(Bumped again, naturally. -- Ross)
"And with that, I'd like to introduce the next football coach at the University of Iowa,
Bob Stoops Kirk Ferentz."
So said Iowa AD Bob Bowlsby back in the late fall of 1998, and if the internet hadn't been so green, it might've been set on fire with opinions: Who the fuck is Kirk Ferentz? was the most common meme. (1) Where the fuck is
our Lord and Savior ex-Hawkeye legend Bobby Stoops? was another. Did Bowlsby really want his old UNI-buddy Terry Allen? a third. Rumors were discharged everywhere, in the most graphic representation I've ever experienced of that famous aphorism about assholes and opinions: everyone had one, and they all seemed to stink. (2)
And then things really got wacky as frustration fed the rumor mill: Hard-ass and supreme motivator Dan Gable met with Stoops, and begged him to
assume accept the position. The Search Committee was contacted spontaneously (!) by Stoops, who wanted the job, but was told in no uncertain terms that the entire interview process had to be completed across multiple candidates, so he should cool his jets a while. Pissed off, Stoops immediately (or so it was said) took the Oklahoma job, becoming the leader not only of OU, but FU, too. Bowlsby promised the job to Allen, but rich alumni heard of the scheme, and threatened to pull all support for the athletic program if the UNI coach was hired. (3)
At no time during any of this had I heard the name Kirk Ferentz mentioned, not even once. Back in the eighties, when Kirk was here, he admittedly kept a low profile. There was no internet, no message boards, and little detailed coverage of coaches even in the newspapers. One knew of Hayden, and Brashier, and Snyder, but even then one might forget which one ran the offense and which the defense. But an o-line coach? Nada. Rien. Bupkiss! A coach like that was a cypher: present only on gameday as just another guy wearing an Iowa windbreaker, holding a clip-board.
"And with that, I'd like to introduce the next football coach at the University of Iowa, Kirk Ferentz."
A fit, late-thirties man walked up to the mic. He shakes Bowlsby's hand. I don't recognize him. In the preceding days, when the news first leaked, we'd learned a little about him: he had been on Ted Marchibroda's Ravens staff, basically second in command. He'd turned the Maine Bears around as a head coach at one time. Was a disciple as well of Bill Belichick, the
legendary failed coach of the Cleveland Browns. Was I pissed it wasn't Stoops walking up to the mic? The single hottest head coaching prospect in a decade? An ex-Iowa player with two ex-Iowa player brothers, whose father was buried in an Iowa jersey wearing a 1982 Rose Bowl ring?
Yep. And when Ferentz stepped up to the mic, that feeling lasted all of about ten seconds. Because when he opened his mouth and began speaking, it wasn't simply words that came out. It was
chewing-gum competence. He oozed an uber-competence that few men possess. The kind you see in military pilots and neurosurgeons. I called my wife into the room.
"Hey, get in here, listen to this guy! Damn, he's impressive." For the next half-hour, Ferentz expressed his coaching philosophy without even defining it aloud--it was his manner that told you what you needed to know: This guy runs a tight ship. He will hire men in his own image: uber-competent, serious. He is not a screamer. He is clinical, will cut through the bullshit with scalpel-like precision. He...is...impressive. (4)
After the press conference, I was jazzed. Some criticized him for not resigning from the Ravens and immediately taking the Iowa job. His reason? "I was hired to do a job, and I'm going to complete it. After the NFL season, the University of Iowa will have my undivided attention." Man but I respected that! To be willing to take crap from fans to stand up for a commitment he'd made told me reams: he has integrity. He isn't afraid to take a little heat. I wondered where he got that trait. In 2004, we'd find out.
That first season was rough. It began with a one-sided loss to Nebraska 42-7, followed by a one-sided loss to Iowa State, putting us not only in last place in the Big Ten, but also last in the Big 12, too. The first win came against Northern Illinois the next game, but it was a feeling someone should've told us not to get too used to, for it would be the last win of that year. (5)
Did Ferentz panic? Throw sideline fits? Fire assistants? Nope. The indicators weren't there to do any of those things. Marchibroda wouldn't have done them. Belichick wouldn't have done them. Ergo, Ferentz won't do them, either.
It had become apparent that the team didn't have enough talent to compete. Not only was the cupboard bare, but someone had stolen the cupboard and sold it to gypsies for a string of beads. (6) The 2000 season started in Hell, literally: Kansas St in Arrowhead Stadium, universally acknowledged as the hottest game in Iowa history (turf temperature over 110 degrees Fahrenheit). We lose. We play Western Michigan, a patsy, a confidence-boosting sure win, right?
