Hawkeye Preview: 'Love it or leave it' QB really loves America

Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi looks around on the field before an NCAA college football game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi looks around on the field before an NCAA college football game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

IOWA CITY — Communism isn’t as chic as it used to be, but we are talking about Iowa City and the University of Iowa.

There is a possibility that Ricky Stanzi may have sat in on a class with a communist. Yes, the American quarterback, the “Love it or leave it, USA No. 1” quarterback, might have shared a class space with a Marxist, socialist or communist. We are talking Iowa City and the University of Iowa.

“I don’t know how other colleges are, but when you walk around here, you’ve got people ... you’ve got guys walking around in dresses and just these hippies,” Stanzi said. “There’s the Ped Mall area down there, right in the middle. Those people are going nowhere. Those people are the people who don’t like America.”

And off we go.

The No. 21 Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) face off with No. 8 Ohio State (9-1, 5-1) today at Kinnick Stadium. It’s all-American day, basically. The UI plans to air a video salute to Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta and all veterans at Kinnick Stadium. A military flyover also is scheduled. Also, Iowa wrestling legend and ’72 Olympic gold medalist Dan Gable will serve as the team’s honorary captain this week.

Terrific setting for Stanzi, the quarterback who really does love America.

It’s not an act. It’s not a gag. Yes, Stanzi did pull one of the all-time funnies when thrown an indecipherable question from Fox’s Chris Myers in the postgame of the Hawkeyes’ Orange Bowl victory last January.

“Of course, there’s nothing better than being American,” the Iowa quarterback said after Iowa’s 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech. “ ... If you don’t love it, leave it. USA, No. 1.”

That was funny, but the sentiment behind it is genuine. Stanzi said this isn’t some extension of Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

“There’s definitely something real. It’s definitely real,” said Stanzi, one of 26 Hawkeye seniors who’ll play their final game in Kinnick today. “People always talk about it being from “Ricky Bobby.” It wasn’t. It wasn’t a joke. We’re dead serious. That’s literally how we feel.

“It was the first thing that popped into my mind, because it’s how we feel.”

The “we” here includes Stanzi’s roommates, fullback Brett Morse and linebacker Jeff Tarpinian. They vouch 100 percent for the Stanzi’s American fervor.

They’ve seen the rants, sometimes public, that back it up.

Tarpinian is from Omaha, so the trio made the College World Series a regular summer trip. They walked through the concourse and a gate area. People cut in line and there was some chaos.

Stanzi happened to be wearing a T-shirt from Tarpinian’s high school, Millard North. It was from their student section at football games. It’s black with “security” on the back.

There’s cutting in line. Tempers rise. The national anthem starts inside the stadium.

“Some guy from the line, ‘Hey, security! Security! What’s going on? Everyone is cutting us!’” Morse said. “Someone in line who was getting cut thought that Rick was the security guy. They start yelling at Rick when the whole place is quiet during the national anthem.

“I think you can imagine how he felt about that. He turned around and let that guy have a piece of his mind. It was definitely one of the top five hardest I’ve ever laughed.”

Again, a tint of comedy, but it’s real. Stanzi said he grew up in a family that valued patriotism.

Stanzi’s dad, Joe, was in the Army. His uncle, John Stanzi, fought in the Vietnam War. His grandfather also was in the service, he said. “There’s probably one person in every family almost,” he said.

“There was alway an American flag hanging up in the house,” he said. “There was always one hanging up outside. There was a lot of patriotic talk and having a lot of pride in your country and the freedom and not taking things for granted and working hard. You just kind of adopt those things.”

There is some “moto” to Stanzi, sure. His moped sports an American flag and is covered in USA stickers. He yells out in the Iowa weightroom when Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” comes on or when the “Rocky” theme kicks in.

“That’s just the way he is,” Tarpinian said. “It was the way he was raised, it’s the way his family is. He really respects our country and he’s proud to be an American. Yeah, on the stage at the Orange Bowl, that was him being kind of goofy, but he does love America. There’s no doubt about that.”

Even Stanzi admits this thing has taken a life of its own. There’s even a UI licensed “Love it or leave it” T-shirt. The senior class poster is all Americana — “It’s a Hawkeye Football Nation: Love it or Leave it.” Stanzi is holding the American flag in it, by the way.

“Everybody I live with is just like I am,” Stanzi said. “We’re always talking about it and it tends to take off from there. It turns into a quote and the next thing you know there are T-shirts.

“Little stuff over time has added up and now it’s just exploded and everybody’s just running with it. It’s fun. It’s great.”

It’s not a patriot act. It’s not a joke. Take the topic up with Stanzi. Soon, you will find yourself in the throes of a passionate discourse, aka a rant.

Thus, the Ped Mall commentary. Right or wrong, agree or disagree, it’s Stanzi.

“They always find something wrong with (America). They’re the problem,” Stanzi said. “They’re the people who need to change and figure it out. They need to get it together and work hard.

“The people who are doing things right and working hard, they don’t complain because there’s no point in complaining. When something happens to you, you take it on the chin and keep moving forward.”

If you need further verification, Stanzi does have “Made in the USA 1987” tattooed on his back.

“I didn’t know if he was joking when I first got here, but when you see a ‘Made in the USA 1987’ on his back, you know he’s pretty serious,” safety Tyler Sash said.

Oh, he serious.

Game Guide

  • Teams: Iowa (7-3, 4-2) vs. Ohio State (9-1, 5-1)
  • Where: Kinnick Stadium (70,585) Iowa City
  • When: 2:36 p.m. today
  • Kickoff forecast: Cloudy, 48
  • TV: KCRG
  • Radio: WMT-AM (600), KXIC-AM (800)
  • Spread: Ohio State by 3
  • Series: Ohio State leads, 45-14-3
  • Coaches: Kirk Ferentz is 88-58 in his 12th year at Iowa, 100-79 in his 15th overall. Jim Tressel is 238-79-2 in his 25th season overall, 103-22 in his 10th season at Ohio State.

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