By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – There are two kinds of Iowa football fans.
One who leaves early from a game at Kinnick Stadium when Iowa is getting soundly defeated as was the case with this past Saturday’s 24-7 loss to Purdue.
And one who stays until the bitter end regardless of the score.
There is no right or wrong in this case because fans have a right to come and go as they please. They pay a lot of money and make a commitment to be there, and outside of acting unruly or disrupting what happens on the field, as some Tennessee fans did this past Saturday, fans have the right to decide when it’s time to leave.
This has been a hot topic in the wake of the Purdue loss because Kinnick Stadium was more than half empty by the end of the game.
It was in stark contrast to the week before when fans rushed the field to celebrate Iowa’s 23-20 victory over Penn State in the first top-five matchup at Kinnick Stadium since 1985.
Fans had to be asked repeatedly over the loudspeaker at Kinnick Stadium to exit the field after the Penn State game, whereas in the Purdue game, some fans started heading for the exits near the end of the third quarter.
“I was disappointed that so many fans left early,” Don Patterson said Monday on the Hawk Fanatic radio show and podcast. “And they have the right to do that. But would it surprise the fans to hear that maybe the players had some idea that people were leaving and giving up on them?
“It really does help support the team and we saw the strength of that one week earlier.”
Patterson was an assistant coach throughout Hayden Fry’s 20-year reign as the Iowa head coach from 1978 to 1998. So, Patterson, obviously, is biased towards the Iowa football team and he believes that fans owe it to the players and coaches to stay until the end.
“I remember thinking how sad it was, think back one week earlier to the fan support at the end of that game versus the fan support at the end of this game, there’s no comparison,” Patterson said. “It’s disappointing, and I understand that fans, maybe some of them have compelling reasons to leave early. They have a chance to get home earlier, or they’ve got to pick up the dog, or whatever.
“But in general, I just hate to see that. And I know we’ve got a lot of really loyal fans that did not leave, of course. But it’s just disappointing to see it happen. But I understand that people have the right to leave whenever they want to. I was just disappointed, and I think it’s disheartening to the players to see that.”
Patterson has a right to be disappointed, but again, fans also have a right to leave early.
There is no right or wrong side in this case.
The Iowa football team didn’t give its fans much to cheer about in the Purdue game and the chance of winning seemed hopeless by the end of the third quarter.
You admire the fans who stuck it out, but it would be unfair to criticize the fans who left early.
And Patterson wasn’t being critical of the fans. He just voiced his disappointment.
Some will say that it’s up to the Iowa football team team to give fans a reason to stay until the end, while others will say that fans owe it to the team to stay until end.
Fans stayed until the end of the Penn State game because it was a gut-wrenching, nail-biting classic, a game that fans will cherish and remember forever.
Some fans left the Purdue game early because it was a hopeless cause, and maybe some did want to beat traffic, or get an early start on a long drive home, or pick up their dog, or go to dinner, or go to a bar.
College football is a game, yes, but it’s also entertainment that isn’t cheap.
And when fans aren’t being entertained, some decide to leave early.
Iowa fans for the most part are loyal and committed. They travel well to road games and to bowl games, and they fill Kinnick Stadium on a somewhat regular basis.
But fans also have expectations and pay to be entertained.
Iowa failed to deliver in both of those regards against Purdue.
Some fans have expressed their disappointment in the coaching that occurred against Purdue, wondering why Iowa never made any noticeable adjustments to stop Purdue receiver David Bell, who finished with a Kinnick Stadium record 240 receiving yards.
They said they grew tired and frustrated of watching Purdue have its way, so they left early.
Some have countered that argument by saying it’s during those tough moments when Iowa is getting whipped that the team needs support from fans even more. And that’s a strong argument, because as Felicia Goodson, mother of Iowa running back Tyler Goodson, said on Twitter in response to this column, “it’s easy to be a fan when you’re team is winning.”
She’s right, but again, neither side of this debate is wrong.
Of course, it would be great if every fan stayed until the very end and cheered as the team left the field, even after a humiliating defeat.
But that’s unrealistic, and asking a lot from the fans,
What happened this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium with fans leaving early is hardly unique to Iowa. It happens at practically every school when a game turns lopsided.
Many of the fans who attend Iowa football games arrive hours before kickoff in order to tailgate. They make it a day-long event, so by the fourth quarter, some probably are exhausted and need a reason to stay.
There just weren’t many reasons to stay until the end of the Purdue game.
Those who did stay deserve praise for being loyal.
But those who left early deserve the right to not be judged.