Wrong, we lose. We play ISU...and lose. We lose big to Nebraska, and small to Indiana. But we lose. At this point, we are riding a thirteen game losing streak, the longest since 1974. There are some high points, such as the aggressive play of Demond "Bob" Sanders, a sophomore, two-star recruit from Pennsylvania, and the tough running of a junior from the Kansas City area, an uncomplaining guy named Ladell Betts.
But we lose. It's almost a mantra now: game today, we lose. Game today, we lose. Next up is Michigan State, #25 in the nation. We play Michigan State, we
lose win! We WIN! Aaron Kampmann intercepts a pass and blocks a kick, and...we...WIN! Wow, I'm not familiar with this "win" feeling but it feels....GOOD.
The next week: we get stomped by the Illini, 31-0. We lose to the Buckeyes in Kinnick by 28. But the confidence is there in the team, something about having beaten MSU and broken the streak. On November 4, 2000, we play at Penn State. Sanders plays well. Betts always plays hard. Kampmann plays tough. But it's an after-thought player who comes to the fore in that game, a local product and multi-sport Iowa City West star: Nate Kaeding. Kaeding, a rather shaky kicker until almost this very moment, boots three field goals, including one over fifty yards, that keep us in the game. It goes into OT. We kick a field goal, and go up 26-23. I'm almost waiting for the roof to cave in--this is Happy Valley! This is not a place where a team like Iowa (1-9 at the time), is going to eke out a win in OT.
Tell that to Ryan Hansen! He makes a tremendous catch of an errant Nittany Lion pass, and we get our second win of the year. (7) The team comes back to IC elated. A barrier has been crossed, broken, destroyed. The next week we face Big Ten-leading Northwestern. We have nothing to lose, so we don't. In a game that's not really as close as the score of 27-17 would indicate, we knock off the #12 Wildcats. To close out the season we drop a close one by three to the Gophers, but no matter: this team has ARRIVED. A bunch of no-names has become a force for the future.
In 2001, the Hawks pick up where they left off. They won't win every game, just a bare majority of them, as they finish the regular season 6-5. But if you watched the games, you saw something special: they competed. Every damn week. Every loss is by less than 10 points. A few plays here and there and this team goes 10-1. Easily. In the Alamo Bowl, despite star RB Ladell Betts being hurt, they beat a good Texas Tech team 19-16, behind stellar play from QB Kyle McCann, kicker Nate Kaeding, and RB Aaron Greving. (9)
The only question mark for 2002 is at QB. McCann, a solid if unspectacular player, is gone. His 2001 back-up, a Belle Glade, Florida rabbit-chaser named Brad Banks, showed promise in spot-duty the year before, running any of the five or six plays he knew at the time. Greving has left the team, and a
pint-sized half-pint-sized back named Fred Russell is slotted in his place, with a bruiser named Jermelle Lewis alongside.
The year starts as expected: big wins against Akron, and at Miami of Ohio where the
local authorities Iowa defense handcuffs star QB Ben Roethlisberger. ISU comes to a flood-lit twilight Kinnick, and quickly falls behind 24-7 at half, a victim of fleet-footed dervish Russell. Then, disaster. Brad Banks fumbles twice in the pocket, giving ISU an opening. Seneca Wallace plays the half of his life, running, passing, dodging, casting a spell upon the stunned Iowa crowd as ISU comes back to win 35-31. Heartbreaking! To be so close--so close, as we saw so many times the previous year.
This would be the last loss of the year 2002 for these Hawkeyes, but not the last close game. In Happy Valley, we are on the verge of running up the score and putting the Lions away, when Russell fumbles going across the goal line. Penn State passes its way back into the contest, and we go to OT. Everyone knows the rest: Iowa wins, and Joe Paterno sets a Senior forty-yard dash record chasing down the refs into the exit tunnell. (8)
But we win! Purdue comes to Kinnick, and the Hawks lay a big fat egg. Their defense stifles our offense, our defense can't stop their passing or running game. We seem destined to lose this one. But five plays, only five plays, save us from literally being blown out: Jermire Roberts recovers a blocked punt for a TD, Antwan Allen runs a blocked field goal for a score, Brad Banks scampers 44 yards in the 4th quarter to set up....a seven yard 4th down TD pass to Dallas Clark. But it's the fifth play that will forever live in Hawkeye lore.
Iowa is holding onto a tenuous three point lead with four minutes left in the third quarter, but it's clear that unless something changes, this game is likely to be a loss for the Hawks. Purdue downs a punt on the two. Cervantes runs for no gain. Russell gets out to the four and a half. Third down, three minutes left in the third quarter. I'm already resigned to giving up the ball, to Purdue getting great field position, to Purdue scoring and taking a four point lead going into the final quarter.
