Last weekend was unquestionably one that will -- and absolutely should -- be long remembered by Iowa fans. Just stop for a moment and take stock of everything Iowa accomplished in around 48 hours from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon:
(2) women's basketball wins: CHECK
(2) men's basketball wins: CHECK
(1) wrestling win over the #1-ranked team in the country: CHECK
(1) wrestling dual meet attendance record SHATTERED: CHECK
(1) football win over hated border rival: CHECK
(1) beloved rivalry trophy regained (#FloydFreed): CHECK
(1) first-ever 10-0 start in program history: CHECK
The heart of this incredible weekend was obviously Saturday, when Iowa staged the Grapple on the Gridiron wrestling meet at Kinnick to spectacular effect during the day and then knocked off Minnesota in football to regain Floyd of Rosedale, ensure the best-ever start in program history, and keep this wildly enjoyable (and unexpected) season churning along. That was the day that led Kevin Trahan to declare it the greatest day in Iowa sports history over on the SB Nation mothership. The basketball wins on Friday and Sunday were satisfying and enjoyable garnishes, but Saturday's events were definitely the entrée of the weekend.
But was it truly the best day (or weekend) in Iowa sports history? I had to do a little digging in the history books to see for sure. It was almost certainly the most unique weekend in Iowa sports history -- given the nature of their respective schedules, football, wrestling, and men's and women's basketball don't often overlap the way they did this past weekend and when they do, they don't all play in Iowa City the way they did this year.
The last really good all-arouind Iowa sports weekend that sprung to mind was Thanksgiving weekend 2013. If you'll recall, the highlight of that weekend was Iowa football throttling Nebraska in Lincoln, 38-17, and claiming Iowa's first win over the Huskers since they joined the Big Ten -- and their first win overall against Nebraska since 1981. Iowa basketball was fresh off their NIT runner-up finish the previous season that had people more hyped about Iowa basketball than at any point in several years. They were in the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament that weekend, where they beat Xavier in OT a wild comeback, destroyed UTEP, and lost a heartbreaker in OT to a Villanova team that ended up being one of the best in the country that season. The Iowa women were also at an early season tournament; they went 3-0 against USC, Boston College, and UNC-Wilmington at the Cancun Challenge. And the Iowa wrestlers wrapped up the weekend with a 23-9 dual meet win over Iowa State in Ames on Sunday. The basketball teams (especially the men) recorded more impressive wins that weekend than they did this weekend, but as nice as it was to beat Nebraska for the first time in 30 years, it doesn't really compare to beating your oldest rival in a night game, reclaiming the best rivalry trophy in sports, and attaining the first 10-0 start in program history. Likewise, beating Iowa State is always fun, but the wrestlers do that every year any more -- what they did this weekend was far more memorable -- and important. Also? Not one of those events was in Iowa City -- football was in Lincoln, wrestling was in Ames, men's basketball was in the Bahamas, and women's basketball was in Cancun.
What if we take football out of the equation, though? Wrestling and men's and women's basketball all wrap up in March -- has that convergence of events led to some memorable weekends for Hawkeye fans? Yes, definitely. For instance, in 1999, Iowa made their last appearance to date in the Sweet 16 in men's basketball. The wrestlers also won a national championship that year -- their 5th straight out of six that they won from 1995 to 2000. That was certainly a very good time to be a Hawkeye. Unfortunately, the timing of the events didn't quite line up to maximize Iowa fan pleasure. Iowa beat UAB and Arkansas in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament to make the Sweet 16 over the weekend of March 11-14. But the NCAA Wrestling Tournament wasn't held until March 18-20. Iowa was getting bounced by UConn in the Sweet 16 the night the NCAA Wrestling Tournament began, which certainly put a damper on that weekend.
March 1993 was another very good period for Iowa sports. Wrestling won another national title (their third straight) and C. Vivian Stringer led Iowa women's hoops to its greatest achievement: a spot in the Final Four of the NCAA Women's Tournament. The Iowa men also made the NCAA Tournament and made it to the second round before falling against Wake Forest. The opening weekend of the men's and women's NCAA Tournaments coincided with the NCAA Wrestling Tournament that year (as they usually do), so that was definitely a very good weekend for Hawkeye sports -- the Iowa women won twice to advance to the Sweet 16, the Iowa wrestlers brought home a national championship, and the Iowa men beat Northeast Louisiana before losing to Wake Forest. That's a pretty fine weekend, and if Iowa had beaten Wake Forest to make it a clean sweep of wins that weekend, it would rank even higher. Still, that loss pulls it back, as does the fact that none of the events were in Iowa City.
