Three cool things:
1. It was a few years after this, but it fits.
Kirk Ferentz remembered Bart Palmer.
Somehow, some way, Palmer, a 225-pound walk-on defensive lineman, ended up starting at nose tackle for the Hawkeyes in their 1999 game at Wisconsin.
This wasn’t just any game at Wisconsin. UW running back Ron Dayne sat on the precipice of the NCAA Division I-A career rushing record. The Badgers were a win against the Hawkeyes from clinching their second straight Big Ten title and advancing to the Rose Bowl. A load of senior all-timers awaited a grand send-off.
The Hawkeyes, 1-8, 0-6 in the Big Ten at that point in Ferentz’s first season, were a party favor, more or less.
Ferentz remembered Bart Palmer.
“I remember we were playing the varsity and we had Bart Palmer, who was a great guy and a tough guy and all that,” Ferentz said. “He was a walk-on linebacker for us and I think he weighed about 215. It wasn’t the most comfortable feeling in the locker room knowing that he was our starting nose tackle.”
Camp Randall Stadium staffers handed out “Ron Dayne 33” towels. At the end of the game, nearly every fan in the stadium held the towel up in salute. After the game, a Big Ten official presented the Badgers with the league title trophy. Coach Barry Alvarez and then-UW athletics director Pat Richter accepted a bouquet of roses and a New Year’s invitation from a Rose Bowl representative. Finally, Dayne was invited aboard the makeshift podium on the Camp Randall field.
Wisconsin officials pointed to the upper deck of the stadium. A white tarp was pulled back to reveal a big red “33 DAYNE” on the facade at the base of the deck.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Dayne said.
Clearly, the Badgers planned to beat Iowa and there wasn’t a damn thing the Hawkeyes could do about it.
Ferentz was taking notes.
Six seasons later, at Kinnick Stadium in 2004, the Hawkeyes were the more physical team, pounding the Badgers into submission during a 30-7 rout that delivered the Hawkeyes a share of their second Big Ten title in three seasons.
The Kinnick Stadium crew passed out towels commemorating the inaugural Heartland Trophy game, the brass bull that goes to the winner of the Iowa-Wisconsin game.
Iowa had its very own “makeshift podium” moment, with Ferentz addressing the crowd over the stadium P.A.
Players held the Big Ten title trophy high from a podium in the middle of Kinnick.
“That 1999 thing was just a great college football environment, not unlike what we had here last year at this time,” Ferentz said in 2005.
No, it was almost exactly like that.
Ferentz remembered Bart Palmer, a walk-on from Lexington, Ky., who was born in Cedar Rapids. He reported for duty on Ron Dayne day, all 225 pounds of him.
“We gave Bart the Purple Heart Award for volunteering the duties,” Ferentz said.
They gave Bart Palmer a Purple Heart in 1999. They gave Wisconsin a beating when a share of the Big Ten title was there for the taking.
Iowa eventually got to party like it was 1999 and enjoyed the beauty of a full-circle moment.
2. I don’t know where you put the 2004 season. It was shaped like a football. It doesn’t fit anywhere but ... maybe the top.
At some point, the Hawkeyes put 2004 in the toilet.
Imagine the silence on that plane ride home from Tempe.
The Hawkeyes had been spanked as they hadn’t been spanked in five years, a 44-7 full-system shutdown at the hands of Arizona State. The plane didn’t leave the Phoenix airport until 2 a.m. Their heads didn’t hit their pillows until 6 or 7.
The defense, the bedrock of a wobbly team, was lit up for 511 yards. The offense, an already iffy proposition, sunk to a Kirk Ferentz-era low with just 100 yards. The coaches, so prepared and so steady, didn’t have an answer against a fired-up Arizona State team.
Imagine the silence on that plane ride.
“It was like a tomb,” linebacker Chad Greenway said.
That is the sound of a turning point, a turning point into the dumpster. But no, not these guys.
The Hawkeyes completed their improbable run from the toilet to the Big Ten title with this dominant win over the Badgers.
Think toilet is too harsh? Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle didn’t. Maybe mark it down as hokey ploy, but Doyle stuck a toilet in the weight room the Monday after Arizona State.
The theme was flush it down. And so they did. Just like that.
In one week, quarterback Drew Tate went from the Bambi who completed just 8 of 19 for 44 yards with one pick going for a touchdown against Arizona State, to a helmetless warrior throwing for 270 yards and two TDs against Michigan.
He had three turnovers against the Wolverines, but he proved himself. Tate improvised a 51-yard TD pass to wideout Clinton Solomon that gave Iowa a 14-7 lead with 1:00 left before halftime against the Badgers.
Wisconsin defensive end Jamal Cooper had Tate in his sights. He dipped his shoulder and spun left, scrambled up field and whipped the ball to Solomon.
“He’s so competitive,” Alvarez said. “He moves so much and so well it puts you on eggshells, and you’re afraid to go after him too hard.”