Thank God Dallas Clark wasn't listening. Banks goes back into the pocket. Clark releases from the left side of the line to his left. The pass is a little behind Clark, but in a gesture soon to become familiar to some guy named Peyton Manning, Dallas deftly spins 'round and plucks the ball from the air. Three Purdue defenders are in pursuit, but they've never come up against a tight end like Dallas before. Clark outraces two, jumps over the arms of a third, and as they say on a certain Sunday in Churchill Downs, Kentucky: "They're OFF!"
Or, as announcer Mike Jones said at the time, "Pass complete to Dallas Clark, still in-bounds and still on his feet and ON THE MOVE!"
From my seat at the twenty, Clark ran right past me, and it was clear to anyone free of legal blindness that he was going to run for quite a spell. The crowd rose as Clark sped down the turf, faster than any tight end any of us had ever seen. The field marks passed under his feet, and as an indication as to how fast he was rumbling, wide receiver Mo Brown was running behind him...yet never caught him.
Though it takes about ten seconds for a quick guy to make ninety yards in pads, it seemed like Clark ran for a mile that day, speeding off into the distance with the crowd urging, willing, begging him to reach the end zone ahead of the pursuit: GO! GO! GO! everyone cried as the sound built to a cacophonous crescendo which dissipated only after he'd crossed the goal line. (10)
That game was the last of the close ones, as the Hawks pulverized the competition, and placed an obscene number of players on All-Big Ten and All-American lists. The awards piled up: Banks won the O'Brien Award, Clark the Mackey, Kaeding the Groza. The O-line, once reviled as porous and weak, dominates the "All-" lists. Ferentz wins National Coach of the Year.
But no matter who plays Cinderella in a given year, midnight still comes and turns your coach into a pumpkin, and your footmen into mice. CJ Jones pulls a See-You-Later at the Orange Bowl, but untimely turnovers, atypically poor kicking, and a tired defense give up the contest to USC in the second half. People will rehash the ISU game for years, and wonder if we might've seen Iowa vs Miami in the Championship game if Banks hadn't dropped the ball going back in the pocket. Or if Ferentz had driven the team a little harder before the Orange Bowl, if maybe we hadn't been able to pull that one out, too. (11)
No matter. The Hawks were back, and the days of 13 game losing streaks were a distant memory. In 2003, the team goes 9-3 with losses only to MSU (in a winnable, frustrating game), Purdue, and Ohio State. Bob Sanders becomes a household name, and toxic substance to opponents. Fred Russell squirms and darts his way to another thousand yard season (1,355 yards to be exact). In the Outback Bowl, we gut the Gators in a dominating performance, 37-17. But somewhere, somehow, an ancient force is reawakened and waits...waits...waits for 2004 to begin.
That primal, evil force is called THE ANGRY IOWA RUNNING BACK HATING GOD. (12)
For 2004, fortunes looked pretty bright, but a feeling of "iffy-ness" could not be avoided. Quarterback Nate Chandler was gone, and a Texas gunslinger named Drew Tate was slated to take over. Fred Russell went pro, leaving Jermelle Lewis and a prized recruit named Albert Young to take over the running reigns (he'd sat out the prior year with a broken leg, and everyone anxiously awaited to see what he could do).
But we had underestimated the enmity of the AIRBHG! Lewis goes down with an ACL, ending a promising career. Young goes down. Even rural Iowa product Marcus Schnoor goes down, showing that the AIRBHG does not discriminate between stars and grunts. Marques Simmons goes down, albeit temporarily (is the AIRBHG losing its power? What, no ACL for Marques?). Finally satiated, he spares Sam Brownlee, who becomes the Featured Back in our offense, when we allow him to carry the ball (which we only do 94 times).
Instead, it's the Gunslinger who carries the team. Tate hits a diving full-extension Ed Hinkle in the end zone against Michigan; Tate spins away from a Badger, and hits a streaking Clinton Solomon with a near-miracle pitch-and-catch; Tate destroys Ohio State in a rare win against the 'Bucks, at 33-7. But the game we all remember (and maybe wish to forget, like Chinese Dissident wish to forget water-torture session), can be recalled by two numbers and a dash: 6-4.
Happy Valley, 2004, just a few days after the death of Kirk Ferentz's father. It's been an emotional week for Kirk. Not only has his father passed, but the game is in his home state, just a short distance from his hometown of Pittsburgh. His son, Brian, is at his side. He's up against Joe Paterno, the most respected coach in the nation. And the Hawks are hurting on offense: all those injured backs, the whole philosophy has had to change.
I watched the contest on TV, and I hardly remember a thing. I remember punts, a whole lotta' punts. I remember a couple of field goals. I remember a gray sky, a subdued crowd, and a lot of runs for no gain. But most of all, I remember the infamous Lydell Mitchell Interview, otherwise known as "The Interview That Never Ends."