Iowa made the Sweet 16 in men's and women's basketball in 1987 and 1988, certainly a fantastic achievement for those programs. But that also coincided with the only real downturn the wrestling program experienced under Dan Gable -- they didn't win a single national championship between 1987 and 1990. And, again, none of those lovely wins to move the Hawkeyes into their respective Sweet 16s came in Iowa City.
Finally, there's 1980, when Iowa men's basketball made its third (and most recent) Final Four appearance and Iowa wrestling won its third straight national championship (its third of nine straight national titles under Dan Gable). That year, the NCAA wrestling tournament coincided with the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, which meant as the Iowa wrestlers were bulldozing their competition on the way to a national title, Iowa men's basketball was beating #1 seed Syracuse in the Sweet 16, 88-77, and edging #3 seed Georgetown, 81-80, in the Elite 8 to advance to the Final Four for the first time in 25 years. That was undoubtedly a hell of a weekend for Iowa sports and in terms of the stakes involved, it might be the best. Final Four appearances are rarefied air in hoops and it doesn't get any bigger or better in wrestling than a national championship. As weekends for Iowa sports, that one is pretty near the top of the mountain.
But there are certainly reasons to favor this past weekend, too. National titles are the be-all and end-all in wrestling and we'd love nothing more than to see Iowa add another one to the trophy case this season. That said, there's a national championship awarded every single season and if Iowa doesn't win one this year, they'll have another shot to do so next year and they year after that and so on. Grapple on the Gridiron was potentially a once-in-a-lifetime event -- there may be (in fact, probably will be) other outdoor dual meets in college, but this was the first of its kind -- and it was on a scale that won't be easy to match (let alone top). The only thing technically at stake on Saturday was a dual meet victory, which doesn't mean that much in the grand scheme of things. But it was an event that will be remembered for a long, long, long time -- by folks who were able to attend it in-person and those who watched it on television. It was an Event with a capital E and that matters. And there's no doubt in my mind that Grapple in the Gridiron isn't the stunning success story that it was without the halo effect provided by football. It would have been a success without football -- the novelty factor and the pride Iowa fans have in owning the attendance record would have guaranteed that -- but attendance might have been in the 25-30,000 range. That would have still comfortably smashed the old attendance record, but it wouldn't have been the jaw-dropping success that we saw with 42,000+ people jammed into Kinnick to watch wrestling.
Because the trump card that this past weekend had is, of course, football. We love basketball at Iowa. And we love wrestling, too. But football is the 800-lb. gorilla around here. It's the beast that feeds everything else. It generates the most attention, the most engagement, and (of course) the most money. And while there are a lot of smaller things that made Saturday night so much fun -- playing in primetime, joining the 21st century and wearing snazzy new alternate uniforms, beating a hated rival, regaining Floyd of Rosedale -- the most important thing Iowa did was something that had never, ever been accomplished by any other Iowa team before them: start a season 10-0. Granted, there were many -- most, in fact -- seasons in the history of Iowa football when 10-0 starts would have been a practical impossibility because Iowa didn't even play that many games. Still, it's not like the Iowa record books are overflowing with 8-0 or 9-0 starts, either, and as Adam pointed out last week, it's not like 10-0 starts grow on trees for other Big Ten programs, either (Ohio State excepted). This was History with a capital H. To see that, to witness that, to be a part of that... is pretty damn special. And it was also important because it kept this ridiculously fun and surprising season barreling along, and made it possible for Iowa fans to keep dreaming big, crazy, wonderful dreams.
And the fact that all of these events -- four basketball games, a football game, and a wrestling meet -- all happened in Iowa City within a 48 hour span is what makes this past weekend even more special and remarkable. Almost 150,000 fans took in those events, and no they weren't 150,000 unique fans -- there was undoubtedly plenty of overlap between the fans who went to those six games -- but it's still pretty astonishing. Iowa fans got to see plenty of wins, they got to watch some great games, and they got to be a part of history. The only thing the games this weekend didn't have going for them were huge, championship-level stakes -- but it's easy enough to forgive that when you consider everything else these games had going for them and that Iowa fans had the ability to witness them all in-person. Was Saturday the greatest day in Iowa sports history? Was this weekend the best ever for Iowa sports? It sure feels that way. There could still be plenty of good things to come for Iowa sports this season -- the wrestlers will be vying for a national title, the football team is still in contention for Big Ten and national titles, and who knows what sort of ride the basketball teams will take us on -- but take a moment to savor the memories from this weekend. Iowa sports treated us to one hell of a 48-hour experience and that's worth celebrating.