assistance.
The Iowa players for years have visited the children’s hospital and formed bonds and friendships with the patients, and with their parents. That tradition is Iowa’s way of promoting community awareness.
The pandemic has disrupted lives in so many ways, but even it can’t stop the Wave from carrying on.
And that is reason to be thankful.