Look, I love Lydell Mitchell. I'm a life-long Colts fan, and as a kid, he was my favorite Colt along with Bert Jones. And I understand that this game is a pebbly and uncomfortable piece of shit, entertainment-wise. There's no offense. There's no scoring. There's not even accidental scoring, like with blocked punts or pick-sixes. So, to liven it up, the sideline reporter starts talking to Lydell. An entire series passes. Lydell keeps talking. A punt. Lydell is talking. The interviewers asks another question. Now it's third down. Lydell keeps talking. Another punt. Talking....talking....talking.
Finally! A commercial break! They come back from the commercial: Oh no! You've got to be fucking kidding me! They cut to the sideline and the reporter is STILL interviewing Mitchell! The interviews lasts through another series before the Producer wakes up and pulls the plug. The game grinds to a close. Iowa is deep in its own territory, leading 6-2 after a double by Tate drives in two runs. Do we punt? Nope. We take the safety now famously known as the "Fuck You Safety," safe and warm in the knowledge that when Penn State gets the ball after the free kick, they can't possibly do shit with it.
Which happens. Penn State does their best impersonation of a kitten playing with a ball of string with the football, and we win, 6-4. Ferentz hugs his son on the sidelines, and weeps. My wife cries watching the scene on TV. I have to sneak away to get a tissue for myself, and choke back a couple of gasps on the way. This is a seminal moment for Ferentz. Until this moment--and this is just supposition on my part, but I think it's true--Ferentz has always considered himself a likely-someday NFL coach. He's endlessly mentioned for pro jobs (often to the anger of the fans, and detriment of the program) and never fully dismisses the rumors of them.
But no more. Kirk has beaten Joe Pa in Happy Valley, just days after his father has passed. His son is at his side. His players are at his side, and many of them tear-up, too. Right then and there, I think Kirk understands: there is more to life than simply winning football games. More to life than striving to be the winning coach of the Super Bowl. Remember what I said about him not quitting the Ravens early? That comes from his father. It's in him, too. The integrity, that inner voice that says, "This is what's right. You do what's right, son."
He knows that staying at Iowa is what's "right." For him, for his family, for his players. NFL coaches come and go, but Ferentz--using Paterno as the prototypical example--sees that Iowa is "right" for him, a place where he can coach and grow old with pride, then leave a legend, like Paterno. Notice how the serious NFL talk basically died after the 2004 season? I don't think that's a coincidence. I'd be shocked if Kirk ever left Iowa to coach elsewhere. Maybe he'd leave it, a la Tony Dungy, if it ceased to be rewarding on a personal level. But I think he's here for the long haul, the coaching-legend haul. That, to me, is the legacy of the 6-4 game.
That, and the fact that I become uncontrollably catatonic now at the start of sideline interviews. (13)
Iowa wins a share of the Big Ten title that year, with a convincing cold, home win against Wisconsin. Kirk cries in the post-game interview, and when accepting the trophy over the Kinnick PA. My wife cries. I surreptitiously dig a napkin out of my pocket since I seem to have gotten something in my eyes, like sand or grit.....man, my eyes are bugging me right now....We win the Capital One bowl on a combination of piss-poor clock management, busted LSU defensive back coverage, and a fantastic clock-expiring pass by Drew Tate to Warren Holloway, in a miracle play that, given the season to date, seems a little less miraculous and a little more par for the course. When things are going your way, they will find a way to go your way. (14)
In 2005, we have a decent year, but some of the charm is gone. In the first of the "-out" games, a black-out against Michigan, we arguably get
fucked jobbed by the officials, and lose a heartbreaker, when a missed block on a shovel-pass allows the Wolverine defense to stop Albert Young short of the goal line. We follow that up by blowing a marmoset fourth quarter 14 point lead against Northwestern. We limp into the Outback Bowl, where a team of unsatisfied marmosets masquerading as officials allegedly abso-fucking-lutely give the game to Florida with a collection of the worst blown and ignored and made-up calls in a football contest since never. Just to show you how biased and made-up that opinion is, the Conference USA officials doing that game are disciplined, and a rule is formulated so only BCS conference officials now referee bowl games involving BCS conference teams. So suck it, any lurking Gator fans! We got ripped-off and you know it. (15)
In 2006, Drew Tate may or may not have entered a hay-bale throwing contest and injured himself, but he is injured, and the passing game suffers. Tate becomes frustrated with teammates, foremost among them Poor Herb Grigsby, who is called out on national TV by Tate after a drop. By the end of the season, Tate is still hurting, and the team's chemistry is acidic. We lose at Minny in one of the worst efforts I've ever witnessed in the Ferentz era. We get a sympathy
fuck invite to the Alamo Bowl, mainly because our fans will travel anywhere to watch the Hawks, no matter how terrible they are playing at the time. (16)
The game, though, is a revelation. Tate is healthy for the first time since Solon Beef Days, and looks it. Andy Brodell shows he's the fastest
white man on the field, and outruns a speedy Texas secondary on a long, long swing pass for a TD. We go up 21-7 on a second quarter TD and...WAIT! Apparently there's a rule about how many men you can have on the LOS, and eligible receivers, and how Scott Chandler got "covered up" before he caught the pass, and oh shit.
