Three cool things:
1. This was the best win in 2012, so, yes, for the purpose of this survey, it was sleepy.
Still, the scene at the end. James Ferentz and Matt Tobin — two former Iowa O-linemen still in the NFL, by the way — were seniors and they wanted their moment with the pig. And hey, you see opposing coaches reach for the “bleep” timeout on occasion. That’s the timeout at the end of a game you won’t win. You call it just to be a “bleep.”
Jerry Kill didn’t do that. James Ferentz either didn’t care or ... well, he probably didn’t care. This was caution going into the wind.
Ferentz decided to make his move for Floyd of Rosedale. If Kill had called a timeout, Ferentz would’ve had a “Mitch King moment.” You remember the 2008 Iowa State game. King got excited, lost track of time and suddenly found himself reaching for the Cy-Hawk in a one-on-the entire Iowa State team moment.
Ferentz and Tobin would’ve had that moment. They were in this together. This was a “Butch and Sundance” end game.
I lived in Dubuque still just a little longer than I’ve lived in Cedar Rapids. Western Dubuque County people have personality.
You see all of that in Tobin at the beginning of this story. This Dyersville native is in my hall of fame (it’s mostly a hall of fame devoted to comedic timing).
In a season that was swept away, that was a fun interview room.
2. I guess this is where the empty trophy case thing started. That really snowballed in 2014, when, you know, the Hawkeyes lost all of the trophy games.
So, the next season, as Iowa started to show real promise in 2015, the empty trophy cases entered the narrative.
So now, Iowa has four traveling trophy games — Iowa State (Cy-Hawk), Minnesota (Floyd of Rosedale), Wisconsin (Heartland Trophy) and the Heroes Trophy with Nebraska.
That’s too many. Edit out Wisconsin and Nebraska. Iowa and Wisconsin already carries championship weight. I think Iowa-Nebraska will grow into that (and who sets the pace on this changes for me everyday, I’m very excited for this series to tighten up).
Serious question to you guys on the trophy games: Is that a measure of a successful season for Iowa? I think yes. There’s nothing like beating your rivals and Iowa has owned that since 2014, going 10-2 in trophy games.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean the College Football Playoff. Maybe there’s a difference between “successful” and “satisfying.”
3. We haven’t talked enough about linebacker Christian Kirksey and I really want to. So, below is a story I wrote about him in 2013. There’s a process for picking who gets to lead that psych-up huddle just before the Hawkeyes break into stretching on game day.
In this case, the process was really very simple.
(Oh and remember, when I wrote in this deal Grant Steen might be the No. 1 ranked OLB during the Kirk Ferentz era. I might’ve moved too early. Steen was the standard pre-spread and running around. Kirksey redefined the position at Iowa.)
Quote: James Ferentz and Matt Tobin were first to the pig in 2012.
“I go, ‘What if they call the timeout?’” Tobin said, “and he (James Ferentz) goes, ‘(Bleep) it.’”
Note: For what it’s worth, Greg Davis offenses were 4-1 against Minnesota. That one was 51-14. Wow, that one really got away. What happened there? Oh, this is about the wins.
Why No. 95? — Where do you file KF 2012? Worst season? It’s not that. It was a reset season with new coordinators. Iowa clearly wasn’t a program that could withstand that at the time.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2012
IOWA CITY — They had a plan and executed it to perfection.
There was the game and all that. The Hawkeyes rode running back Mark Weisman and a huge first half Saturday to a 31-13 victory over Minnesota before 70,585 at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) get a reset with an off week before an Oct. 13 game at Michigan State.
Weisman rushed for 177 yards and a touchdown. Iowa pulled off a flea flicker to perfection, 47 yards from James Vandenberg to Jordan Cotton for a TD. The offense went to sleep in the second half and the defense bucked the trend of slow starts and more than held serve.
Let’s get to the pig.
Iowa had the ball and the game was over. The last snap came with 38 seconds left. The key is that Minnesota (4-1, 0-1) still had a timeout, so run for the Floyd of Rosedale or wait for the clock to go quadruple zero?
There was a plan. The man with the plan was senior center James Ferentz.
“I go, ‘What if they call the timeout?’” senior guard Matt Tobin said, “and he goes, ‘(Bleep) it.’”
Only Tobin didn’t say bleep. Hey, it’s football, it’s the pig and it’s a giant 98-pound bronze porcine statue off this team’s collective chest.
Last week, the maroon-and-white team won at Kinnick, and, yes, that’s Central Michigan. This week, the Hawkeyes closed, with linebacker Christian Kirksey’s 68-yard interception return for a TD with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter being the first hand on Floyd.
It’s at least one trophy case the Hawkeyes won’t be tripping over for the next calendar year.
The ESPN2 crew that handled the telecast got into town Friday and started tweeting photos of the empty trophy case that first started showing up in Iowa’s locker room this summer. It didn’t just sit in the locker room. It was strategically placed in several high-traffic spots by strength coach Chris Doyle and his staff.
This week, the Floyd case was plopped on the steps leading to Kinnick, where players enter for practice. It also was in the weight room, the equipment room and the locker room. The message sunk in.
