30-7? That doesn't sound like much of a classic. It sounds like a one-sided assbeating. In this case, that's partly true and partly a case of a deceptive final scoreline. This was a tense, close game throughout the first half: the Iowa offense struggled to get untracked while the Iowa defense kept stonewalling the Wisconsin offense. Eventually Iowa scored late in the first quarter; Wisconsin got an answering score partway through the second quarter. Iowa got a long bomb TD pass from Tate-to-Solomon late in the quarter to open up a 14-7 lead at the break. Until that point, it was a nerve-wracking, could-go-either-way game. After that score -- and after the halftime break -- it was pretty much all Iowa. But that's part of what made the game such a classic, too.
* The atmosphere for this game was incredible. I lived in Iowa City from August 2000 to May 2008 and went to most every home game in that span; I was fortunate enough to be there for the entire awesome three-year span from 2002 to 2004 and for many, many, many great games. And to this day I still count the '04 Iowa-Wisconsin game among the top five games I was able to see in person. The atmosphere for that game was absolutely mind-meltingly insane. It was a mid-afternoon kickoff and "The Game" had gone down earlier that day, with Ohio State doing Iowa a solid -- they knocked off Michigan, opening up the door to chaos at the top of the conference. Whoever won the Iowa-Wisconsin game would get a share of the Big Ten title with Michigan. If Wisconsin won, they'd head to the Rose Bowl (they'd be tied with Michigan at 7-1 in the conference, but there was no head-to-head tiebreaker between the two teams and Wisconsin would have had the better overall record at 10-1 to Michigan's 9-2). If Iowa won, they'd get a share of the title -- but no Rose Bowl trip, thanks to a loss to Michigan earlier in the season.
In any event, everyone in the stands knew what the stakes were when the game began and there was an extra level of excitement on top of everything else -- Senior Day, a game against a top-ten foe, the Badgers, the home winning streak (at 17 consecutive wins back then), the overall winning streak (6 and counting). People were fucking amped for that game. It was loud and it stayed loud and racous for almost the entire game. I remember the second half being especially deafening once Iowa opened up a two-score lead. There was a feeling at that point -- with that defense, at home, and with the way the game was going -- that there was no way Wisconsin would come back. We were just waiting for the clock to hit 00:00 so that the party could really get started.
And what a party it was: I still remember swarming down on the field with 30-40,000 of my closest Hawkeye friends (and briefly wondering if I was going to get trampled in the melee), eager to celebrate a Big Ten title earned at Kinnick Stadium. I still remember seeing Jim Delany present Kirk Ferentz with a Big Ten Championship trophy. Being able to celebrate a Big Ten Championship at home was pretty fantastic, too. I'm not positive, but it looks like Iowa hadn't been able to do that since 1985 and a 31-9 win over Minnesota at Kinnick. The 2002 Big Ten season was utterly wonderful, but we didn't get to officially celebrate a Big Ten crown until knocking off the Gophers in the Metrodome. Granted, that celebration brought its own special charms, but still: being able to celebrate a Big Ten title in Kinnick was extraordinary.
* Drew Tate was a goddamn magician. There are two things about the Iowa offense that really stand out in that highlight video. One, there isn't a single highlight of a running back; 2004 was the first year AIRBHG made his wrath fully known and started a RB apocalypse that ended with Slammin' Sam Brownlee, a little-known walk-on from Emmetsburg headlining the depth chart for much of the back half of the season (although Aaron Mickens (11) and Marques Simmons (13) led the team in carries against Wisconsin). Two, Drew Tate was a wizard in the pocket and one of the most gifted quarterbacks Iowa has had in the last twenty years. The image of him spinning free from an on-rushing defender, squaring up in the pocket and then launching a beautiful rainbow downfield into Solomon's waiting hands for the second touchdown is just pure poetry. And in 2004 it seemed like he made at least one play like that every single game.
