It’s not often in a man or woman’s life where they can point to an exact date that they can point to a specific date that jump started a large interest in their life.
In my case, I can point to the day, and even the exact play that sold me on the Iowa Hawkeyes. It was November 8, 2008, a cold, late autumn afternoon in central Iowa as my dad and I settled in to watch Iowa take on third-ranked Penn State.
Everyone in the country was expecting Penn State to win and win with style to help their case for the BCS National Championship Game. Well, everyone except Iowa was expecting that outcome.
In a season where Iowa had lost four games by a combined total of 12 points, the Hawkeyes played like their season depended on it. A late interception by the late Tyler Sash gave Iowa the ball back with over three minutes to go and a chance to win the game.
Then-unknown quarterback Ricky Stanzi led Iowa down to the Penn State 14-yard line, where Daniel Murray’s game-winning field goal ended the Nittany Lions national championship hopes.
I was in with both feet with as a Hawkeye, even growing up a mere 15-minute drive from the Iowa State campus and having a lot of family that were alumnus of Iowa State.
I hopped on the Iowa fandom train right as the football program was making their second big run under Kirk Ferentz from 2008 to 2010. The 2009 season was full of heart-pounding finishes and a myriad of dreams that included a very real possibility of Iowa reaching the BCS National Championship Game.
It didn’t come to fruition however, but Iowa still came away with an Orange Bowl title and an 11-2 season. It appeared that huge things were ahead for Iowa football in 2010 and that destiny was calling.
But, when you think destiny is calling, destiny kicks you right square in the pants.
Iowa’s season went down in flames as Iowa flamed out in November to a 7-5 record that was marred with close defeats and off the field issues. A bowl win against Missouri made everyone feel better, but it was a season of what could have been.
I had to sit and listen as those who did not like Iowa’s program call them“a bunch of thugs who are dirty” for years and years. Hearing that as an 11-year old kid was not easy in the slightest, which only fueled my “me against the world” mentality that I had due to other reasons to begin with.
My interest in the football program began to waver a bit as I reached junior high, but I did begin to pay more attention to the basketball program, which was rising under Fran McCaffery. I was drawn in by a guard by the name of Roy Devyn Marble, son of Iowa legend Roy Marble.
Iowa basketball hit its fever pitch with me in the 2013-14 season, which showcased an Iowa team with the talent to make a run at the Final Four. It never fully materialized, as Iowa collapsed down the stretch and lost in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament.
However, the team that did the most for me personally was the squad that McCaffery put out for the 2014-15 season. They bucked the trend of late season collapses and finished the year strong, which made every game appointment television for yours truly. Even if I had to lie about missing choir practice.
They were appointment television for reasons beyond basketball for me personally, they were an escape from reality. A reality that saw my parents get divorced before the start of my sophomore year of high school. It was a low point for me, struggled in school, struggled with self-confidence.
But, for two hours on cold nights in the winter of 2015, I could escape by watching Iowa basketball. They gave me great joy, and when their season was over, I couldn’t have been more grateful for what they did for me, even if they had no idea who I was.
The 2015 football season came, Iowa was under the microscope. After the failures of the past four seasons, Kirk Ferentz had to deliver something to the hungry Hawkeye faithful.
All he delivered was a 12-0 regular season, a Big Ten Championship Game appearance and the first Rose Bowl appearance of the Iowa program in a quarter century. It was by far the most enjoyable season I’d ever experienced as a fan.
In the break between the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl, my life would change drastically once again. The loss of a mentor, my head football coach, shook everyone in my hometown of Madrid, myself especially.
He passed on December 20th, the Rose Bowl was on New Years’ Day. It felt like an eternity until that Rose Bowl game, but that’s when my guys on the basketball team stepped up to the plate and delivered for me once again.
They hosted #1 Michigan State on a Tuesday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, three days before the Rose Bowl. Iowa led wire-to-wire and handed the top-ranked Spartans an 83-70 defeat. It was the first time I had experienced any kind of joy since that tragic Sunday night.
While the Rose Bowl was no contest for Iowa, I experienced more joy in the pregame festivities than I had in any Iowa football game in a long time. The Iowa Hawkeyes were playing in the freaking Rose Bowl, it was the sight of a lifetime.
However, that wouldn’t be the last time Iowa athletics would provide me a needed lift. There’s an old saying that “Death’s come in three’s,” Well, I’m of the belief that great things happen in three’s as well.
Fast-forward a week after my high school football career had ended, Iowa was hosting #2 Michigan and the Hawkeyes were struggling. They came into the game with a record of 5-4 and fresh off getting smacked by Penn State in Happy Valley.
Michigan came into Iowa City with a 9-0 record and demolishing every team in their path, including a 49-10 drubbing of the same Penn State team that Iowa had gotten pounded by. Everyone expected it to be a blowout of biblical proportions.
Instead, it became an upset of biblical proportions.
In perhaps the most surprising result in the history of Iowa football, Iowa knocked off the second-ranked Wolverines 14-13. The game was won in thanks to a game-winning field goal by an unknown freshman kicker by the name of Keith Duncan.
I remember missing the whole first half of the game due to a prior obligation I couldn’t get out of and my then-girlfriend and I sat down just in time to catch the second half. When that kick sailed through the uprights, I dropped to my knees in jubilation.
The Hawkeyes had come through for me yet again.
Being an invested fan is never easy, riding the roller coaster of emotions can take a toll on you mentally. However, there aren’t more enjoyable experiences in your life than watching your team or your program achieve greatness, even if it is just for a moment in time.
Even as I have transitioned to life as a member of the media covering the Hawkeyes, I always try to sit back and enjoy special moments as I did as a fan.
Those moments have become further and fewer in between. But when they come about, I can still feel as giddy as that 11-year old kid watching Daniel Murray celebrate with a soccer-slide at midfield amid a frenzied Kinnick Stadium on a cold, November afternoon.