By Brion Hurley
ORLANDO, Florida – Since I have been doing a weekly podcast for HawkFanatic starting in August this year, I decided to reach out to Pat Harty to see if he was going to be in town, to see if we could meet up in person. He was not able to make the trip, but suggested I get a press credential to cover the game for HawkFanatic in his absence. I’ve never been in the press box before, so it sounded like a great opportunity.
I didn’t need my ticket anymore, so I reached out to Ben Hansen, who is the Director of Football Administration & Engagement for Iowa Football, and he said former Hawkeye CJ Jones (famous for his opening kickoff return TD in the 2003 Orange Bowl) was looking for an extra ticket, so I was able to help him out.
On game day, I wasn’t sure what time to arrive before the game, so I decided to arrive at 11 AM (2 hours before kickoff). Since this wasn’t an Iowa-run event, they didn’t know exactly where to send me to get my press credential. Google maps showed a gate for credentials, so I went there first.
I found a ticket office that had a sign pointing to “Media Credentials,” so I felt good that I was in the right place. I love signs, you can never have too many of them, especially for people that are doing something for the first time.
Unfortunately, there was a mix up and they didn’t have my name on the media list. They had to make a call to get confirmation from Iowa, which took about 10-15 minutes. Luckily, they were able to get approval, and make a badge for me. I had to take a selfie and text it to them, so they could make me a pass with my picture on it.
After going through security, I tried to find my way to the press box. I saw someone else who looked like media, so I followed him.
When you arrive at the press box, there is a seating chart, but since I wasn’t on the media list, I didn’t have an assigned seat. I found a few open seats and hoped I wasn’t taking anyone’s spot. It turns out there were a lot of empty seats (and unclaimed commemorative Cheez-It boxes). The predominant Iowa press side was full, but the Tennessee side was about half full.
Pat mentioned that I should try and find Mike Hlas from the CR Gazette when I get to the press box. We chatted briefly, as he was on the Iowa beat back when I played from 1993-1996. We decided to go onto the field to check out the pregame warmups and get some sunshine (the press box is freezing cold for some reason, but I don’t want to complain too much).
I spotted Ben and talked to him briefly on the field. He said the game preparations with hotels and activities were easy for this trip, since they played here 2 years ago when they played Kentucky in 2021. He mentioned that there was difficulty flying the team out of Iowa City on the 26th, but eventually they made it to Orlando.
I also ran into Chad Leistikow, who was one of my best friends growing up. We’ve known each other since grade school, went to City High together and roomed together at Iowa for one year. He was working at the IC Press-Citizen back in high school and has been a sports writer and reporter for decades. We texted each other a few times over the years, but we couldn’t remember the last time we saw each other, maybe a high school reunion in 2002. It was great to reconnect with him and he does an excellent job covering the Hawks. I distinctly remember watching the 1991 Rose Bowl at his house, hoping Iowa could come back and win that game.
I also met Scott Dochterman, who does a podcast with Rob Howe for Hawkfanatic every week. He has a lot of great knowledge of Hawkeye history, and I’ve linked to many of his articles over the years on Hawkeye Recap from his days at the CR Gazette, Land of 10 and now The Athletic.
Between Chad, Mike, Scott and Pat, they have many decades of experience covering Iowa football. Iowa fans should be lucky to have such longevity, just as they have had with Coach Fry and Coach Ferentz.
While on the field, I was able to watch some of the special teams warm up. Drew Stevens looked good, hitting a few kicks from 50+ yards. I also watched the team come onto the field, where you could see who was dressed and who was likely not going to play. The other reporters were talking to some of the Iowa assistant coaches, so all this information is used to get pregame insights about the game.
The press box was very quiet throughout the day, much to my surprise. There was a dedicated announcer for just the press box, which was separate from the stadium announcer. They did announce that there is no cheering in the press box, or you risk getting kicked out. The rumor is that the Nebraska media ignores these rules and cheers anyways. The Tennessee media followed the rules, thankfully.
There are TVs in the press box showing the ABC broadcast, but as usual there is a delay in the game, so you can rewatch the play at the same time as when the fans are watching it live at home, which is a nice bonus.
At the end of each quarter, the announcer would read off the game stats to the press box, so that does save some time for the reporters having to look up that information.
The announcer mentioned that there is a 10 minute “cooling off” period after the game before the coaches and players will be allowed to speak to the media. I didn’t know it was called that specifically, I figured it just took that long to talk with their teams and get to the media room. The losing team will speak first (head coach and one player), followed by the winning team (head coach and two players). The media would not be allowed on the field at the end of the game, but I heard sometimes that is allowed at other stadiums.
At halftime, Chick-fil-A sandwiches were given out to the media, but since I’m vegan, I couldn’t eat anything. There were also some breakfast burritos available during the day, but also not something I could eat. I’m used to it, so I wasn’t too disappointed.
In the 4th quarter, they asked the media to vote for the game MVP and provided a website link, so I was able to vote for my choice. I voted for Tennessee’s QB Nico Iamaleava. The form also asked for an MVP from the other team, so I voted for Jay Higgins, who had 16 tackles on the day (14 solo). However, I didn’t realize Joe Evans had 4 sacks on the day, so I would probably have changed my answer. The TV didn’t have any sound on it (at least not very loud), so it’s like when you’re watching the game at the stadium, where individual stats are not known until after the game unless you’re seeking out that information.
After the game, I went down to the media room for the formal interviews with Kirk Ferentz and Joe Evans. It took a while for them to show up, so the other media reporters compared notes, made some jokes, and discussed records or interesting facts that they uncovered. They seemed to all work together, despite the fact that they “compete” with each other. Some people even held microphones for each other if they had better positioning.
When Kirk and Joe arrived, I recorded the interview (along with everyone else) but did not ask any questions.
After they spoke, other players were available outside of the media room, as requested by the media, but ultimately decided upon by Iowa. Jay Higgins, Nick Jackson and Tory Taylor were the 3 additional interviews (but I’m sure Marco Lainez was also requested, but I didn’t see him). The media had to choose which person to talk to, so many of them bounced around to get some clips from each person. I recorded Tory for his entire time, then recorded Nick Jackson, but was unable to get to Jay Higgins before he left.
After the interviews, the media went back up to the press box to finish writing their stories and podcasts. The press box closes 2 hours after the game, and they likely have deadlines to meet, so they were busy typing away. Although I think many of them had their story almost complete by the time this game was over.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experience in the press box. Thanks to Pat and Matt Weitzel for the opportunity!