THE DATE: October 5, 2002
THE OPPONENT: Our most hated rival
THE SCORE: Iowa 31, Purdue 28
WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? The best football game that I've ever seen.
At this point in the 2002 season, we didn't really yet know what we had with this team. All we knew was that Iowa had played its best half of football in four years against Iowa State and still managed to lose, then bested that in the first three quarters at Penn State and again collapsed before winning in overtime. At the start of October, the Hawkeyes were unranked by the coaches (they were 24th in the AP) and relatively unheralded.
Enter Purdue, 3-2 on the season with Kyle Orton at quarterback. They were much better than their record indicated; during the Big Ten Network retrospective of this game, then-Boilermaker defensive coordinator Brock Spack claims Purdue was first in the conference in both total offense and total defense in 2002. And they were at Kinnick.
The game played out like a textbook for Ferentzball in the 2002-2004 run. Purdue completely dominated the first half of the game; after a first quarter field goal from Nate Kaeding gave Iowa the lead, the Boilermakers scored two unanswered touchdowns and set up for a chip-shot field goal that would give them a two-touchdown lead at the half.
Enter Bob Sanders.
Sanders blocked the field goal, Antwaan Allen picked it up, and nobody was going to stop him. Instead of going to the half down two touchdowns with the offense in tatters, Iowa drew within four points. Kirk Ferentz was fired up. Joe Tiller was trying to figure out who fucked with his iPod Nano. Game on.
Purdue opened the second half with a three and out (Kyle Orton was knocked out of the game on third down) and prepared to punt the ball back to Iowa. Sean Considine, come on down.
Purdue had completely dominated the game to that moment. Iowa had gained just nine yards of offense in its last three series of the first half, while the Boilermakers had driven up and down the field. And yet, through two blocks, Iowa had taken a 3-point lead.
The teams traded drives for the next eight minutes. With just over 4:00 left in the third quarter, Purdue pinned Iowa deep in its own territory. Iowa ran two dives into the line to get some space. On third and seven, Banks looked for Dallas Clark on a quick out, just trying to pick up the first down. Clark caught the pass. Nobody touched him.
Clark's 95-yard touchdown catch and run remains one of the most surreal plays I've ever seen, a play that seemingly developed both in slow motion and at double speed. Iowa went ahead 24-14. Purdue went to Brandon Kirsch. And Kirsch methodically took Purdue down the field, Iowa blitzing the entire way. On the fourteenth play of the drive, Kirsch scrambled, slipped a tackle, and scored. With 10:00 to go, Iowa led by three, and was stopped quickly on its next drive when the jailbreak went nowhere. Kirsch continued to dink and dunk and scramble through the Iowa defense. Tiller ran a tight end around (!) from three yards out for the touchdown, and suddenly the Hawkeyes were behind again with less than 6:00 to play.
Iowa did what Iowa still does: It took the ball and tried to burn the clock down to nothing. Banks & Co. crossed midfield, but were stuffed on third and two and sacked on fourth and seven. There was 2:44 to play, and all looked lost.
Iowa got a quick stop and used its three timeouts to keep 2:20 on the clock. Banks took over, first and ten at his own 14.
There was some expert line work on the left side that day, never more so than during this play. Gallery and Nelson did a perfect job of trapping their defensive counterparts with the draw action, and Steinbach sprinted into the second level to plow through a linebacker. But that juke from Banks. Oh mercy, that juke. That juke damn near won him the Heisman trophy. It was so good that EA Sports added it to NCAA '03 and made the franchise completely unplayable for three years.
Banks hit Brown for 12, Clark for 15, and it was first and goal with less than two minutes to play. A first down draw went for three, a second down stretch went nowhere, and Banks damn near got intercepted on third down. It was fourth and goal from the seven, and we learned that Clark wasn't done yet.
Banks looked dead to rights when he scrambled out to the left; Purdue brought two from that side, and if it weren't for Clark running opposite of the rollout, he would have been toast. As it was, Banks threw the prettiest pass I've ever seen, the only thing capable of floating in a building with no air. It hung there for a week, maybe two, before falling into Dallas Clark's arms. Mayhem. Euphoria. And there was still 90 seconds to play.
Everyone forgets that there were still 90 seconds to play, and Brandon Kirsch was quietly laying the groundwork for Vandenberg-OSU '09. Kirsch was across midfield with 31 seconds to play, down to the 25 on a completion to Taylor Stubblefield with :22 left. But Purdue's kicker sucked, and so Tiller elected to run a play. Kirsch tried to hit Stubblefield again over the middle, and it bounced off the erstwhile surehanded receiver's right hand and into the waiting arms of Adolphus Shelton. Ballgame. Everybody move your feet and feel united woah-oh-oh.
Four years ago, when we were pimping an interview the now-Off Tackle Empire got with Brad Banks, I wrote this:
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'm not changing a word today. The greatest game I've ever seen.
HEROES: It's gotta be Clark, right? Clark and Banks? Clark and Banks and Antwaan Allen and Bob Sanders and Sean Considine? Clark, Banks, Allen, Sanders, Considine, Fred Russell, Colin Cole, Chad Greenway...but mostly Clark and Banks.
IMPORTANT? Little did we know. The Purdue win catapulted Iowa into a showdown in Ann Arbor the next week between one-loss Big Ten rivals. Funny, I don't recall seeing that game on this list yet...
Anyway, two months later, we were tearing down goalposts in the Metrodome. Good times. Good times.
PERSONAL MEMORIES: I was really distraught after the Iowa State loss: 2002 was probably going to be my final year on campus, and we'd never beaten the rat bastards in my time at Iowa, so I was at the Magic Bus on this day. But the Magic Bus gives you one of the weirder experiences in watching a game, in that the game is on TV but you're across the street from the stadium, so you have ESP for awesomeness. The crowd roars, you turn and watch. By the middle of the third, there was no turning away. Not that day. Not ever again.