IOWA CITY – Golden brown turkey, homemade mashed potatoes, delicious stuffing, fresh cranberry sauce and don’t forget comfort of a hotel room.
OK so not many families will experience the last part, but it’s become tradition for Iowa and Nebraska. As the Hawkeyes play their second consecutive Black Friday game, for the Cornhuskers it marks the 23rd consecutive time.
The game brings national publicity being the only game on network TV, which is plenty to give thanks for, but it also cripples a Thanksgiving celebration.
“The one thing I think you realize real quickly once you come to play college football is you kind of forget about all holidays,” Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said. “I don’t think I’ve spent a Christmas, I mean I haven’t even realized it’s been Christmas the last couple of years. Thanksgiving is kind of the same way, so we’ll sit down sometime after the season and have a little make up Thanksgiving.”
When most families sit down for a late-afternoon feast, the Hawkeyes will be taking the practice field. Practice is scheduled for 3:45 p.m. After practice the team will head to a hotel, which is customary the night before a game.
Nebraska has a busy holiday as well. The team will hold a walk-thru at Memorial Stadium in the morning then fly to Cedar Rapids later that day.
James Ferentz is one of the lucky players who gets to spend time with his family – at least his dad – on the holiday. But even if he didn’t being reserved to a hotel on Thanksgiving doesn’t seem so bad.
“I like being with my team so, yeah, anytime I’m with the team, I’m fortunate and very excited to do that,” Ferentz said. “You know, spending holiday away from home and family, that’s nothing new to me. We’ve been doing that for a long time. It’s just unfortunate you don’t get to spend it with your family but at the same time, we can do that on Saturday or Sunday.”
The isolation from family isn’t dedicated to players far from home or coaches’ son. Senior Keenan Davis, who grew up in Iowa City, last experienced Turkey Day with his family freshman year.
“Some of the younger guys mostly get a little homesick, but the older you get, you know that your family is, they’re taking care of you back at home,” Davis said. “It’s not like you’re missing everything. It’s a hard thing, but everybody makes sure they call their family and says their words. But coaches will take care of you and make you feel like you’re at home.”
As head coach Kirk Ferentz concluded his weekly press conference he gloated about Thanksgiving being the best holiday. There are not many places his players would want to spend it than together, on a field, preparing – for many of them – their last game in Kinnick Stadium.
“It’s a unique bond that you don’t find anywhere else in life,” James Ferentz said. “When you’re with your teammates, guys who have sacrificed so much with you in the offseason, you know you’re with a group of guys who understand what it means to be a Big Ten football player. So yeah it’s a very fortunate and very special moment.”