Shit, they're all important. Big Ten games are important. Every game on our schedule is important. We've only got twelve of them so, you know, there's no degree of difficulty there.
-- KF, Nov. 8, 2014
It's safe to say that, at least around this part of the Iowa fan base, there has been no bowl game in the Kirk Ferentz era met with a bigger shrug than Friday's Taxslayer Bowl matchup with Tennessee. Ticket sales are down, demand for Tennessee information is basically nonexistent, and fans have generally turned their attention to basketball.
The apathy is completely justified for a team that lost three of its last four games, failed to win a game against any of its four rivals, and finished 7-5 against one of the nation's easiest schedules. It's life in the hinterlands of college football, and life in the hinterlands is tough. There are snakes and bears and dysentery, and you shot 2,437 pounds of meat but can only carry 200 pounds back to the wagon. This year has sucked. We understand.
But Thursday showed just how great college football can be. We saw Ohio State do the unthinkable and knock the SEC out of the playoff before it even began. We saw what happened when a competent, composed quarterback faced one who only pretended to be those things. We saw Barry Freaking Alvarez coach his pants off in a win over Auburn. We saw a program that used to be with us out here on the prairie win its second consecutive major bowl game with the help of an afterthought quarterback turned star and a defensive coordinator who won the game, hugged his boss, and set out for the territories. Two days earlier, we watched Michigan welcome home a prodigal son with all the subtlety of Caesar returning to Rome. Because college football matters to us, and them, and everyone who might see this.
Friday's coda to Thursday's symphony will largely be forgotten, left with the same pile of Insight Bowls and Alamo Bowls and Sun Bowls of the past. But it will be the last time you get to see Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff in black and gold. It's the last time for Mark Weisman, a starting halfback of last resort turned record holder. It's the last time for Kevonte Martin-Manley, who could well finish Friday as the program's all-time reception leader. It's the last time for Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, a defensive tackle tandem of King-Kroul proportions that just didn't have a Shonn Greene carrying the load on the other side of the ball. Damon Bullock's last time has already come and gone, and nobody knew it until now. It might be the last time for at least one of Iowa's two potential starting quarterbacks for 2015, and for John Lowdermilk and Quinton Alston and Mike Hardy and Andrew Donnal and Ray Hamilton and Damond Powell. You know those names because they've been with you for years. The Taxslayer Bowl won't be forgotten by them, and they won't be forgotten by you, because college football matters.
It's a sport populated by kids and adults who act like kids. It's too full of money and politics and television greed, to be sure, but it's also full of everything there is to love about sports. And after Friday, it goes away over on our little corner of the prairie, not to be seen again for 247 days. Is the Taxslayer Bowl important? Shit, they're all important. Every game on the schedule is important, because those games are all we have during the hellish college football offseason. Turn off the anger and cynicism generated by this season for a couple of hours and, for the love of God, enjoy it. Enjoy it, because by mid-afternoon, it's gone.
This is it.