Three cool things:
1. I missed this one. I have a good excuse. I wasn’t on the beat yet.
I was in Las Vegas covering the Cyclones. I was hired at The Gazette in late summer of 1998 and assigned Iowa State football. It was a blast. Road games in Austin, Boulder and Las Vegas. Yes, yes and yes.
My first game on the ISU beat? I thought the Cyclones would handle TCU, who had this young running back named LaDainian Tomlinson. He didn’t go nuts that day, but I completely underestimated TCU. I try not to do that anymore.
So, I was in Vegas for Kirk Ferentz’s first win.
The Cyclones pulled out a competitive game. I remember talking with Paul Rhoads outside of the locker room. I think the Cyclones had fun in Vegas that night.
And, no, I didn’t bet on the game, even though that would’ve been perfectly legal in Vegas in 1998. This fall, I still don’t know if you’ll be able to bet on college football, but obviously, that’s coming.
I’ve actually covered every Kirk Ferentz game except for this one. I chipped in during the opener vs. Nebraska and then the next week was Iowa State (I think that was a night game), I was typing the Iowa State side of the story.
Then there was this game and then I was on the beat.
My first game? A 49-3 loss against one of Nick Saban’s Michigan State teams. I saw Randy Reiners get hit from the blindside and tumble like he was a stuntman who had a steel cable tied to his belt with a pickup truck on the other end.
Ferentz eventually named that game “Jurassic Park.” Wide receiver Plaxico Burress was the T-rex.
Oh, and then-MSU coach Nick Saban hung this baby on the Hawkeyes’ front door: “I don’t think they have nearly as good a players as they had when we played them a couple of years ago. They probably feel that their players are playing hard for them, but they definitely need more talented guys, especially skill players, if they’re going to be more competitive in the league.”
That was my first day. I also remember wearing a green sweater. The game was at Michigan State. I was the newbie and then assistant Iowa SID Steve Roe (now the head dude in charge) gently suggested to me in a one-on-one setting that wearing any team colors on gameday is not exactly something you should be shooting for.
I totally got that. Since, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid that. That’s why everything I own is plaid.
And, no, I don’t know if Ferentz has that Saban quote tattooed on his back, but I wouldn’t be shocked.
2. OK, the really cool part of this game, beside it being Ferentz’s first win at Iowa, is the fact that linebacker LeVar Woods returned a punt blocked by Matt Bowen for an 87-yard TD.
Woods is now Iowa’s special teams coordinator and has been affiliated with the program for going on 12 seasons as a coach and assistant.
Now, do you want to get Coach Woods in trouble?
He did a somersault into the end zone. I guess that wasn’t 15 yards back then. Of course you know that Woods had a seven-year career in the NFL, during which he really earned his stripes on special teams.
Woods will begin his first season as Iowa’s full-service special teams coordinator. In this one, the special teams coach made a special teams play.
3. I made a big deal when Ferentz used the term “gut feeling” to describe the QB situation at Pitt in 2008. Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi played the first half. Christensen played the second. Iowa lost, 21-20.
Ferentz in the postgame said it was a “gut feel.” Of course, my unimaginative brain got stuck there.
Well, Ferentz used that term to talk about going from Kyle McCann to Randy Reiners as the starting quarterback after just two games in 1999.
Look, every staff in America puts all of its great thinking into who should be their QB. It’s the most important position on the field. It is. Don’t argue (defensive line is the most important position group, at least I think).
So, when the result comes back to you unfavorable, it makes you question your evaluations and everything you put into those.
I think that’s why Ferentz sticks with QBs. I know that’s why I would.
Quote: Reiners took some shots for this program. The security wasn’t so tight back then around the team. We talked to players outside of the locker room at Northwestern in 1999. The door opened and took a long time to swing back. We got to see Reiners take about 20 minutes to put on a shirt.
He’s probably still a tough son-of-a-buck.
“In the huddle, he’s in there blowing snot, spitting, hollering. He tells us to get after it. He’s one of the more emotional guys I’ve been around.” — Iowa OL Jay Bickford
Note: Ladell Betts played one year for Hayden Fry. It was 1998 and the Hawkeyes finished 3-8. Shave off the 657 yards he gained that season and Betts still is No. 2 on the list of leading rushers under Ferentz with 3,007 yards.
