On a fall day in 1926, Clifford Huff and some neighborhood boys ventured to City Field, located roughly where the Main Library parking lot now sits, to watch a football game between Iowa and Minnesota.
With security scarce, Huff finagled his way in and witnessed his first Hawkeye game at the age of 9, one that began a lifelong love story that continues today.
That was two years before what is now known as Kinnick Stadium was erected. Since that day, he has been to just about every home Iowa football game.
Characterized as being the “most positive guy I have ever met” by his nephew and UI alum Steve Mashek, Huff has spent Saturday afternoons sitting on the seats of Kinnick Stadium for the past 80 years in both joy and sorrow.
The journey wasn’t easy, though. Tickets were often hard to come by, and there were times he had to scrape up the money to see his beloved Hawkeyes.
Throughout his elementary- and high-school days, he got in via the Knothole Club, which at that time, allowed students to attend games for a quarter.
After graduating from City High in 1936, Huff still managed to see most every game through the club.
But because of the Great Depression, he bypassed attending the UI and instead found a job with the Works Project Administration, a part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, working in Schaeffer Hall, administering surveys among other odd jobs.
Between 1938 and 1940, Huff saw a bit more black then gold. Money was tight after graduation, and he saw only a couple games a season.
The horns and drums of the student band kept drawing him back, though. Despite his lack of income, he still dove headfirst into the Hawkeye spirit oozing from the stadium on Saturdays in the fall.
He managed to stay connected to this spirit in other ways, too.
While walking to work, Huff sometimes came across a familiar character who accompanied him on his short trip — Nile Kinnick. The two waited for one another, chatting on their way to the day’s activities.
“I knew he was a football player,” Huff said. “But I never thought of how he’d go down in history.”
When talking about the gridiron hero, Huff’s seemingly permanent smile suddenly began to fade.
“He could have been president if he hadn’t been killed in World War II,” Huff said.
After 1941, the largely self-taught engineer began his streak of attending every home Hawkeye football game. Three years later, he bought season tickets to guarantee his seat, and he has souvenirs to prove it.
Since that first game in 1926, he has collected every Homecoming pin released. A few years back, he gave the collection — known to be one of the few complete sets in the world — to his nephew Mashek, who had it appraised at $10,000. Huff said he began his collection by simply looking on the ground.
“I used to hang around the stadium after games and find them on the ground, in the garbage, wherever I could locate one,” he said.
In 1969, he started buying two season tickets, one for him and one for his sweetheart at the time, Marie, whom he married in 1973.
Since then, the pair have made it to every game — except one.
“We go to every game, no matter what,” Marie Huff said. “Except one time when the snow on our street was piled so high we couldn’t get the car through.”
When asked if she thought it was ludicrous for the two of them to attend every game, a look of confusion washed over her face. The streak means more than just watching the players run around on the field. The team has become a part of their family.
As the two have gotten older, driving at night has become an issue. If it hadn’t been for Mashek’s niece, the eight-decade-long streak would have ended four weeks ago when Iowa played Michigan on Homecoming.
Marie Huff, although 15 years younger, has been the perfect companion for Huff, allowing him to enter his “zone” during the game.
“He doesn’t like interruption during the game,” she said.
When talking about this year’s edition of Iowa football, Huff quotes his favorite coach from all those years — the recently deceased Forest Evashevsky.
“He always said he’d rather be lucky than good,” Huff said.
That feeling transcends the generations. The way Iowa’s season has gone so far this year, the “lucky rather than good” sentiment truly hits home.
Traveling has become harder every year for the Cedar Rapids native, and he has recently adopted a cane to help him get around.
However, he always makes sure to tailgate. And this season’s Hawkeyes might just keep him around for one more year. The excitement has kept him on the edge of his seat all season.
For someone who never attended the university, Huff embodies all that Iowa athletics mean to the community. With no professional team near, it creates what Mashek calls, “a one of a kind situation.”
While this may be his last season, Huff keeps things in perspective.
“Growing up here, the university has always been a big part of my life,” he said with that familiar smile never leaving his face. “I may have a few years left, but this might be it for me.”