I should probably start this letter by telling you that I am a big fan of the Iowa Hawkeyes. I started getting season tickets and going to almost all of the games at Kinnick at roughly the same time that Kirk Ferentz took over as the Head Hawk. This means that, like many Hawkeye players and fans, I witnessed some of the rough times of the Hawkeyes, but also many of the greatest times.
But then, a generation of Hawkeye players came along. That generation included an undersized kid from Erie, PA. These guys made improvements each year, and before you knew it, I was sitting in the Alamodome watching you guys win a close bowl game against a moderately-respectable Texas Tech team. And then, the 2002 season showed the brilliance of the Hawkeyes. You guys disemboweled nearly every team on the schedule that was not led by Seneca Wallace or Carson Palmer. It was fun to go to Miami and watch you guys compete at highest levels of NCAA football. It was even more fun to watch you guys go 8-0 in the Big Ten, watch you be able to stop to smell the roses, and watch you actually bring a little life to that concrete catacomb that is the Metrodome. Kinnick Stadium was rocking, life was good, and you were the man.
Unfortunately, that nice 2001 season and that great 2002 season gave us all a glimpse of a slightly rocky future. It was in those seasons that you missed some games due to injury. I suppose it was unreasonable to expect you not to get nicked up, because you played with reckless abandon. You put it all on the line with every hit, every pass breakup, and every big play.
In 2003, we were all hoping that you would finish your Hawkeye career with a flourish, with 10+ tackles per game, and the big plays that we had grown accustomed to seeing you make. It seems like every football-related publication in America was touting you as a sure-fire, first team All-American. And you didn't really disappoint. You captured several awards, and even helped the team beat Florida in the Outback Bowl. But a foot injury forced you to have surgery and miss some games, and an injury even robbed you of the chance to kick a few more butts in the Senior Bowl.
Like your Iowa career, you stepped in and made a big impact in Indianapolis. You joined fellow Hawkeye Dallas Clark, and made sure that I had to buy a Colts shirt (despite the fact that I'm a 49er fan). You showed promise in your rookie year, and followed that up with an All-Pro sophomore NFL season. In your third year, 2006, you missed much of the regular season due to injury, but you made up for it with a great playoffs and, in February, you were holding the Lombardi Trophy. I put a picture of you doing so as my avatar on BHGP, but I had to change it a year later when I realized that I had copied another of your many fans. But, I love any photo of you on the football field, so I found a pic of you in a Hawkeye uniform.
You had your best season in terms of statistics in 2007. But, since then, it has been a mix of injuries. By coincidence, the Colts have also not won another Super Bowl in that time. People like to give Peyton Manning the credit for so much of the recent success of the Colts, but sometimes, I wonder who is more important and exciting: an excellent quarterback who audibles into great passing plays, or the little guy that every opposing offense has to account for because he hits like a Mack truck going downhill?
So, I guess this is what I'm asking myself: are we witnessing the sad sunset of a brilliant day, or are we just going through a week of rain? While I've always been a staunch critic of steroid and HGH usage, I sometimes find myself quietly hoping that Sly Stallone sends you the credentials of his Australian "medical professionals." It hurts my heart (and its cholesterol-filled chambers) to see you play a few games, and then have to go back to the doctor and the bench.
You've achieved a lot, Bob. You are my favorite Hawkeye. You have more NCAA football glory than 95% of the guys who have played. You have a Super Bowl ring, a couple of Pro Bowl appearances, and an NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award. You can spend the rest of your life on a beach, and while you soak up the sun, you will know that you once were one of the greatest players in the greatest football league on earth. And, it would be pretty cool to someday see you on the Iowa sideline, see you following the traditions of Norm Parker, and see you inspiring the younger Hawkeyes to go out on that field and light somebody up.
If you do retire, I'll be sad to see you go. I probably won't cry, but I'll be a puddle of tears on the inside. Your career has brought me a lot of joy, and I'll never be able to thank you enough. God bless you, Bob Sanders. Let me leave you with a quote from an old war movie that, I think, sums up your career in a more poetic way than I could ever hope to do:
"For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph - a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting." -- Patton