During the KF years, Betts had 644 carries for 3,007 yards and 20 TDs.
The best running back of the Ferentz era would be quite the discussion. A lot of you would argue Shonn Greene.
Why No. 35? — Remember how I said I took over the beat after this game?
It took the Hawkeyes a calendar year to win their next game, 21-16 over Michigan State on Oct. 7, 2000. This game was September 1999.
Iowa State went to the Insight Bowl in 2000. I was kind of jealous.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 1999
By Jim Ecker, The Gazette
IOWA CITY — Hayden Fry Day had a happy ending Saturday night, but it took some patience and perseverance to pull it off.
The Iowa Hawkeyes regrouped after a sleepy first half and dumped off Northern Illinois, 24-0, with a strong second half before 63,478 nervous fans at Kinnick Stadium.
The first half was nothing to write novels about, but the Hawks (1-2) had some fun after intermission with a 99-yard scoring drive and an 87-yard touchdown by linebacker LeVar Woods with a blocked punt.
Fry, honored in pregame ceremonies for his 20-year career at Iowa, watched this game from the press box, an unusual perch for a man who had a running love/hate relationship with the media during his two decades from 1979 to ‘98.
Fry received a rocking chair from the university, the better to enjoy his retirement, but the former coach probably needed a cushy easy chair to stay comfortable during a tedious first half that ended with Iowa clinging to a 3-0 lead against the visitors from DeKalb, Ill.
Things greatly improved in the second half when the Hawks, pinned by a punt at their own 1, went on a 99-yard, 17-play march that consumed 7 minutes, 57 seconds of the third and fourth quarters and resulted in a 10-0 lead. Randy Reiners finished the drive with a 2-yard run, spinning away from Lamain Rucker to score, but tailback Ladell Betts did the heavy lifting.
Betts carried 10 times for 61 yards on the drive en route to his best day as a Hawkeye. His offensive line, much maligned this year, took control at the point of impact and gave the hard-charging tailback room to operate.
Betts finished the game with a career-best 174 yards on 33 tries, snapping his previous high of 151 yards last year against Indiana.
Northern Illinois (0-3) threatened to get back in the game after it fell behind 10-0, but its drive stalled at the 13-yard line and Coach Joe Novak called for a field goal. Big mistake.
Matt Bowen blocked the kick and the ball bounced right to Woods, who recovered from momentary surprise and began running the other way. The 240-pound junior sprinted down the west sideline in front of the Iowa bench and did a somersault into the end zone. The PAT made it 17-0 with 9:59 left in the game.
The Hawks salted away the 499th victory in school history when Betts burned into the end zone on a 10-run scamper with 7:03 left. The extra point gave Iowa a 24-0 bulge and 21 points within a 6:10 span.
Reiners, starting his first game this year in place of Kyle McCann, completed 13 of 18 passes for 145 yards. Coach Kirk Ferentz had a “gut feeling” Reiners would spark the UI offense after two sluggish games. It didn’t happen right away, but it finally happened.
Iowa has pounded Northern Illinois every time: 48-20 in 1985, 57-3 in 1986, 58-7 in 1991 and 54-20 in 1993. The Hawks didn’t roll up as many points this time, but they gave Ferentz his first victory here with Fry watching from above.
The Hawkeyes had a chorus of boos ringing in their ears as they left the field after the first half. Iowa had a 3-0 lead at that point, but many UI fans in the crowd of 63,478 were not happy when Ferentz let the final 15 seconds tick away without trying a play from the NIU 41-yard line.
Reiners had just been sacked for a 7-yard loss, but there was still time for a play or two before the half ended. Instead, Reiners walked away from the line of scrimmage as fans jeered.
It was a mostly inept performance in the first half for Iowa, which was favored by 14 points over the winless Huskies from the Mid-American Conference. The only scoring in the first two periods was a 46-yard field goal by Tim Douglas, made possible by Tarig Holman’s interception and 13-yard return to the Northern Illinois 31.
The Hawkeyes “drove” a grand total of two yards on their march to the ice-breaking field goal, which came with 2:30 left in the half. Much of what preceded the field goal was tedious, futile and downright embarrassing on offense.