Near the end, with Tate still throwing like a possessed (though uncannily accurate) demon, we run an ill-advised reverse pass abomination that blows up in our faces and we lose. It raises a big "what might've been," as in, what if the coaches had given Tate enough time to truly heal from his wounds? Sucked to be Drew, back in '06, that's for sure.
When Tate left, it was the end of an era, for he was the first three-year starting QB for the Hawks since Chuck Hartlieb in the eighties. Next was the first coming of JC, a four-star duel-threat QB from Chicagoland. Alas, JC couldn't manufacture miracles outside of a practice field, and we end 2007 with a shoddy 6-6 record, despite having a solid core of running backs in Albert Young and Damien Sims. The less said about ought-seven, the better.
In 2008, we are hopeful but cautious: Young and Sims are gone. A furniture mover named Shonn Greene returns. Once an RB, then a safety, then an RB again, then a furniture mover, and then an RB again, Greene was always a great prospect, but could never break the Young-Sims running back dynasty. The man with the strangest juxtaposition of ethnic names ever, a Cedar Rapidian named Paki O'Meara, starts the season at RB, as Greene gets in game-shape.
JC starts at QB. Fans are getting restless with this Chicagoland product, and son of NFL quarterback Jeff Christensen. (17) For one thing, it appears that maybe he's not a "gamer." Word is that he hits everything in practice, but in games it's only the gophers that have to duck when the ball leaves his hand. Or low-flying planes. Behind him is a tall, skinny, elfin-looking kid named Ricky Stanzi. Each gets a chance to show what he's got.
I'm not blind. I don't even wear glasses. I've seen a few football games in my time, and know what a good quarterback looks like. So when JC takes the field, I see it when he throws a 100 mph screen pass, or digs a divet throwing a slant to a receiver. Stanzi comes in. He looks a little hesitant, but he's accurate. He locks in on people sometimes, but he throws a beautiful deep ball. Hmmm.... (18)
We're at Pitt. We're hanging in there. JC is having a tough game--he's something like 2/10 in the first half. But Stanzi, he's looking good. He's something like 7/10 in the first half. Most importantly, we're still IN THE GAME. Pitt isn't a bad team at all, they're going to go to a bowl. Greene looks good, but his stamina has to be in question. Halftime ends. Out trots the team. I can't wait to see what Stanzi can do.
Only it ain't Stanzi that goes to the huddle. It's The Other Guy. We lose the game, as JC is ineffective. This also provides an important moment, one between the fans and Captain Kirk: it's the first time that a lot of us, perhaps even a majority of us, question his judgment. It's been done before, on a smaller scale, like McCann vs Banks, or Anyone vs Grigsby (or, before we knew better, JC vs Tate). But this is different. Fans are PISSED. Why the hell would you play a guy whose completing passes at a 30% clip over a guy completing them at a 70% clip?
Kirk's answer is unsatisfactory to many: "Jake seemed to have a better grasp of the game."
It's at this point, that some people want to go all Bill Clinton and ask Kirk to define the words "seemed," "have," "better," "grasp," and "of." Because none of us watching that day could understand any of the words in the context Kirk meant to use them. Things degenerate from there. Ferentz stands firm, but begins getting testy in interviews. A sort of "bunker mentality" starts to take effect: the more people ask about JC and Stanzi, the more defensive and "dug-in" seems Ferentz's position. (19)
Finally, the breaking point: rumor has it that KOK (of all people!) has forced the Stanzi issue, and convinces Ferentz to bench JC. The results speak for themselves. Against Wisconsin, Stanzi performs well, and Greene rumbles for over 200 yards in a beat-down of a good team. Against Purdue, the same: Greene dominates, Stanzi directs the offense, and though we let them back in the game late, we come away with the win.
All of that pales when compared to the Penn State game. Almost as epic as the 1985 #1 vs #2 game, it featured a spunky Iowa squad with a new QB and ex-furniture-moving RB against the "Spread HD" attack, a four-pronged attack that could pass, run, scramble, or "Wildcat" its way to victory. Which it had done, impressively, to that point. In fact, sitting at #3 in the nation, it was almost assumed that the Nittany Lions would end up in the NC game one way or another.
