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"Who me?" Reimagining Iowa's Football Identity

<strong>Are the Iowa Hawkeyes ready to quit clowning around?</strong>
Are the Iowa Hawkeyes ready to quit clowning around?

A hunter was searching for the tracks of a Lion. He asked a man felling oaks in the forest if he had seen any marks of the Lion's footsteps or knew where his lair might be. "I will," said the man, "at once show you the Lion himself!" The Hunter, turning very pale and chattering with his teeth, replied, "No, thank you. I did not ask that; it is his tracks only that I am in search of, not the Lion himself."

- Aesop

If you haven't noticed as of yet, opinion is in the air and so it must be time for the annual running of the polls. I'm betting that most Hawkeye fans are, per usual, bracing themselves for the slights and snubbery that typically accompany these preseason prognostications. You know these fans, right? Perhaps you're one of in the habit of seeing their beloved football team undervalued if not entirely disregarded by media and rankings experts are these folks that if praise and accolades emerged instead they would channel Sir John Falstaff of Shakespeare's Henry IV -- "I see the trick in it!" For too many fans, Iowa football is not about reaching the highest heights, it is merely about overachieving.


"Is there any objective truth? Or must we finally accept that at bottom, in the end, philosophically speaking, there is no "real" or "objective" or "absolute" or "foundational" or "fact of the matter" or "right answer" truth about anything, that even our most confident convictions about what happened in the past or what the universe is made of or who we are or what is beautiful or who is wicked are just our convictions, just conventions, just ideology, just badges of power, just the rules of the language games we choose to play, just the product of our irrepressible disposition to deceive ourselves that we have discovered out there in some external, objective, timeless, mind-independent world what we have actually invented ourselves, out of instinct, imagination and culture?"

- Ronald Dworkin

Most people these days, if you get down to the nubs of it, are the hilt. They cackle astutely at the notion of an absolute truth. Yet,  the moment these preseason polls are released they unwittingly engage in the most violent form of hypocrisy. "Give me a fucking break!" is blurted as spittle drips down the side of computer screens the moment it is read that the Hawkeyes have been ranked behind Wisconsin by the Big Ten media or rated no better than 15th in the land by Dennis Dodd or the Associate Press or Sagarin or fill-in-the-blank. Or "Oh fuck" quietly crosses the lips as realization of a Top 5 national ranking sinks in to the cranial vault, knowing that with such praise hubris will most certainly run through the team like measles at a sleep away camp and unavoidably turn Ball State into Boise State.  

Iowans pride themselves on their humility. It is their cultural ace in the hole in a society increasingly run amok with self-aggrandizing. But it is also, like any cultural attribute, limiting. 

"What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself." 

- Abraham Lincoln

"Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are." 

- Malcolm S. Forbes

It is our ability to rationalize that allows us to smoke and drink while training for a 5K road race and to believe our bosses are vigilantly keeping a steady insightful watch over our daily contributions to the company without us ever having to remind them, and it certainly explains how we can convince ourselves that justice will be served come BCS invitation time. Of course, it should not comes as a newsflash that college football is a beauty contest wrapped inside an empty boast. The best team notion is a fiction. The National Championship is a con, an advertisement that could not possibly fulfill its promise. As long as there's not a playoff, for a team to find the BCS Promised Land it  must seduce the media folks and the public into buying into their badness, not their goodness. No one wants to see David and Goliath in a national championship game. No one ever has. I think we learned that last year, and the year before that and the year before that. The little engine that could is nothing more than an interesting item in the margins of the National Championship narrative. If you want to be relevant in this sport you need to be the David or a David, with full face paint and an anything goes public relations office. College football is dramaturgy, theater, and like a Jerry Bruckheimer film, it's not really going to matter that once it's over you're gonna be scratching your head at all the plot holes. College football is nothing approaching science...statistics, schmatistics. They merely serve the plot and if they don't, are ignored or debunked. No bowl executive gives two shits about a team's arithmetical ascendancy.

If Iowa is going to play for the national championship in your lifetime they'll need to channel Gordon Gekko, not Gordon Lightfoot. Iowa is going to have to express outrage when they are slighted from here on out, act as if they have been raped and robbed the moment a poll is published. Iowa needs to assert itself as the best of the best whenever asked. Iowa is going to have to unfilter the DJK's and not cringe at the Adrian Clayborn swagger (intended or not). Fade to black the typically restrained awe shucks and were just happy to be here nonsense. Because, frankly, the public and media believe if you're just happy to be here, then maybe you shouldn't fucking be here. 

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

For the 2010 season the Iowa Hawkeyes are the most underrated team in college football...and the most overrated team in college football. This statement is inarguably true and that just might be the problem. Lack of a fully developed identity is a classic growing pain. Teenagers, for example, look like adults yet act like children. It confuses them and everyone else. To me it seems that the Hawkeyes have finally settled on who they want to be when they grow up, they're finally emerging from their adolescent phase, the time when the teenager works on his adult game. Proving to everyone you're a big boy is not magic, it's attitude. If Iowa wants to sit at the bar and not be carded anymore it might help if they just start acting like they belong.

If you are a fan who wants this program to seriously sidle up next to Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Alabama, Florida, and Ohio State then brace yourself for the pressure...embrace the outrageous expectations, create it for Christ's sake. Because if you cannot stand the white hot heat of the public's trust that you will deliver each and every Saturday then you have no business complaining about the poll slights or that you always have to sweat it out come bowl season. This is a big boy business and only big boys need apply. And the best part is, it doesn't matter whether you are convinced that Iowa is the best team in the land. It only matters whether Iowa has convinced everyone else that they're entitled to prove they're the best team in the land. And if all this "Look at me!" stuff makes you squeamish, then fine...but know this, the guy performing in the center ring under the Big Top wearing dockers and a the real clown.