College Football

Pinstripe Bowl means something for Iowa: Hawkeyes reach for one wearable ring

Iowa wants, needs the Pinstripe

Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Josey Jewell touches the helmet on the Nile Kinnick statue before a game in November at Kinnick Stadium. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Josey Jewell touches the helmet on the Nile Kinnick statue before a game in November at Kinnick Stadium. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

NEW YORK — Bowl games still rate as an achievement for Iowa football. The program went bowl-less from 1960 to 1982, when Hayden Fry and an extremely talented defense broke through for a Rose Bowl berth.

Yes, there weren’t a lot of bowl options then. For the Big Ten, it was mostly Rose or nada. Postseason rules changed and things opened up and now the six or seven wins to reach a bowl really aren’t that big of a deal.

Still, for how Iowa views bowl games, try to see this from head coach Kirk Ferentz’s perspective. He was in his first season as Iowa’s offensive line coach when Fry’s team did its thing in 1981. That Rose Bowl was just the start. Fry would lead Iowa to 13 more bowl games. With Wednesday’s appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College (7-5), Ferentz has now taken Iowa to 15 bowl games.

So, long bowl drought, Fry breaking down the bowl-less barrier, bowl games carry weight here. Ferentz was on the sidelines for when roses started falling out of the Iowa press box against Michigan State in 1981. How does that not leave an impression?

Let’s not go nuts. Bowl eligibility is one of the first rungs on the ladder of what makes a successful season. Certainly, some bowls mean more than others. There’s a huge difference between the Rose and the Pinstripe.

Yada, yada, yada. Iowa has to win one of these things and very, very soon if not Wednesday.

In a season where Iowa put 50-plus points on Ohio State and Nebraska and also lost at home to Purdue and generated a historic low of 66 yards total offense at Wisconsin, will the Pinstripe result be what marks 2017 Iowa (7-5) a success or a forgettable 7-6?

“No, I’ve got to tell you, I don’t feel any different from I have any year,” Ferentz said. “There’s never been a bowl that we haven’t tried to win. I can’t think of any games that we haven’t tried to win.

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“So it’s as simple as that. I don’t know if we’ll be favored, not favored. Typically we’re not favored in bowl games, but we weren’t favored against Ohio State either and we were able to win that.

“So, it really gets down to trying to win a football game and navigating with the uniqueness of the month of December. Those are the two really big things.”

When the Hawkeyes were gutted by Florida in last year’s Outback Bowl, 30-3, it was the program’s fifth consecutive bowl defeat. Iowa’s last bowl victory was the 2010 Insight Bowl against Missouri. That was Adrian Clayborn’s last game as a Hawkeye, for some perspective. He’s in his seventh season in the NFL.

The “winning the bowl” questions started early for the 2017 Hawkeyes. Like in August.

Win or lose, the players get commemorative rings from bowls. First, kids these days aren’t exactly into rings the size of hubcaps. Second, if you’re on the fence as to whether or not you want to wear a ring on your finger that is the size of your head, the fact that you lost the bowl game pretty much punches the ticket for that ring to live in the player’s ...

“Put ’em in my sock drawer,” linebacker Josey Jewell said.

Where will the Pinstripe ring go if you win?

“Probably the sock drawer,” Jewell said.

Laughter ensued.

“Not that they’re not important, but that’s where I put them,” he said.

Iowa has 18 seniors who have bowl rings from four losing games. They’d like the one for the thumb to be born out of a win.

If you don’t think these things carry some meaning, listen to senior guard Sean Welsh, who, yes, keeps them in a drawer.

“I don’t present them,” Welsh said. “It’s not something that I keep on a stand or anything.”

Senior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg also has stowed the bowl rings.

“Shoe box somewhere,” he said.

You feel like it’s something you don’t care to present?

“Of course not,” he said.

Watch: Hawkeyes reach for a wearable bowl ring

 

Senior defensive tackle Nathan Bazata?

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“Actually, they’re in my dresser,” he said. “I don’t really wear them at all.” A few, he said, are also in his mom’s “treasure chest.”

A lot of these guys wouldn’t wear a ring anyway. A winning ring, though? After five years without one?

“It just means more when you win a bowl,” the Howells, Neb., native said. “I had state championship rings (from high school) and then I had a runner-up ring. I’m going to pick the state championship over the runner-up.”

Senior running back Akrum Wadley has been generous with his bowl rings.

“My mother and father got the rings,” Wadley said.

If Iowa wins Wednesday?

“If we win this game, it’s going to be my ring,” Wadley said. “I’m not against receiving rings. They don’t mean anything if you don’t win.”

The ring thing is a nice aside, but you see where this is going, right?

There’s kind of a lot riding on this for the Hawkeyes.

They certainly want to end the bowl losing streak. An 8-5 season is just one more win than a 7-6, but it feels 100 miles more accomplished.

Can the expectations here overload them? It’s Iowa’s most evenly matched bowl maybe since the 2001 Alamo Bowl, when the 6-5 Hawkeyes took on 7-4 Texas Tech, but Boston College plays the heavy block-and-tackle game Iowa does and won’t be an easy mark.

Iowa needs to shed the bowl losing streak. Everyone Iowa knows this. This is tricky. BC is a moving target, and there’s the weight of the streak.

You could argue this single game, more so than victories over Ohio State and Nebraska and losses to Wisconsin and Purdue and in overtime to Northwestern, will stamp the season a success or failure.

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“I think that’ll be a good question for a month after,” Welsh said, jokingly. “I think the best thing we can do is find that happy medium you’re talking about, making it an important game. I think you’re certainly capable of putting too much pressure on it. We just want to treat it like any other game, an extension of the regular season. It keeps the process the same, you do things the same, I think that’s the best thing for the guys.”

“I’m not against receiving rings. They don’t mean anything if you don’t win.”

- Akrum Wadley

Iowa senior RB

 

Deep down, though, you want a ring to wear, don’t you?

“Absolutely,” Welsh said. “That’s always the goal. It’d be really big for us older guys to go out on a good note.”

The players get rings, win or lose. They also get gear, and a few Hawkeyes wore Pinstripe wearables to interviews last week. Junior defensive end Parker Hesse had a slate blue Pinstripe hoodie on. Cornerback Josh Jackson had the Pinstripe winter coat.

Wadley wore a black Hawkeye hoodie with a — sound of record skipping — TaxSlayer Bowl logo on it. You probably don’t remember the TaxSlayer. Iowa lost to Tennessee, 45-28, and it wasn’t that close. OK, maybe you remember the TaxSlayer or choose to forget it.

“I told (TV reporters) not to get that, I forgot it was media today,” Wadley said laughing. “I told them don’t get that.”

Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle keeps a tight eye on Hawkeye fashion. Everything with a TaxSlayer logo is frowned upon.

“Coach Doyle hates when we wear these,” Wadley said.

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Win and everything Pinstripe will be remembered fondly. Or at least it won’t immediately go into Josey Jewell’s sock drawer.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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