The game started good for the Hawks. PSU fumbles inside its five and the ball rolls into the end zone, and....well, here's where I got confused. There were three ways to call this: Iowa touchdown in the end zone, Penn State safety in the end zone, or Penn State ball on the 1. (20)
Guess which one got picked! Penn St punts from the 1, we get the ball in their territory, and slam bang next thing is Shonn Greene in the end zone. PSU then dominates the rests of the half, and takes the lead. Or did they? They got a lot of yards, but didn't come away with TD's. We're hanging in there...and sometimes that's all it takes.
Second half. Something has happened to the Spread HD. Penn St starts having trouble moving the ball consistently. But now WE'RE moving it, behind the legs of Greene and the arm of Stanzi. Worse for Penn St, we're trying to give the game away--but they're not taking it! We fumble a snap, they get the ball. We rough the kicker, they get the ball.
But like an opened box of Cracker Jack, they can't put us away. We claw back to make it 23-21 when Tyler Sash intercepts a Daryl Clark pass and we get the ball. There's under four minutes left, and Stanzi has the ball on our own 29. Stanzi! The elfin-goofball from Mentor, who nobody knew anything about before the season, who now has the fate perhaps of the entire Division 1 Championship in his inexperienced hands.
First play: a sack. Second play: a dropped pass by Greene that was going nowhere anyway. Third play: Stanzi rolls out, chased by a defender. He throws, the ball is sailing toward
Troy Terry Trey Stross, he starts to leap to catch it but is bumped over the top by a defender. Pass interference! First down Iowa, a little over their own 40.
Greene runs for five. Stanzi passes to Myers for five near midfield (and I mean that pass was for EXACTLY five yards, not one inch less), for the first down. Two minutes left. Incomplete pass to Myers. The pressure is building: it's a cold day, the students are wearing their green "Greene-out" shirts, everyone's waiting for the inevitable errant pass, or fumble, or whatever it will take to break our hearts.
Second down. 1:43 left. Greene drops another short pass, but this one wasn't going anywhere, either. Third and ten. Pass to Myers--complete! Again, exactly what we need for the first. 1:33 left. The ball is marked, the clock is started: 1:32, 1:31, 1:30....the ball is snapped under 1:20, Stanzi is chased, throws it away. We're at the Nittany Lion 40, not close enough, but almost. Mossbrucker is warming up on the sidelines, could be called in, in just another play or two.
Complete! Beautiful sideline throw to DJK at the 29, as Koulianos plants his feet just in the green and falls out of bounds. 1:01 left. The tension rises another notch: borderline field goal range. Greene up the middle for two, ball at the 27, Mossbrucker, #8, is kicking balls into the net. Another Greene run, but just two more to show for it. Ball on the 26, so take it seven back, add ten more--would be a 43 yarder.
Not close enough. Not on this day. Third and 6. We need some yards. Well under a minute left to play now.
Stanzi rolls left, throws across his body. The ball sails right to DJK on the sideline, who nimbly steps out at the 15. NOW we're talkin'! Steady, steady, don't blow it, only 18 seconds left. Set up the kick, put it in the middle of the field. Greene takes the hand-off, for some reasons jumps LEFT, away from the center of the field, and is tackled for a loss of one
Oops. Again to Greene, who runs the right direction this time--only a little TOO far, he's only a few feet now from the right hash. No matter: this is IT. Out trots
Mossbrucker Murray to attempt the most important Iowa field goal in 23 years. Wait, MURRAY? The guy who hasn't kicked in weeks, who lost the job to Mossbrucker? (21)
No time to reflect on the whys and wherefores, there's a kick to make, and a game to win. I stand with my hands nervously running across my face, looking back and forth between the field and the scoreboard. Is it really going to come down to this? Are we really going to beat the undefeated Nittany Lions this day? Oh God, I say to myself, don't miss the kick! Don't lose it this way! Please please please please please....
The snap and hold are good, Murray's kick is deflected by the wind but more truly than falsely, and it sails through the uprights. YES! Kinnick explodes, the fans run out on the field, the band plays, the time reads 0:00.
If only! Apparently unaware of the rules of football, over-zealous Iowa fans run out on the field with a second left, and incur a penalty. No matter: this is Iowa's day, and the kick-off from the fifteen strikes a PSU player, we recover, and Daniel Murray will never have to pay for another beer in the state of Iowa (as they said about Houghtlin in '85). On the other hand, good luck being served one in central Pennsylvania!
Stanzi has come into his own. With Manning-like poise, he has defeated the #3 team in the land on a drive for the ages. Iowa polishes off an unexpectedly satisfying season with another Outback Bowl trophy and a Doak Walker award for Shonn Greene. The rancor after the Pitt game is forgotten (for now). All is well.