At Arizona State, Tate’s eyes were red with tears.
“I did a poor job leading the offense, leading the unit,” Tate said that night. “I tried to do some things I probably shouldn’t have done.”
Against Michigan, he came away with a scar on the right side of his mouth, from the play where he had his helmet ripped off. You remember that play, everyone remembers that play.
After Wisconsin, he held the game ball tightly to his chest as he bear-hugged his mom and dad, Dick and Martha Olin.
“He has a little magic to him,” Ferentz said.
After Arizona State, Iowa’s defense just kept being Iowa’s defense. The unit put it down as an aberration and simply went about its business.
“They did pretty much whatever they wanted to us,” defensive end Matt Roth said. “We were their whuppin’ boys.”
The “Whuppin’ Boys” went on to lead the Big Ten in rush defense (90.2 yards a game) and turnover margin (plus-1.27). They also led the Big Ten in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score points just 62.5 percent of the time they moved the ball inside Iowa’s 20-yard line.
The Hawkeyes’ 31 takeaways (16 interceptions, 15 fumbles) were second in the nation, behind Troy’s 32.
Iowa’s defense got whupped once — maybe twice if you count Minnesota’s 337 rushing yards — but this unit did the whuppin’ after ASU.
“When you get embarrassed like this there is really nothing you can do,” free safety Sean Considine said after ASU. “I don’t know what we’re going to do about it, but we’re going to come in on Tuesday with a positive attitude and get past this and learn from it.”
Considine after the Wisconsin game: “We had millions of chances to make excuses,” he said. “You guys came up to us every week and asked us to make an excuse, you wanted to hear it so bad. But it didn’t happen. I think good things tend to happen to good people, and this program is full of good people.”
Not all turning points come with a touchy-feely pat on the back and “stick with it, son.”
Sometimes, a humbling experience can go a lot farther. That’s what kind of turning point the Arizona State game was for the Hawkeyes, a kick-in-the-can reality check.
It whiplashed the Hawkeyes into a more focused “one week at a time” mode, something they might’ve lost before Arizona State.
One week in September, they’re 2-2. The last week in November, they’re 9-2, co-champions of the Big Ten and, at the time, were unofficially headed to the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
“That game (Arizona State) caused us to maybe galvanize our efforts a little bit,” Ferentz said. “We started carrying ourselves with a little bit more tempo. We started to practice better.
“It didn’t necessarily show up in the Michigan game statistically, but we acted like a football team more so in that game. We hurt ourselves with turnovers. But from that time on we grew each and every week. The turning point would have to be the Arizona State game.”
From the toilet to the title, from whupped to winners, that’s the turn the Hawkeyes’ season took.
3. At some point during the week, it dawned on me that a Big Ten championship trophy could be in Kinnick Stadium.
Made a bunch of calls. Finally got someone from the Big Ten to say they basically didn’t know for sure. I can’t remember how I left it. I can’t find the story.
I know I scrambled for a few hours late in the week trying to see if the league was covering that base.
Say what you want about the Big Ten, it takes the trophy thing seriously.
One thing I have to ask you guys — when did you realize a Big Ten title trophy was up for grabs in this one?
I’ve heard from a lot of people over the years that they had no idea until on their way into Kinnick as they heard Ohio State was going to beat Michigan.
Be honest, when did you know?
Quote: Heard a story a few years later about a Hawkeye fan who happened into a dive bar in Iowa City and ran into a bunch of Iowa coaches celebrating this season. How do you even articulate it?
This is a long way of asking how 2004 isn’t your favorite season?
“I don’t know how you top it, just because of the challenges we had to face this year. It gets back to the people I work with, the will that they’ve all exhibited. It’s pretty impressive.” — Kirk Ferentz
Note: You know that 2004 Iowa did this hopping around on one leg, right? The Hawkeyes averaged 2.04 yards per carry in 2004. Their 72.58 yards per game ranked No. 116th in the nation. That actually wasn’t last. Oregon State was worse.
Why No. 2? — I think we can stop asking this question now.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2004
IOWA CITY — It sure looked like a full-sized Big Ten championship trophy.
No co-championship in Kirk Ferentz’s tears, Jonathan Babineaux’s hoist and Drew Tate’s grip on the game ball. The shared part of the deal was mere formality. The Kinnick Stadium fans’ bull rush onto the field, the crowd that surrounded a makeshift platform and Ferentz’s words were the real deal.
“No one ever put their head down. This team never quit,” Ferentz said into a microphone and 70,397 fans hung on every word. “They fought to the end.”
The No. 17 Iowa Hawkeyes dumped No. 9 Wisconsin, 30-7, to finish an improbable run to an unbelievable Big Ten championship Saturday. Iowa’s defense mangled the No. 9 Badgers, forcing four turnovers, and Tate threw three touchdown passes to lead the Hawkeyes to a share of the Big Ten title for the second time in three seasons.
