George Kittle returns to his roots at Wisconsin

Rick Brown
George Kittle celebrates first career touchdown last week against North Texas.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Jan Krieger’s water broke, and her contractions intensified. It was time to get to the hospital and deliver her second child. Her husband, Bruce Kittle, got her to the car for the short drive to University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics.

But this was a football Saturday in Madison. Wisconsin was hosting Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium. The traffic was impossible. Bruce was zipping in and out of the swarm, driving like an expectant father, when he was stopped by a police officer. My wife is about to have a baby, Bruce told him. Can we get an escort?

“Seriously, man, I’ve heard that one before,” said the officer.

Look at my wife, Bruce told him.

“I apparently expressed my feelings,” Jan said.

They were escorted to the hospital. As they got into their room, Bruce looked out the window. He could see the stadium, and fans ringing the top rows, and told Jan, “There’s no way we’re not having a boy.”

George Kittle was born on Oct. 9, 1993, all 10 pounds, 10 ounces of him, while Wisconsin was beating Northwestern 53-14.

On Saturday, six days shy of his 22nd birthday, George will play tight end for Iowa against the Badgers at Camp Randall.

“I’m so happy for George to be able to play there,” Jan said. “And I’m definitely happy to be wearing black and gold than red and white.”

It’s no surprise that George, a junior, is a good athlete. Bruce Kittle was an offensive lineman at Iowa, a four-year letterman and co-captain of the 1982 Rose Bowl team. Jan was a star athlete at Winfield-Mount Union. Basketball was her best sport. She’s in the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union hall of fame and scored 1,846 points at Drake.

Bruce was working for a law firm in Madison when George was born. Before long, he started taking his son to Badger games. Barry Alvarez, who was on the Iowa staff when Bruce played, was Wisconsin’s coach. Dan McCarney, who recruited Kittle out of Cedar Falls, was also on the Badger staff.

“Dad would strap me in a big blanket and put me underneath the bleachers,” George said. “I don’t remember, but he said I enjoyed it.”

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As George got older, he fell in love with the Wisconsin band. During timeouts, he’d dance to the music. Fans would throw quarters and applaud. By the time he was 6, George had started to appreciate the players on the field.

“Ron Dayne was my favorite player,” George said.

He was in the stands on Nov. 13, 1999, when Dayne ran for 216 yards against Iowa and set the NCAA Division I-A all-time rushing record. Kirk Ferentz was in his first season as the Hawkeyes’ coach. His family moved back to Iowa shortly after, but George remained a Badger fan.

“He always said, ‘Mom, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like to play here,’” Jan said.

George attended three different high schools as a sophomore: Iowa City West, Cedar Falls and then Norman High School in Norman, Okla., when his dad took a job on Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma staff. The last game he watched at Camp Randall was Iowa’s 20-10 victory over the Badgers in 2009.

Wisconsin never recruited George. Iowa had taken a look, but not offered. On signing day in February of 2012, George wore a Hawkeye T-shirt to school hoping for some good news. It came.

Ferentz called and offered a scholarship.

“He wasn’t their first choice,” Jan said. “But when Kirk finally called him, oh my gosh, it was pretty emotional.”

The Badger had become a Hawkeye.

“I had to cut the cord,” George said. “It was not as hard as I thought it would be.”

His sister, Emma Krieger Kittle, played volleyball at Iowa. George’s cousin, Henry Krieger Coble, also plays tight end at Iowa and was the first to greet him when he crossed the goal line with his first career touchdown catch last week against North Texas.

“I was just excited for him,” Krieger Coble said. “He’s been playing so well.”

And playing as a Hawkeye legacy.

“It’s cool to step in the same shoes as my dad,” George said.

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