Greene goes to the pros, and who could blame him? But most come back, most importantly Stanzi and his tight end and receivers. JC, his dream at Iowa dying like one of his out-passes, transfers to his father's alma mater, Eastern Illinois. Iowa led, admittedly, a charmed life in latter 2008, but the charm continues into 2009: behind the man now dually-christened "Good Stanzi" or "Bad Stanzi," (depending on the jersey color of the person catching his passes), they rattle off nine straight wins, all of them save ISU close ones. Some require blocking two field goal attempts at the end of the game to win. Others yet another long miracle drive by our beloved #12 (SEVEN got SIX!). But no charm lasts forever, and Stanzi is injured against NW at home. An ineffective James Vandenberg subs in, a 50 yard Wegher run is ridiculously negated by a phantom holding call, and our dream dies in the turf, like a Gopher hit by a Jake C. screen pass. The next week Vandy impresses, but we fall short in OT to the Buckeyes, and we do not win the Big Ten.
We do, however, win the Orange Bowl: with defense, an amazing defensive performance against a triple-option team, and enough offense from Stanzi and Wegher to ice the win. Huge, impressive banners are raised on the corners of Kinnick. Backs are slapped, drinks are drunk, and the next season awaits.
The season of 2010. I'd like to hash and re-hash our current season, but like any good historian, you know that you need a little...distance from the events to gain a proper perspective. With our recent close losses, with some of the criticism--some warranted, much unwarranted--too much heat has been generated for me to comfortably touch upon the past few months.
But I will say this in closing: college football is a monster. Television contracts are huge, and lucrative. Coaching salaries are through the roof, and into the stratosphere. Players are bigger, faster, stronger, and in some ways more dangerous to each other on the gridiron than ever. I worry about their health, and not just week to week, but ten, twenty years from now. Tickets are expensive as hell, and the competition to get them is stiff, and pricey. The games are more exciting than ever, the pageantry impressive (Jumbotron replays! Zombie Nation! I-O-W-A! Back in Black! Enter Sandman! The hits! The catches! TOUCHDOWN IOWA!) Fifty games are televised every week, a bunch in crystal-clear HD, available on nine-foot screens in your very own home! But one image this past weekend stuck with me, and this is the one we must always remember:
When DJK walked up to his parents, to the people who saved him from perhaps a life of crime and degradation, he was crying like a child. For that's what he was at that moment: a child, the child of Dr. and Mrs. Koulianos, and nothing more. He wasn't #15, he wasn't the record holder of Iowa's major receiving records, nor the guy with the big personality and media ban. He was just a kid, like any kid, amongst people who love him, in a place that he loves, weeping in thanks and joy as his parents held him tight in their arms, in what was probably the most meaningful moment of his life.
THAT'S who these kids are, and that's what's important. The game has gotten big, many say too big, but when it comes down to it, to distilling the essence of college football, it's still about the kids, competing in a sport they love--and we are merely spectators.
God bless 'em! And thank you. (22)
UNHAPPY ADDENDUM: So DJK's gotten in trouble, and it looks to be drug-related. He's off the team. He's out of the bowl picture. Does this change my mind about his last day at Kinnick? Honestly, I don't know. Maybe he cried because he felt ashamed, knew he was walking a razor's edge. Maybe he cried for the reasons I postulated all along. If there's one thing I've now learned about DJK it's this: only HE knows what he's thinking at any given moment. All I'm doing is guessing. But I will say this: I hope, that at least once, he cried at home about what he's done to the players and fans of the Iowa Football team.
(1) Meme. How many memes could a meme-chuck meme, if a meme-chuck could chuck memes?
(2) Yes, yours does, too. Sorry to break it to you.
(3) I have heard of all of those rumors, and they are still growing, over a decade later. People still wonder if Stoops will ever land here! It's almost an obsession with some of them, like the fact that we didn't really land on the moon.
(4) I remember a young Brian Ferentz being at the press conference, along with the rest of the Ferentz family. A reporter joked, "When is the big one going to Iowa?" and everyone laughed. Now it's almost a legacy, a Ferentz at center for the Hawks.
(5) I still went to the games, but as we had little babies at the time, my wife couldn't usually go. And let me tell you--finding someone to go with, even though we let them use our spare ticket for free, wasn't easy! Yes, I could not even get someone to go with me for FREE. Actually, I don't know if this says more about the caliber of Iowa Football, or something about ME at the time. And no, you don't have to answer that.
(6) Not the kind of beads you're thinking of. Get your mind out of the gutter, son!
(7) I recall that Hansen's pick was a full-out diving grab that really impressed me. I also recall that if he hadn't made it, I am sure we would have lost.