Earlier Saturday, Ohio State opened the door by upending Michigan, 37-21, at Columbus. Michigan gets the trip to the Rose Bowl by virtue of its 30-17 victory over the Hawkeyes on Sept. 25 in Ann Arbor. The Hawkeyes’ bowl destination isn’t set in stone, but that’s also a formality.
Iowa will end up in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on New Year’s Day. No one could officially sign off on that Saturday, but Capital One committee member Jack Oppenheimer said head-to-head competition is the determining factor.
The Bowl Championship Series will release teams from BCS bowl consideration Tuesday. That’s when everything is expected to become official.
“It’s unofficial, we have to wait for the BCS, but there’s a pretty decent shot,” Oppenheimer said. “Last year, Iowa and Purdue had the same record and we went with Purdue because of the head-to-head win over Iowa. It’s Iowa and Wisconsin this year, and now this year Iowa’s got that head-to-head win.”
Iowa has never played in the Capital One, formerly the Citrus Bowl. The game pits the Big Ten against the Southeastern Conference and kicks off at noon on ABC.
“You know, the bowl doesn’t even matter,” defensive tackle Tyler Luebke said. “We’re rolling right now and we just want to keep playing.”
Tate, Iowa’s first-year starter at QB, started with back-to-back interceptions, giving the Badgers first downs at Iowa’s 32 and 35. The Badgers had two point-blank cracks at the Iowa defense and came away with zip.
Wisconsin punter Ken DeBauche botched the hold on Mike Allen’s 47-yard attempt. Then Allen missed a 51-yard attempt.
“We started off on the wrong foot,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “We knew holding them to three was going to be big. Holding them to zero, that was really big.”
Running back Anthony Davis, the Badgers’ leading rusher, sat out Saturday’s game with a deep thigh bruise. The Hawkeyes held Wisconsin to a season-low 41 yards on 30 carries.
“His leg was very weak,” Wisconsin Coach Barry Alvarez said. “We thought we could rehab him, but after Thursday and Friday he still couldn’t protect himself.”
After the Badgers blew two turnover opportunities, Iowa’s offense started rolling. On third-and-2 from Iowa’s 42, Tate hit wideout Ed Hinkel for a 12-yard gain to move the ball to Wisconsin’s 46.
Then on a third-and-1 from Wisconsin’s 37, the Hawkeyes put Babineaux, an all-Big Ten caliber defensive tackle, in as an H-back. Babineaux went in motion to the left, and the Hawkeyes went right behind him.
Fullback Aaron Mickens crashed up the left side for 8 yards to the 29. Three plays later, Tate hit wide receiver Clinton Solomon for a 6-yard TD with 4:22 left in the first quarter.
Wisconsin free safety Jim Leonhard, who picked off both passes from Tate, set up the Badgers with a 29-yard punt return to Iowa’s 43. Fullback Matt Bernstein converted a third-and-1 and a fourth-and-1 with counter runs, and the Badgers scored on reserve running back Booker Stanley’s 4-yard run, making it 7-7 with 1:51 left before halftime.
Instead of turtling and going into halftime tied, Iowa’s offense went into two-minute mode.
On third-and-1 from the 50, Tate got Iowa to the line of scrimmage. Wisconsin defensive end Jamal Cooper was all over Tate. But Tate dipped his shoulder, spun and started running up field.
He saw Solomon break behind strong safety Robert Brooks and threw as hard as he could off his back foot. The ball got there, and it was academic after that.
Solomon scooted in untouched, and Tate had some more magic behind his name.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know what happened there,” said Solomon, who caught six passes for 100 yards and two TDs. “We just put that play in this week. I usually run a crossing route. Drew got me the ball. We made eye contact and he let the ball go.”
It was the one big play that threw off the momentum of the game, a field-position grunt fest. And it was quintessential Tate, who completed 15 of 24 for 186 yards, three interceptions and three TDs.
If first-year sophomore starters are allowed to have “quintessential” next to their names.
“We had them corralled up and the kid (Solomon) got behind us on a little vertical route,” Wisconsin defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. “(Tate) is a great player.”
From there, Iowa’s defense won this championship.
Down 14-7 after halftime, Wisconsin’s offense went three-and-out, interception, interception, fumble, four-and-out and fumble. The Hawkeyes scored 13 points off the turnovers and stretched their lead to 27-7 with 10:59 left in the game.
The Hawkeyes sacked UW quarterback John Stocco four times, with Babineaux collecting two. Jovon Johnson and Sean Considine had interceptions. Defensive end Matt Roth had three tackles for loss.
It was quintessential Iowa defense. And these guys have more than earned their “quintessential.”
“We never thought we were out of anything,” Greenway said. “We lost like 30 running backs this year (actually seven). We played through the ups and downs and here we are.”
So many rough spots — the 44-7 loss at Arizona State. So many ups and downs — seven running backs out at times. There was one gold football on one Big Ten championship trophy here Saturday.
And that trophy belonged to Iowa.