[Bumped. Classic Bellanca. --OPS]
CEDAR FALLS, IA -- Sept. 28, 2009 -- The athletic world reacted with wonder, ill-disguised glee, and mild horror today at the late-night decision by the presidents of tUNI (the University of Northern Iowa) and tEIU (the Eastern Illinois University) to swap dates on October 10, 2009. Quel surprise: apparently it was all to do with money.
tUNI, scheduled to play North Dakota State on October 10, will switch partners under this arrangement with tEIU, booked into State College, PA, to play the recently disrobed Lions.
Coach Mark Farley was isolated en route to his Chevy half-ton at 11:30 p.m. last night, making notes to his iPhone, the substance of which we didn't catch but sounded like, " ... seven seconds? seven seconds? We let them score with seven seconds left in the game and blow the shutout?" He was a little wound up. tUNI has allowed a total of 14 points in three games (0, if you do the statistically cool thing of throwing out the high and the low) after losing on an NCAA-record two consecutive blocked field goals against Iowa. And half of the 14 came with seven seconds left against former tUNI head coach Terry Allen with seven seconds left.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to be outspoken. But Terry left, gonna be a big shot at Kansas, now he's going to get it. He shouldn't have gotten that touchdown with seven seconds left. What was your question?"
"Swapping opponents. Why in the world would you want to swap with tEIU, and get Penn State instead of North Dakota State?"
"Who told you we did that?"
"Uh, Coach, it's on the state-sponsored AP wire."
"I'm always quiet before I speak to the press. I don't have a lot of experience at that, actually. I live in Cedar Falls. I get up early, try to do a good job, go home, repeat cycle. No press in doing a good job. In this country, that is. Sorry, being philosophical. I didn't get an interview for the ISU job, and I woulda kicked their ass this year."
"Swapping Oct. 10 dates?"
[Silence. Mercury vapor lamps bathe the parking lot with ill-yellow light, the rancid colors of this or that import; worse, the reporter is standing there in Dockers and a sweater. The smell of cooked-off diesel, cut grass, and deep fat frying machines drifts through the night.]
"Did you see us play Iowa, in Iowa City?"
"'Yes, actually' ....' and what does the "actually" mean? Is that more post-modern bullshit like what I hear that idiot Cook writes, slavering over some bare facsimile of what we run in Cedar Falls -- only we have a quarterback big enough to run the zone read? Do you know what Iowa's line is going to do to Tater Forcier?"
"He's in deep shit, that kid. Both of his shoulders are going to be separated. They'll kill him. Get a stretcher. It's not even funny. Clayborn is as fast as that kid, and Binns will just clothesline him like he did to Powell last week. Klugg --"
"It's Klug. Like Kloog."
"Klugg is built like an NFL tight-end, anyone notice? Jesus, it's not fair."
"You think they will handle the Michigan spread-to-run-thingy."
"RichRod is running a stupid offense in an attrition conference, and I feel sorry for his kids. Of course, Rodriquez will keep throwing injured kids out there until it's over, because he's got, like, $7mm of real estate debt to pay off. He's from West Virginia, and it's a third world country. Go Blue. Brian will explain why this is all totally great."
"Ummm. October 10."
"Right. We have an alum, a mystery guy, seems to have made some money. He paid tEIU $500K to swap Oct. 10 dates with us, so we get to go to Happy Valley."
"Why would he do that?"
"Don't know. I think, he thinks, maybe, Penn State doesn't get it yet."
"We can play football too, and maybe better."
"They don't get it yet? Seven out of eight?"
"No. Evidently it's a fluke. Because they get the "five star" 17 year-olds. Can you believe that shit?"
"I'm a reporter, no opinion."
"I'm a coach. And a father. I'm more interested in what people do when they are 20 than when they are 17. I can't do anything with a 17 year-old. Do you know what the attention span of an athletic 17 year-old is? My kitchen table has a longer attention span."
At this point Farley, who had been pacing slowly, left and right, his eyes narrowed and his right hand reflexively reaching for the sandwich, the fork, the slice that he hadn't eaten yet at 11:30 p.m., stopped.
