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The 2009 Iowa Hawkeyes were foiled by the dumbest injury of all time

I will forever be haunted by the play-action rollout in the end zone

Iowa v Penn State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

When exploring the Iowa Hawkeyes’ history, the first teams which probably spring to mind are those of from 1956-1960. Under Forrest Evashevski, they went 9-1, 8-1-1, and 8-1 in alternating years, accumulating three Big Ten titles & top three finishes nationally, with two more Rose Bowl trophies to boot, including Iowa’s last.

In fact, the Hawks’ Wiki calls out the 1960 team, as the “Forgotten Season.” The had a tough road loss to Minnesota after being #1 all season and ended up relinquishing the mythical national title to the Gophers as a result of that loss. Because bowl games truly were exhibitions, the final voting took place prior to Goldy losing to Washington in Pasadena.

Oh well.

Yet those teams did have losses on their resume.

One iteration which didn’t, is the 2009 squad.

There is no doubt that Ricky Stanzi had his faults. Through the nine games prior, he had 13 interceptions and three returned for a touchdown. Good ole Rick Sixes.

But Iowa won. And with a chutzpah not often seen from a Ferentz quarterback. They rode a top-10 defense and weirdly good special teams play to a 9-0 record which is nothing if not exciting to replay. Many thanks to TheHawkeyeHistorian on YouTube, who is the maker of many of these recaps. Truly a joy to return through this season:

Iowa 17, UNI 16

lol, good way to start

Iowa 35, ISU 3

Video NSFW. Also they say bad words in the song. Also also, Iowa’s secondary still haunts Austen Arnaud’s dreams

Iowa 27, Arizona 17

I’m reminded this was the year of Hawkeye running backs leaping over the line

Iowa 21, Penn State 10

This was it. The game which [re]asserted the Hawkeyes as a bona fide Big Ten contender. Though Iowa started ranked in the top 25, the UNI game quickly shuffled them out and neither wins against ISU or Arizona was enough to move the needle back in Iowa’s direction. Penn State had all the motivation to wash bad taste the 2008 game against the Hawks out of their mouths and were strong favorites in this game.

They got off to a very quick start, reminiscent of Iowa’s start the season prior. But the defense quickly stiffened and cut the lead in half before a quiet third quarter. Then Adrian Clayborn blocked a punt and took it the distance.

It’s the type of play which makes the fans believe that a team is destined for something more.

The Hawkeyes blew back into the rankings as a result.

Iowa 24, Arkansas State 21

An entirely forgettable game amidst an unforgettable season

Iowa 30, Michigan 28

The Tony Moeaki Game. It was at this point, with the first Stanzi pass being returned for a touchdown minutes after Kirk Herbstreit said, “If he can play smart...” that a weird confidence came over me. Good, he got his bad throw out early.

Going back to last year, the Hawkeyes’ winning streak got to 10 after this game. At this point, only Florida, the defending national champions, had a longer winning streak at this point.

Iowa 20, Wisconsin 10

This was another game where Iowa took some punches on the road, getting down by 10 early in the second quarter. The followed with 20 unanswered points in a ho-hum victory against Wisconsin, which is literally the last time that has happened.

Iowa 15, Michigan State 13

Just an insane game. It was just Mark Dantonio’s third season and of all 28 Big Ten coaches who have come AND gone since Ferentz has been hired, he’s the one I’m happiest to see on the other side.

Anyways, the highlights don’t really do this game justice as it feels about as throwback as any game in recent memory. I totally forgot about the ugly, ugly, hit on Colin Sandeman which was initially celebrated. I mean, that doesn’t happen any more, and for good reason.

But I was the rare game where the defense let one slip through their fingers and the offense had to break brick wall MSU had built at the goal line.

When “7 got 6,” I ran out of my dorm room screaming. After a season of the defense going above and beyond, it was finally the offense who got it done in the clutch to turn a loss into a win. If there was a season where something special was going to happen: THIS WAS IT.

Iowa 42, Indiana 24

In the week prior, Iowa climbed to #4 in the BCS on the back of being ranked #1 in the computer polls (and just eighth in the human ones). Kirk said it best, “The computers haven’t seen us play. If they had eyes and could see us play, they would say, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Ricky Stanzi’s worst game in a Hawkeye uniform, yet they laughably one going away. Tyler Sash’s pinball interception on Halloween turned the tide for Iowa, who were staring down the barrel of a 21-point deficit and an opponent who had the wind for another 7:00. But then an utter explosion happened in the fourth quarter which felt straight out of NCAA 2010.

And then:

Sports Illustrated

Ah yes, the dreaded Sports Illustrated curse.

Iowa started strong enough against just Northwestern, building a 10-0 lead in a season where those were hard to come by. Yet they were pinned deep and decided to take a risk to flip field position back.

The naked bootleg has served Iowa fine in the past, but it was a bold call up 10 against a mediocre (aren’t they all?) Northwestern team which had put up 54 yards through a little over a quarter. Just keep grinding it out! But they gave they boot a go, everything that could go wrong did, even the things which didn’t feel possible: a regular season-ending injury to Ricky Stanzi.

Hell, you can probably even live with a safety there instead of the defensive TD. That was always what bugged me the most. And it wasn’t necessarily Stanzi going down as much as it was throwing redshirt freshman, James Vandenberg into the fire, trying to cling to a 3 point lead.

They couldn’t.

And despite a completely out-of-nowhere performance in Columbus the next week, it wasn’t enough in overtime against OSU.

All because of a poorly timed and even more poorly executed naked bootleg.

Maybe a Ricky Stanzi non-injury doesn’t change a thing. Iowa still could have lost to Northwestern. There are no guarantees that his availability would have flipped the script against Ohio State. Iowa wins a shared Big Ten Title if they flip either game. A title Iowa has gone 15 seasons without...

It doesn’t mean that if everything had gone right, they would have passed an undefeated TEXAS team into the national title. Nor that Iowa would have beaten an undefeated Alabama team. I mean, Iowa didn’t have the best of anything that year, though the 8th scoring defense is nothing to slouch at. They just had a lot of moxy and magic.

But their merits weren’t determined because of 12 games at full strength. That’s football, I guess.

But also! This exercise doesn’t change a freaking thing about 2009 and it’s utter INSANITY. There was never a better roller coaster ride of a season in my lifetime and maybe yours. When I think of Iowa sports, it’s the first season which comes to mind. This team played with its hair on fire at all times, was a total joy to watch, and had a cult of personality to match.

It was entirely memorable, which is all we ever want out of sports.