Kirk's Works: Counting Down the Top 25 Wins of the Ferentz Era: Number 23


There is no footage of the 1999 game, so enjoy watching Brian Kinchen's
TV career come to an end during 2006 Iowa-NIU instead

THE DATE: September 18, 1999

THE OPPONENT: Northern Illinois

THE SCORE: Iowa 24, Northern Illinois 0

WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? Ferentz's predecessors didn't do him too many favors in his first season at Iowa. Not Hayden Fry, who left the cupboard as bare as he had found it twenty years prior. Not Bob Bowlsby, who scheduled Nebraska as an opener (and this was 90's Nebraska, not the steaming pile of mediocrity we know today). Not the Big Ten, which had Michigan at the height of its MANBALL power, Ron Dayne running wild in Camp Randall, and a Penn State defense featuring Courtney Brown, Levar Arrington, and Brandon Short (four Big Ten teams won 10 games that season, which is borderline impossible). We didn't know it at the time, but Northern Illinois was the best chance Iowa had of winning a game in 1999. And, after a first half where they managed just a field goal, even that wasn't certain.

Enter Bigwords.com

Bigwords.com was (and, apparently, still is) a textbook seller/exchange just getting started in the nascent days of e-commerce. They had hired comedian/MTV talk show host Tom Green as their spokesman, put him in a banana suit, and had him annoy people during its commercials. Everyone liked bigwords.com in 1999, and bigwords liked them back by giving out free stuff all the time. They gave out refrigerator magnets on the Pentacrest during orientation/moving week. They gave out pens near the IMU during supply shopping week. And they gave out little yellow bouncy balls right outside the student entrance to Kinnick (then the northern 3-4 sections of the west stands) in the two hours before Iowa played Northern Illinois in a 5:00 p.m. kickoff. Two weeks before this, the students had used the paper fans provided on their seats as razor-sharp frisbees, and yet nobody thought it was a horrible idea to give them actual ready-to-use projectiles.

The bouncy balls began flying in the middle of the first quarter, as Iowa's offense sputtered and NIU looked surprisingly overwhelmed by the Hawkeye defense. Nearly every flag (especially if it came from the line judge on the student section side of the field) was met with a barrage of similarly yellow rubber stones. By the end of the first half, with the students bored and hung over, the refereeing crew had one zebra dedicated to keeping the bigwords balls off the field. It was ugly.

Iowa scored a touchdown early in the third quarter, leading to another spontaneous chucking of yellow balls. And, when Levar Woods picked up a blocked Husky field goal attempt and rumbled 87 yards for a clinching touchdown (a Kinnick Stadium blocked field goal record that still stands today), every bouncy ball still in possession of someone entered the field of play:

(Dramatic reenactment)

So Kirk Ferentz got his first win. It would be over a year before he got his second.

HEROES: Let's start with Levar Woods, now linebackers coach at Iowa, who picked up that blocked field goal and followed his blockers to paydirt like a seasoned halfback. And there was this Norm Parker guy who engineered a shutout of a team that had put 31 on Vanderbilt the week before and would eventually go 5-3 in the MAC. I suppose you could put Tom Green in there, too, depending on whether you thought giving students projectiles was positive for Iowa's chances. Regardless, "Lonely Swedish" was pretty funny.

IMPORTANCE: Three cheers for Kirk Ferentz, debutante victor. It otherwise won't be brought up in this series, but when you're an unknown coach who doesn't exactly have a ton of charisma, starting your career 2-18 with losses to Iowa State, Western Michigan, and Indiana, can make your seat hot pretty quickly. If Iowa had gone winless in 1999, Ferentz seriously might not have gotten to 2001 and turned this thing around.

PERSONAL MEMORIES: I was in the fifth row of the student section, right at the pylon where Woods dove. It was the second home game of Ferentz's tenure (they had gone to Ames the previous week), and because the opener had been dedicated to eulogizing Hayden Fry's career, the athletic department had cast the game as a "turn the page" sort of thing. The game program cover had a commissioned drawing of Kirk Ferentz that actually looked like Norm MacDonald. Obviously, that meant that every no-name substitute had to be -- you guessed it -- Frank Stallone. We laughed through the pain a lot that season, because there wasn't much else to do. That's what I remember.

Well, that and taking about 14 rubber balls in the dome during the first half.

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