I Heart Brad Banks

Our friends at the new SBN Big Ten blog The Rivalry, Esq. got something we would never get: An interview with Brad Banks.  Brad, who is now playing for Montreal in the CFL, discussed his recruitment, the 2002 season, his career in pro football, and his pending restraining order against a stalker named Oops Pow Surprise thoughts on Iowa's upcoming season.  While reading the interview, I found myself smiling at nothing in particular, giddy as a schoolgirl.  Go read it, then feel free to add your own thoughts on Banks, the 2002 season, and the overwhelming melancholy that comes with thoughts of better days gone by.

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I remember 2002.  At least, I remember most of it.

I remember 1999, the year I started at Iowa and the absolute low point of Iowa football in my lifetime.  I remember sarcastically chanting "Heisman" when punter Jason Baker took the field.  I remember not-so-sarcastically chanting "Take Dodge Out" (and I'm sorry about that, Tim).  I remember suffering through the home losses to Nebraska and Penn State and excruciating road pummelings by Michigan State and Wisconsin.  It was a time when Iowa football was completely eclipsed by Iowa basketball, when the new football coach nobody knew took a backseat to the Indiana golden boy we had never forgotten.  I remember finally conceding defeat when Iowa fell to Minnesota in the season finale, then truly seeing rock bottom when Western Michigan won in Kinnick the next season.

I remember 2001, when it felt like football might turn the corner.  I watched the Penn State game, cheered as Floyd of Rosedale finally came home, and screamed at a 6-point loss to Michigan on my 21st birthday.  I took what little money I had left at the end of the fall semester and jumped in a rented RV bound for San Antonio, scalped a ticket in the nosebleeds, snuck into the lower bowl of the Alamo Dome, and cheered as Nate Kaeding directed the band after a win over Texas Tech.  It was Kyle McCann quarterbacking that team, but it was a rarely-used change-of-pace backup that excited the masses.  It was then that we first saw Brad Banks, a junior college transfer who admittedly looked raw but was clearly the most athletic quarterback Iowa had fielded in recent memory.

When 2002 rolled around, we all expected something similar to the prior year.  There were questions at running back, wide receiver, and - yes - quarterback.  It started auspiciously enough, with a blowout win over Akron and nailbiter over Ben Roethlisberger's Miami Redhawks.  There was the first half against Iowa State, where Iowa went ahead 24-7 and I told a friend the Hawkeyes had played the best half of football I'd seen in four years.  The second-half meltdown, primarily the result of a pair of Banks fumbles, left me questioning life, faith, and fanhood (despite being the brunt of innumerable rage-induced rantings and beatings as a kid, my younger brother told me he'd never seen me as mad as I was that night).  I didn't watch the Utah State game.  I tried to do the same when Iowa played Penn State.  By halftime, I was back and, I soon found, a better fan.  Faith left unquestioned is not faith at all.

The Purdue game remains surreal.  The Dallas Clark 95-yard touchdown; the Considine blocked punt (one of many to come); the 40-yard scramble; the second Clark touchdown on 4th and goal, perfectly lofted into his hands by Banks as a defender wrapped his ankles up like a calf in a rodeo; the interception of Kirsch that sealed it.  I kissed the cute little redhead next to me at the Magic Bus.  I have no idea who she was.  It is, to this day, the greatest game I have ever seen.

There were blowouts of Michigan State and Indiana, as the defense gelled into a formidable unit and Bob Sanders began destroying everything in his path.  Those were sure wins before the ball was even kicked, but the October 26 game at Michigan was high noon.  Michigan entered, like Iowa, with only one loss.  I wanted to go.  I needed to go.  Yet I was trapped at a business conference in Chicago, so agonizingly close to the action but sequestered in a Marriott banquet hall.  I left the room so many times to "use the restroom" and get a quick update, the waiters stopped giving me water.

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It was only after that game that this felt like something special, that this was no longer a quest for a respectable third in the conference.  The rest of the schedule fell without a fight.  Wisconsin, which only three years prior had celebrated as Ron Dayne literally ran over our entire defense, could only muster a field goal in resistance.  Over the next week, the ESPN talking heads began pushing the Brad Banks Heisman candidacy.  When he exited the tunnel the next week, separated from The Swarm as only Senior Day allows, we chanted "Heisman" without a hint of sarcasm.  He was the greatest player we'd ever seen, if only because we'd seen so many bad ones.  He annihilated Northwestern that day, an otherwise inspired opponent reduced to sacrificial lamb.  Then came Minnesota, and the roses, and the trophy, and the goalposts.  That week, Iowa was the #3 team in the country, trailing only mighty Miami and Ohio State and completely convinced it could trounce either.

I paced around my attic apartment on bowl selection day, waiting for the announcement of what we hoped was a Rose Bowl berth.  Finally on the verge of a breakdown, I accepted a nosebleed ticket to an afternoon basketball game.  When the announcement came - Orange, not Rose - there were actual boos in the crowd.  It was both the most ridiculous moment in the history of Iowa fandom and a sign of just how big this thing had become.

He deserved that trophy - God damn it, I will be convinced of that fact until the day I die - and he would have had it, too, if it weren't for an unbelievable Thanksgiving prime-time trouncing of Notre Dame by Carson Palmer.  And when Iowa returned the opening kick, then folded up the tent, against Palmer's Trojans on New Year's Day, we were disappointed but not devastated.  We were sad, not just for the loss but for the fact that such a ride could end with such a crash.

The Big Ten Network occasionally replays that Purdue game, and I watch it every time.  I refrain from jumping up and down in my living room as Clark rumbles down the sideline, but I still find myself yelling, "Go, Go, GO, GO" as Banks makes that one Playstation-worthy cut and scrambles across midfield in the last few minutes of the game.  I still take a deep breath when the Hawks line up on 4th and goal.  I still have goosebumps when Clark catches that pass.  And, for the bundle of neuroses I become during virtually every Iowa football game, I have Brad Banks to thank.  He was the man who almost made me give it up, and the man who so gloriously brought me back.

I went to the season opener this weekend, and the athletic department has adorned the corners of Kinnick Stadium's facade with giant banners of recent stars.  The usual suspects were there: Sanders, Clark, Greenway, all players who gave Iowa multiple memorable seasons and went onto NFL stardom.  But on the northwest corner, hanging above the old student gate where I entered the stadium to watch him play, was Brad Banks.  Those who weren't there, who derive their Iowa history from the players they see on Sundays, might not even know who he is.  For those of us who were there, though, he's unforgettable.

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