THE DATE: December 29, 2001
THE OPPONENT: Texas Tech
THE SCORE: Iowa 19, Texas Tech 16
WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? Iowa football served notice that it was officially back from the dead. To be sure, there were greater heights to come (just a year later, in fact) but the Alamo Bowl appearance -- and win -- was a triumphant moment for a program that had looked completely dead and buried just three years ago. The 1999 Hawkeye team was... not good. They were barely competitive in several games and went 1-10. So to put together a winning season that culminated with a bowl win over an offensive powerhouse like Texas Tech -- well, that seemed like a sign that things were definitely headed in the right direction in Iowa City.
HEROES: There was no shortage of heroes for Iowa in this game. First and foremost, there was Nate Kaeding, who made four field goals (36, 31, 46, and 47 yards), including the game-winning 47-yarder with under a minute to play. It's actually one of the few legitimate game-winning kicks on Kaeding's Iowa resume; for as celebrated as he was, he had relatively few game-winning kicks (mostly because Iowa had wins wrapped up earlier). The only other one I can think of is the Penn State win in 2000. But Kaeding's accurate and powerful leg was a big reason why Iowa won this game.
Credit, also, to Aaron Greving, who stepped in and ran for 115 yards and a touchdown (Iowa's only touchdown of the game) on 26 carries on short notice. That was the highlight of Greving's Iowa career (it ended in an injury-fueled departure early in the 2002 season) and it wasn't even supposed to happen. The Iowa offense was expected to rest on the sturdy and consistent legs of Ladell Betts, the reliable workhorse of the offense for the past four seasons who was finally, after years of losing and futility, going to get the reward of seeing all his hard work pay off with a bowl game. Only Betts got hurt (pulled hamstring) during pre-game warm-ups and had to it for almost the entire game, proving that AIRBHG has been bedeviling Iowa for over a decade.
And last, but certainly not least, credit to the Iowa defense, who came up with what we would eventually realize was a vintage performance: lots of bending, but very little breaking. Kliff Kingsbury threw for over 300 yards and Tech gained almost 400 yards total that day, but they could only muster 16 points in this game (and just one touchdown themselves, a Kingsbury pass to future New England Patriots dreamboat Wes Welkah). Even now, a decade later, I've seen interviews where Mike Leach expressed admiration at what Norm Parker's defense did to his offense in this game. Tech had a high-powered offense, but it was all for naught against Iowa's ability to force timely turnovers and buckle down in the red zone.
IMPORTANT: Absolutely. The 2001 season was missing a few things -- Iowa lost to Iowa State again and still lost five games total -- but getting to a bowl and winning it was a huge step forward for the program. It clinched the first winning season for Iowa since 1997 and gave Iowa significant confidence and positive momentum heading into the 2002 season.
A/V: Courtesy our old friend, The Hawkeye Historian:
PERSONAL MEMORIES: My personal memories of this game are a little blurry; I remember getting out of a stay in the hospital either the day of the game or the day before and still being pretty well-medicated. But even in my drug-fueled haze, I remember being excited that Iowa was keeping it close (I seem to recall that the prevailing opinion coming into the game was that it was great that Iowa made a bowl game, but that they'd be lucky not to get run off the field by Texas Tech)... and then being really excited when Kaeding made that game-winner.