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Perspective: A walk to an empty Memorial Stadium on game day



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Signs outside Memorial Stadium show where to go for COVID-19 testing Saturday. IU's home opener against Western Kentucky University scheduled for Saturday was canceled in August due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ethan Levy

A pair of candy-striped overalls sits tucked away in the corner of my closet. For some reason, they were one of my first purchases when I arrived in Bloomington four years ago as a freshman. I looked at them longingly for a second before I walked out of my bedroom into an empty living room.

It was 10:30 a.m. and all three of my roommates were still asleep, something that normally would never be tolerated on a normal Saturday game day, but nothing nowadays is normal. I was always the last one up, having footballs and empty cans thrown at me until I slowly sat up and waved my arms in surrender laughing.

What used to be the liveliest day of the week feels dead as I walked down Morton Street toward campus. I didn’t see students packing their cars with tailgating essentials: food, cheap beer and a folding table. In fact, I didn’t see anyone.

It wasn't until I reached the farmers market that I saw a small crowd of people shopping. The tents set up in the parking lot made me think for a split-second that maybe they were tailgating, but was sorely disappointed as I snapped back to reality.

As I turned onto Kirkwood Avenue, a view of normalcy starts to appear. There was life on Kirkwood, but it seemed almost extraterrestrial. People were spread out on the street in front of Uptown Cafe and Farm eating, but Saturdays aren’t meant for that level of civility. Who has enough time for a sit-down brunch when typically the 90 seconds it takes to microwave a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich is too long?

I’ve known since Aug. 11, when the Big Ten postponed fall sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there wouldn’t be a home opener, but it wasn’t until I approached the Sample Gates that it truly sunk in.

Where was the line of students snaking out of Kilroy’s and around the corner for Breakfast Club? Where was the smell of pancakes, bacon and gravy that is the perfect combination of delicious and disgusting? The piece of paper with the word “closed” crudely scribbled across it laid just inside the door on that sticky floor that always made you think you stepped in gum.

I looked around and quickly and scaled the wall that fortifies the back patio of Bloomington’s most infamous bar, an action that would've surely gotten me tackled in the pre-coronavirus world. I just sat on top of the wall for a minute trying to picture what it typically looks like: people packed shoulder-to-shoulder in jerseys — most often IU basketball jerseys because who owns an IU football one?

I wasn’t covering football this season, so that was where I thought I’d be spending my Saturday mornings during the fall of my senior year, making up for all the weekends in the past I’ve missed hanging with friends, not sitting on a wall staring at nothing.

I hopped down and continued my walk through campus toward the Northwest neighborhood and saw too many students walking around not in IU gear.

“Hey, don’t you know it’s game da…oh, right,” I thought to myself.

As I got to Fee Lane and that dreaded hill which leads to Memorial Stadium, I began thinking of what this could have been like. Maybe IU went into Madison, Wisconsin, last week and upset the Badgers, leaving the student body with a delusional amount of optimism. Maybe they would have been ranked in the top 25 and I’d find myself thinking in the back of my mind that IU was about to make the Big Ten Championship.

When I got to the top of the hill and rounded the corner of the Briscoe Quadrangle residence hall, I could finally see the stadium, sitting empty and still. 

Memorial Stadium has gotten plenty of face-lifts over the past few years, but it looked old and tired. It reminded me of the end of “The Giving Tree,” wanting people to come and sit on its bleachers and cheer on the Hoosiers. The closest it would get to the sound of cheers was the clanking of the IU flags in the wind running along the upper bowl of the stadium.

I walked through the parking lot between Memorial Stadium and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, hoping I’d smell a grill with hot dogs and hamburgers cooking. I didn’t. I stopped briefly at the corner patch of grass next to Mellencamp Pavillion where my professor Galen Clavio would set up his tailgates, a sure spot to be greeted by friendly smiles and a breakfast sandwich.

I turned to the stadium and all the gates are locked. The blinds of the ticket booths were drawn closed — an unfriendly reminder that nobody was invited inside this Saturday.

I put my face up to the gate to peer inside as a puppy does to his cage when he wants to be around people. I walked around the perimeter hoping for one forgotten lock that left an opening but there weren't any.

After yanking on a few more gates, I turned and headed toward the tailgating fields. Without the sea of cars and students, I have to reassure myself that I’m in the right spot and that six days of the week it’s just a quiet grove.

I stood under a tree and opened my phone to send a Snapchat to a few friends who have graduated. I pan over the empty field with the caption, “something’s missing…”

Where was my best friend I met just five minutes ago by the pong table? I don’t know his name, but we would be trading stories like we’ve lived together for four years. Where was that delusional hope that this time would be different, every time IU plays a top opponent?

Where is IU football?

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