IOWA CITY, Iowa — Walking the expansive grounds around Kinnick Stadium on Saturday morning, the administrators, supporters, parents and fans of the University of Maine football team couldn’t help but be wowed by the scene.
Iowa fans, most donning gold T-shirts, swarmed around the area, sharing the anticipation of the Hawkeyes’ season opener against the Black Bears.
Tents were pitched everywhere and recreational vehicles lined the streets. The sizzling of grills, the guzzling of beer, the soaring of footballs and the shouting of children gave the scene a festive feel.
Under a solitary white tent, a UMaine contingent of more than 50 people gathered for a pre-game brunch amidst those sights and sounds. Many of them took the UMaine charter trip, which provided a rare chance to live the Big Ten experience.
“Our competitions are a true rallying point for those that have an affinity for our program,” said UMaine athletics director Blake James.
“The group really represented the spectrum of our fan base, from people that are season-ticket holders and are there every game at home and on the road to those who have supported us in other important ways,” he added.
John Tennett and Mike Missbrenner of Bangor, two former UMaine teammates, decided it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.
“This is such a surreal event,” said Tennett, who played at UMaine from 1994-97. “I think until you actually see it and experience it, you can’t imagine what it’s like.”
Tennett wondered aloud why UMaine fans couldn’t gather in larger numbers, in a similar fashion, prior to home games at Alfond Stadium in Orono.
“I think you have to view it as an event, not just a game,” Tennett said. “It’s all the things that go with it: It’s the tailgating, the barbecuing, catching up with friends.”
Tennett and Missbrenner (Class of ’96) were joined by three other former teammates. Miami attorney Hugo Alvarez (Class of ’95), Ohio chiropractor and Eliot native Mike Adamets (’95) and George McDonald (’96), now of California, also attended.
Tennett hopes to continue generating interest and support in the program among the fraternity of former players.
“As you get older, you want to be more involved with the program whether it’s financially or just support,” Tennett said. “I think with events like this, the more people that get involved and see what we could do, it can’t help but help the program.”
For financial benefactors of the program, the Iowa trip was a chance to share their affinity for UMaine football while taking in the atmosphere. Donors Dick Collins, Kevin Mahaney, Tom Savage and Paul Hannigan were on hand, as was Thaxter Trafton from Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development.
“It’s always nice to see some of the great camaraderie that exists,” James said. “When you look at athletics, one of the great things about it is how it brings people together.”
Mahaney, the younger son of the late Larry Mahaney, one of UMaine’s most ardent and loyal supporters, was accompanied by his younger son Nick, 14, and his uncle Keith Mahaney, a former UMaine basketball star.
Some of the aforementioned folks are likely to play key roles, or are already have, in helping UMaine raise the $13 million needed to renovate Alumni Gymnasium. Collins and his wife donated $1 million to jumpstart the project.
Another notable alumnus who hooked up with the UMaine group in Iowa was Chris Keating (Class of ’79).
The former standout UMaine linebacker, who had a productive career with the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins, was playing the role of proud father.
Keating’s daughter Sarah is a UMaine student and his older son Conor, a redshirt freshman linebacker, made his collegiate debut against the Hawkeyes.
He also is involved in UMaine’s effort to generate support for the program among the men who once wore the Blue and White.
“It’s showing up and re-engaging with your old teammates, rallying around a couple of Black Bear events that we do. That just means so much to the program,” Keating said.
Raibonne and Pamela Charles of Windham took the charter to watch their son, Raibonne, compete in his first college game as a defensive lineman for the Bears.
“We’re real excited,” Pamela Charles said prior to the game. “Every hour since 2 o’clock (a.m. Saturday). I’ve been awake, worrying.”
James said such events should help UMaine find ways to enhance its football atmosphere in Orono.
“The larger number of people we have that have that same goal, the sooner we’ll see a larger presence out at the games,” James said. “Right now we’re working at growing what we have.”
The UMaine athletic department was represented by president Bob Kennedy, James, associate athletic director Joe Roberts and development officer Pat McBride. NCAA faculty representative Bob Strong, professor George Jacobson of UMaine’s biology department and former football coach Walt Abbott also made the trip.