The Hawks filled the first quarter with an illegal shift, false start, delay of game, missed 33-yard field goal and a lost fumble by Rob Thein. The second quarter featured three wasted timeouts due to confusion on the field, a punt into the end zone from the Northern Illinois 38, another false start, more confusion on offense, a punt into the end zone from the NIU 35, a fumbled snap and a penalty for 12 men on the field.
Pretty it wasn’t.
The Hawkeyes caught a big break in the first half when a 15-yard touchdown pass from NIU quarterback Frisman Jackson to Justin McCareins was nullified by pass interference on McCareins against Joe Slattery. Northern Illinois Coach Novak argued to no avail.
Northern Illinois had a 27-yard touchdown run by reserve quarterback Chris Finlen nullified by a holding penalty in the fourth period after it was 24-0.
The Hawks are idle this week before starting the Big Ten campaign at Michigan State Oct. 2.
LeVar Woods feature from 2000
IOWA CITY — He was 5 years old when his parents divorced, and he moved with his mom. That, of course, changed the kid’s life. For LeVar Woods, it was like driving a U-Haul to a new planet.
They wrote songs about his old hometown, Cleveland. You know, ‘Cleveland Rocks!’
But Larchwood? Larchwood, Iowa? Larchwood, what? Rolls?
“I don’t remember much about the move,” the University of Iowa linebacker said. “I know we were one of the only black families.
“It was different. I never really thought about it like that until I got to be about 17. It kind of hit me that, hey, I am the only black kid in school here. There are a couple other black families, but they were younger than me.
“It was different. But it was OK.”
Woods conquered the Larchwood world.
He rushed for 1,226 yards, scored eight touchdowns and made nine sacks during a senior season that netted him Class 2A player of the year at West Lyon High School.
All that, and he was homecoming king, too.
In the conference track meet his senior year, Woods ran in the 100-meter finals next to West Lyon teammate Kyle Vanden Bosch, now a standout defensive end at Nebraska, and Central Lyon’s R.J. Meyer, a linebacker at Iowa.
“There was no room for anyone else,” Central Lyon Coach Toby Lorenzen joked.
Throw in Central Lyon’s B.J. Van Briesen, who played at Iowa last year before leaving because of academic difficulties, and West Lyon’s Darin Naatjes, a wide receiver/baseball player at Stanford, you have to wonder if the cash crop in Lyon County isn’t Division I football players.
“That’s all there is to do — play sports, play football,” Woods said. “All the kids work their butt off.”
Nebraska called but never offered Woods a scholarship. He ended up at Iowa, in Iowa City. Another move to another planet.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” Woods said. “It took me a few months to get used to the fact that I had to lock my door. Growing up, I didn’t even have a key. We didn’t have a key to the house. We never locked it.
“It’s completely different in Iowa City. Even though it’s not a big city, it’s got a big city feel, especially when all the students are there.”
Last season, Woods made another move. He went from the anonymity of a role player to the spotlight of a starter.
“He’s a guy who comes to work everyday. Rain or snow, hot or cold, all that stuff,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He practices with pain, he plays with pain. He does everything you want a football player to do.”
Woods was solid, not spectacular. He was seventh on the team with 57 tackles and had just one sack. Perhaps his biggest moment came in Iowa’s only win when he returned a blocked field goal for an 87-yard touchdown in Iowa’s 24-0 victory over Northern Illinois.
“I’m really hard on myself. I think last year I was competent,” Woods said. “I don’t think I really made as many plays as I did when I was a sophomore.
“Then, I just came off the bench and came in and went wild and did whatever. Now, it’s different. I have to tame down and make sure that I have all my responsibilities taken care of. It’s more of a responsibility. I’m the starter and I know I have to take care of everything.”
As he enters his senior season, Woods prepares for another move — the move to the world beyond college.
He’s getting married in May. He will pursue professional football. If that fizzles, he will look for a job as an elementary school teacher.
“I think kids are the most amazing things,” Woods said. “They see the world in a totally different light, but when you get down to their level and talk to them, you realize they see things the same as you.”
How does a 6-foot-3, 245-pound teacher/linebacker get down to an 11-year-old’s level?
“I get down on a knee,” he said.
Cue rim shot.