It will probably come as a shock to some who haven’t known me as long as others: I haven’t always been the crazy, football-loving guy I am now. In fact, as little kid, I was on the opposite end of that spectrum.
I played video games like my life depended on it. A Nintendo DS went with me everywhere I went, playing Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, Mario Kart, Sonic the Hedgehog and a smattering of other handheld games. We had a PlayStation 2 as well that had sports games, but I mostly played Spongebob games or Sonic the Hedgehog. I was as nerdy as you could imagine.
My interest in football at that point was a rather casual interest, I never got too invested into the game. I would sporadically attend games at nearby Iowa State due to close proximity and family who were season ticket holders but that was about it. I played football starting in second grade, because that’s what every little boy in Madrid, Iowa did.
Football was a way of life in my town and I hadn’t quite adapted to that way of life. I’d rather sit at home and play video games or read a good book.
That all changed on November 8, 2008, watching a cold, blustery game between Iowa and Penn State.
I did not know a whole lot about Iowa to that point. I did know they had a sensational running back by the name of Shonn Greene, who was as electrifying an player I’ve seen come through Iowa to this day.
I remember in vivid color looking at the TV and seeing numerous fans wearing green clothing or wearing green paint on there bodies for an impromptu “Green Out” for the star running back from New Jersey.
The start of the game is something I recall pretty clear, Iowa’s defense unleashed hell on the #3 Nittany Lions on their first drive and forced Penn State to punt from their own endzone. Two plays and two Shonn Greene runs later, it’s already 7-0 Iowa. From there on to around late in the 3rd quarter, my memory is pretty hazy.
Where my memory does come back into play was around Ricky Stanzi’s touchdown pass to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Iowa continued to hang around with the mighty Nittany Lions, who two weeks earlier, held off Ohio State in the Horseshoe.
Penn State scored with do-it all receiver Derrick Williams at the very end of the third quarter to make it a nine-point advantage for Joe Paterno’s squad. I thought Iowa’s dreams were dashed, my father thought so to.
Instead, we witnessed the origin and birth of “Kinnick Voodoo”.
Iowa managed to grind out a drive behind Greene and then-unknown quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Greene powered his way in to the endzone to cut the lead to two. Iowa’s defense, which coined the phrase “6 seconds of hell”, needed to get another stop.
For a few moments, it looked like Iowa missed their chance after a roughing the punter penalty gave Penn State a fresh set of downs and the chance to run clock and escape. However, a couple of bad plays and a penalty forced Penn State to throw on 3rd and a mile. Nittany Lions quarterback Darryl Clark completely missed his receiver and found Iowa safety Tyler Sash.
Iowa was back in business. I was as ecstatic as could be.
Were the Iowa freaking Hawkeyes about to beat the 3rd-ranked team in the entire country? It was something my 9-year old brain found hard to comprehend that this team, from our tiny state, could accomplish such a feat.
The Hawkeyes marched down the field, on a drive that helped create the legend of Ricky Stanzi, and got down into manageable field goal range. Embroiled in a kicking battle all season long, Kirk Ferentz called on Iowa City native Daniel Murray to send Iowa to victory.
You all know the rest:
I was in with both feet. Football was the game for me. The site of fans in black and gold (with smatterings of green too) hooked me not just on the Iowa Hawkeyes, but the game of football.
The old cliche is that there is nothing like the first time you fall in love with something. That was the night I fell in love with the game of football. No one who played on the field that night knew what they had done for me, and I doubt they still will after I write this. But, they were the spark to what’s bound to be a lifelong obsession.
And for that, I can’t thank them enough.