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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Relief in football

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

The smoky aroma of burgers sizzling on the grill mingled with the roar of the crowd as the wind stirred whitecaps on the big lake beyond the end zone.

At the end of a tragic, gut-wrenching week, the football teams at Buena Vista University and Simpson College spent three hours Saturday trying to restore some normalcy to their lives.

It was one of the few college football teams played in the country following the terrorist attacks on the East Coast, and it gave Simpson running back Mike Tiedeman a chance to realize how lucky he was to be doing something he loves.

"I think it was helpful to get back to normal. It helped take our minds off the tragedy and hopefully, it helped take the fans' minds off what happened for a little while," he said.

"I felt very privileged to be playing today. Only a handful of teams were playing and we were one of them."

The two Iowa Conference teams play in NCAA Division III, where no athletic scholarships are awarded and sports are considered just one more activity in a student's life.

Presidents from the league's 10 schools had decided earlier in the week that playing would demonstrate a resolve to move ahead after the horror of the preceding days.

"We felt it was important for the teams and the community to be together," Buena Vista athletic director Jan Travis said. "They can disrupt us at times,

but they can't totally control us and take us out of our routine. We're America. We're going to be Americans."

The mood was more somber than usual, more businesslike than emotional. Loudspeakers that usually blare rock music before the game were silent.

The game, which Simpson won 20-17, began with a moment of silence and the crowd sang "God Bless America." The Buena Vista players held hands as they stood in a line in front of their bench. Simpson's players turned to the north and faced the flag.

"I think it was good to get back to a normal routine a little bit and try to pick things up," Buena Vista defensive end Eric Schade said. "Hopefully we could provide a little relief from what happened."

Buena Vista coach Steve Osterberger wondered how long that relief would last.

"It doesn't go very far. We'll all go back to our dorm rooms or homes and it will be right there in front of us again on the TV," Osterberger said. "For 18 to 21 kids to try to deal with something like that, it's a tough thing. Maybe this helped take their minds off everything for a little bit."

Gary Nekola of Belle Plaine showed up for the game wearing a cardinal and gold Iowa State sweatshirt. But he would not have been at the Iowa-Iowa State game if that had been played. His son, Treye, is a starting offensive guard at Simpson and he had no misgivings about playing the game.

"You've got to keep moving on,'" Nekola said. "The situation out there will take care of itself over a period of time."

Russ Eddie of Storm Lake was cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for the Buena Vista Club, the heat from his grill offered a welcome respite from the chill. Eddie said he thought it was right to play.

"There are some differing views on that, but sometime, you've got to get back to normal," he said. "Out here in the hinterlands, it's something to take our minds off the catastrophe. The biggest thing is will the players' hearts be in it."

It appeared they were. The blocking and tackling were crisp and the game was relatively free of turnovers and penalties. When it was over, the visiting Simpson players formed a massive huddle in the middle of the field to celebrate.

"I think everyone was ready to play, but it was a tough week," Buena Vista kicker Carlos Martinez said. "Everyone was shocked by what was going on. During practice, it's always in the back of your mind. We tried to keep the distractions to a minimum, but it's still always there.

"That's not something you don't ever forget."