"Jesus, I'm hungry."
"It's midnight.""Look. I should've beaten Iowa. Everyone knows that. And it's not because we're lite. It's because ... I can't talk about it. Probably, it's my fault. It's because we didn't think we should. We didn't believe, ourselves, we were good enough. But we were. We were good enough. That was our game. UNI-SUI? SUI-PSU? Same game, on Saturday there in the rain. Only Kirk made his guys believe they were good enough to beat them. And then they beat them to a pulp. Frankly speaking, as a coach, they beat them so bad in the second half you had to flinch.
"And meanwhile, *I* have to read about how wonderful PSU is, how great DC17 is, how magical the Beaver Stadium is, how perfect the Pennsylvania football culture is. I don't think so. Iowa is a good team, sure. They beat us. No one else will, this year. And we shoulda beat Iowa. UNI is a good team. I can't wait to line up against that oh-so-superior O-line, or that D-line that had -- what? 4 assists?
"Meanwhile, all these guys diminish Iowa because they almost lost to us. So we're taking this game.
"I have a better quarterback than Joe Paterno. Daryll Clark? Pat Grace will be with an NFL team longer than Daryll Clark; wait, watch, see. I have a better O-line than Joe Paterno. I have a better offensive scheme than Joe Paterno, what with their Spread HD whatever the fuck that is, it doesn't work when they're under pressure, they don't have a single play that they can turn to. I have a better team than PSU. Their linebackers tackle great, their receivers catch the ball great ... what else? Anything? We're going. We don't throw it out there on the 50 and expect to win. We're going out there to play. We are the second team that plays team football that comes to State College -- and shuts them up."
Reached for comment, Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said, "No, actually, I don't want to play another team from that state, and especially one with a spread QB who isn't afraid of making a mistake. Unlike ours."
Galen Hall, PSU OC, said, "Didn't that Hodges dude's brother go to the NFL?"
Joe Paterno, accosted while he was berating a female driver on a local State College street, said, "They have more than one university in Iowa? That's very annoying!"
[Reporter and Coach walked in circles beneath the mercury vapor, hearing the buzzing and fall of the circling early autumn insects, their skidding, sneakered feet dragging across the chipped and distressed grit of the empty, lined parking lot. The early fall chill invaded the asphalt and a distant semi, loaded with early harvest beans hit the jake and slowed noisily to the four-way stop. (Note to self: very few PSU aficionados know what a jake is.) Reporter thinks: if I ask the wrong question, Coach will never speak with me again, and I'm a reporter in Iowa: If that happens I'll never work again. Go with the puffball.]
"What, it's midnight, I'm hungry."
"How're you getting there? Charter?"
Farley turned slowly in the mercury vapor mist. His eyes narrowed, his hands slowly sank into his microfiber coaching pants pockets.
"Yeah. Sure. We're going charter. A 757. Out of KALO."
"No. We're leaving Thursday morning in two buses and an equipment tractor trailer, from the field house. Then we'll be at the Comfort Inn and generating the largest Subway orders in State College history. And of course, the sports world will tremble."
"Tremble. Tremble at the majesty of Penn State, the wonder of their Big Win Over Akron, the brain-locking complexity of Spread HD (which no one can explain as a viable offense), the irrelevance of having better athletes on the line. As you can tell, I'm terrified."
"You're saying Penn State doesn't get it?"
"They don't get it. They still don't get it. We're going to play them before they *do* get it."
"Good luck, coach."
"Thank you. Take the over. Grace is going to make Stanzi look like he's playing Pony League."
Somewhere in Charleston, Illinois, Jake Christensen is saying,
"This isn't exactly fair. Exactly one Iowa player was recruited by PSU [Hunter -- he cleaned up -- ed.] and PSU had -6 yards in offense Q2. Meanwhile, my understudy is 12-3, and a couple of freshman from Lincoln and Heelan (i.e., DSM Lincoln, SUX Heelan, thank you) make ooh-ooh-ooh Royster look like a scout team guy who cannot hang on to the ball.
"So no, I would prefer to play them myself."