(8) What many Nittany Lion fans forget, when they complain about the refs that day, is the fumble return for a TD we got on a strip-sack that was lost because the refs called the play prematurely dead. If that call stands, the game almost certainly remains a blow-out.
(9) Greving, an Ames product, was slated to be the starter in 2002, only he had tired of the game and quit. To someone's embarrassment, it was Greving's jersey that had been selected to be the featured one sold in 2002! I doubt they sold many. A lot of things happened back then that affected 2002: Greving leaves, and Fred Russell takes over. QB Jon Beutjer argues over the cable bill, and gets punched so hard by Sam Aiello that he lands in Champagne-Urbana, Illinois. But what if Beutjer had stayed--could HE have been the QB in 2002 to lead the team to the Big Ten title? Discuss amongst yourselves.
(10) This was one of the loudest moments I've ever heard in Kinnick, on par with the Sash-Hyde pick-six return this year. Lasted about as long, too. If you were there, you'll never forget it.
(11) After the USC Orange Bowl loss, I heard that Ferentz became much more serious in his bowl prep. Oddly, people remember this game as a lot more one-sided than it really was. Iowa led at the end of the first quarter, 10-7, and it was tied at half, 10-10. We should've been up at least 14-7 at half, and looked good in the second half until Jermelle Lewis coughed up the ball on a nice run at about midfield. It was all downhill from there: the defense tired, USC scored 14 in the 3rd quarter, and that was that. But for the majority of the game, we were not only competitive, we should probably have been ahead.
(12) The infamous BHGP-originated "AIRBHG" continues to visit the Hawks, as recently as this past week in the OSU game, to Adam Robinson's confusion and dismay.
(13) Why these horrible, awkward, never-interesting interviews persist is beyond my comprehension. Maybe that super-computer that can beat any human in chess can figure it out, but I cannot. I do not want to hear what Lydell Mitchell has to say. I do not want to hear what Tom Arnold has to say. I do not want to hear what Greg Odin has to say. I WANT TO WATCH THE FUCKING GAME.
(14) My favorite parts about the Cap One Miracle Pass are these: without our terrible clock management, LSU probably calls the right defense and we don't have an open WR. Everyone remembers who caught the final pass, Warren Holloway (his only TD as a Hawkeye!), but who caught the pass the play before, that helped set-up the final pass? Answer: WARREN HOLLOWAY. Bet you didn't remember THAT, homeboy!
(15) The footage is on YouTube for the world to see. There's an interesting rumor about ESPN and that game, but I won't repeat it here. But knowing ESPN and the power of $$$ and how the world works these days, it's not entirely impossible or unbelievable.
(16) One bright spot of the 2006 season was the ESPN Gameday appearance for the Ohio State game. Thousands of Hawk fans showed up to show support, in what was probably the largest Gameday crowd to date. The game atmosphere was absolutely electric, almost as much as the #1 vs #2 game, though the game itself did not meet expectations (we lost, handily). Still, it provided me with my one Hawk fan claim to fame: the "Troy Smith Likes Unicorns" banner was my idea, via a "Gameday Sign Ideas" thread on the Hawkeye Report football board. To quote the great Carl Spackler: "So, I've got THAT going for me."
(17) Someone once did a devastating debunking of the Jeff Christensen as NFL QB myth: the guy hardly EVER played. He was the back-up to a back-up, though from hearing him talk, you got the idea that he saw the field all the time. Nope. Hardly EVER.
(18) Don't know what happened this year, but up through last year Stanzi threw a great deep ball. Think of the Moeaki end zone catch against Wisky last year--a PERFECTLY thrown ball. This season, not so much. I don't know what happened, but his deep balls are not the same.
(19) I'm sorry, but I have to be honest here: at the time, I really thought what Kirk said about the Pitt QB situation damaged his credibility with the fans. In the end it got straightened out, but the damage was done, and remains: some people will never forget that in that game KF thought JC had the "better grasp" of the game.
(20) This was a complete horse-shit call. No way did Daryl Clark obtain possession on the 1 yard line. I've watched this play a dozen times, and in EVERY viewing, that ball is recovered in the end zone. I recall that it was even reviewed, and the call stood. HORSE-SHIT!
(21) The call of Murray over Mossbrucker remains one of the great "gut-check" moments in Iowa football history. Mossbrucker had been the man for quite a few weeks, had only missed a couple of field goals. But Kirk thought he looked "nervous" (or so I was told) and he put in Murray. The rest is soccer-slide history.
(22) Thanks for "showing interest," something I wondered about, way, way back in the first installment. In case anyone's counting (and I am), by the time you are done reading this you will have read 29,100 words, or about one third of a novel! And you know what? I had a blast writing every one of them. GO HAWKS!