Mind you, he had some help: Clinton Solomon was on the receiving end of many of those passes and touchdowns and he looked like an absolute stud (he was also Shonn Greene before Shonn Greene was Shonn Greene, flunking out after his freshman year before using a stint at Kirkwood to earn another shot at Iowa -- a shot that he took full advantage of). Scott Chandler is also notable in those highlights, making clutch catches, dragging defenders for extra yards, or lunging into the end zone for a touchdown. (Not visible in the highlights but just as important was Ed Hinkel, who seemed to have hands made of glue and was every quarterback's dream for a safety blanket.) In hindsight, it's too bad we couldn't have sealed their careers in amber after the 2004 season; Tate, Solomon, and Chandler all returned for the 2005 (and, in Tate and Chandler's case, the 2006 season), but the good times were (mostly) gone by then. Consequently, the magical memories they conjured in 2004 were covered with dirt and grime from the indignities of 2005 and 2006 -- Tate spiking his helmet at Ohio State in 2005 or taking a swing at Herb Grigsby in 2006 (in hindsight: he probably deserved it), Solomon having a droptastic game against Michigan in 2005 or Chandler developing butterfingers against Ohio State in 2006. It's impossible now to remember the heroism without some of the warts, too; that may be more realistic, but it's a hell of a lot less fun.
* Matt fucking Roth and the rest of the tough-as-nails Iowa defense were legendary. You can make a very persuasive argument that the 2009 Iowa defense was better than the 2004 Iowa defense; there are probably stats that back it up. Hell, there's no shortage of memorable defensive plays from the 2009 crew -- Sash's pinball pick-six; Clayborn's smash-and-grab against Penn State**; hell, the entire second half against Penn State; the goalline stand against Michigan State; Spievey's diving interception against Wisconsin; Tarpinian hitting Darryl Stonum into the Iowa River**; etc. But I don't know if they'll ever occupy the same place in my heart as the '04 wrecking crew. The cast of characters on the 2004 defense was so colorful, so exciting, so flat-out awesome that it's hard not to love them to bits.
** Yeah, I know these were technically special teams plays; just roll with it.
Matt Roth was a fucking animal in 2004. His numbers were good -- 49 tackles, 15 TFL, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles -- but his influence went beyond numbers. He was the emotional heart and soul of the defense and, frankly, a bit of a lunatic. He wore Road Warriors face paint, jumped around like a madman, taunted opponents, and screamed his head off. He was unhinged in all the best ways. It's probably not coincidence that the best Iowa defenses have had guys like that at the heart of them (Roth in 2003 and 2004, Angerer in 2008 and 2009). If BHGP had existed in 2004, Matt Roth would have been our patron saint of batshit insanity and the star of our deranged fantasies. We would have written dialogues around his insanity and composed ballads to his berserker behavior. And yet he wasn't even the best player on that defense. Hell, he wasn't even the best player on that defensive line. Jonathan Babineaux had better stats -- 55 tackles, 25 TFL, 11 sacks, 3 forced fumbles -- and was the more effective player and the more destructive force... and he did it from the defensive tackle position, to boot. (He's also been the better pro.) Babineaux, really, was what we all hoped Christian Ballard would eventually become (although he never did); he was the underappreciated wrecking ball of the defense.
There were so many other stars on the '04 defense, too: Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway, still the gold standard for Iowa linebacking duos; Jovon Johnson, always undersized but with an uncanny knack for getting the ball; and Sean Considine, the proto-Tyler Sash who blew up the running game and made timely plays on the ball in pass coverage. And that's without even mentioning the really unheralded guys, like George Lewis or Tyler Luebke or Derrick Robinson. That defense was spectacular and it did so for a team that needed every ounce of defensive brilliance to reach the heights it reached that year. Offense can only muster two field goals against Penn State? No problem; the defense will hold them scoreless. Offense runs out of steam against Minnesota and Purdue? No big deal; the defense will make big plays down the stretch to lock up the victory. And sometimes the defense was absolutely stifling even when it didn't quite need to be, as in blowout wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin. They were a special defense and I adored watching them put the clamps on opposing teams.
I will never forget that 2004 Iowa team, nor the magical throttling of Wisconsin that capped off that regular season. There have been better Iowa teams in the past and there will undoubtedly be better Iowa teams in the future, but there have been few Iowa teams as special or memorable as that team. And videos like this go a long way in explaining exactly why that team was so special.