“The guys were ready to take a sledgehammer to that thing,” linebacker James Morris said. “I’m glad it’s full now.”
After a two-year stay in Minneapolis, Floyd, who was actually interviewed by an ESPN2 sideline reporter, knew he wasn’t leaving Iowa City after the Hawkeyes’ first-half blitz.
Iowa stalled on its first drive, but Mike Meyer drilled a 44-yard field goal. Then free safety Tanner Miller snared a Max Shortell pass and sat inbounds for an interception on Minnesota’s first drive.
Then Iowa started landing body blows. The left side of the offensive line, Tobin and tackle Brandon Scherff with Ferentz joining in, trampled Minnesota’s hyped D-line. Weisman had 103 yards in the first quarter. He added 52 more and an 8-yard TD in the second.
Can the left side of Iowa’s O-line earn Big Ten player of the week? When it was time to take off for the trophy, Weisman, a sophomore, held back and watched the offensive line, as it had all day, lead the way.
“That’s all the O-line, they deserved it,” Weisman said. “They were running like 4.2 40s out there. They were running faster than I was.”
With Minnesota loaded up to stop Weisman, offensive coordinator Greg Davis pulled the rug out from under the Gophers with the flea flicker. Handoff to Weisman for what looked like another inside zone, toss back to Vandenberg and there was Cotton, who didn’t have a defender within cellphone reception.
That was the boost. That made it 17-0 with 13:03 left before halftime. Coach Kirk Ferentz had to run through the memory banks to think of the last flea flicker Iowa ran. He came up with one to former Iowa all-American Dallas Clark in 2001.
”Just part of the offensive package that Greg’s installed,” Ferentz said. “It’s all about timing. Like every play, it’s all about execution. It was a good deal.”
No one seemed to care about the numbers at the end. James Ferentz sprinted for the pig even though Minnesota still had a timeout.
Ferentz didn’t let go of it until he was halfway up the tunnel.
“James Ferentz finally said, ‘Oh my gosh, this thing is heavy, someone help me out,’” Morris said. “And it is heavy. I think I only carried about a fifth of it and it was heavy.”
Christian Kirksey feature from 2013
IOWA CITY — Here’s how Christian Kirksey became the Hawkeye to lead the team huddle in the end zone during pregame:
”I talked to him about it,” fellow senior and linebacker James Morris said. “He said, ‘You want to do it?’ I said, ‘No.’ He wanted to do it. He did, and he does a great job.”
Yes, it was a really complex ritual. Something out of “Game of Thrones,” with swords, oaths and laurels.
“It was just one of those things, James and Anthony (also a senior linebacker) are leaders,” Kirksey said. “They just said, ‘Chris, you do it,’ and I said, ‘OK.’”
C’mon, Christian. We’re trying to make this a big, dramatic production.
“I knew it would probably be one of the linebackers,” defensive tackle Carl Davis said. “I wondered who would show up. It happened to be Chris and he got us going. He gets us going for every game.”
Yes, senior outside linebacker Christian Kirksey just walked into the middle of the huddle and started screaming to teammates when Iowa opened the season in August. It’s just that easy.
It’s not just that easy.
Kirksey arrived at Iowa in the summer of 2010 as a 190-pound linebacker prospect. He played two years at Hazelwood East (Mo.) High School for Coach Mike Jones, the former St. Louis Rams linebacker.
When Kirksey started playing at East, the school was on the verge of a state title. In his junior season, he joined a veteran team with a few college prospects. He checked his ego and learned.
“He had to basically earn his stripes with those guys,” Jones said. “He kept his mouth shut and he knew what to do. And he just kept getting better and better and better.”
Kirksey played as a true freshman for the Hawkeyes. This was 2010 and Iowa was short on special teams players. He made six special teams tackles and was just happy to contribute. The next season was his first as a starting linebacker. He led the Hawkeyes with 110 tackles.
Kirksey, now a 6-foot-2, 230-pounder, obviously grew greatly from his freshman to sophomore year.
“I was 190, so I knew I probably wasn’t physically ready to play linebacker in the Big Ten,” he said, “but I kept a mindset, I could play football, I could play football. You can’t survive as a 190-pound linebacker in the Big Ten, but I knew I could play somewhere.”
Kirksey needed physical growth. The mental foundation already was there.
He had a rogue wave hit him when he first stepped on campus in July 2010. His father, Elmer, died of a heart attack three weeks before his son’s first camp in Iowa City. Elmer and his wife, Patrice, have seven children. Christian, the youngest, was the sixth to attend college.
Kirksey, who has a tattoo of his dad on his right shoulder, was just 17 and living away from home for the first time.
“My dad has been a motor for me,” Kirksey said. “I dedicate my life to him, I dedicate games to him. Anthony Hitchens told me one time that everything happens for a reason. I use that. I try to have fun and make my dad proud. That’s one of the things I try to do, just make him proud.”
At that time, Kirksey was surrounded by a lot of the teammates he’ll run onto the field with Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. That includes Hitchens (weakside linebacker), Morris (middle linebacker) and wide receiver Don Shumpert, a teammate of Kirksey’s at Hazelwood East who knew Kirksey’s dad.
“The team and the coaches basically pulled me in as family,” Kirksey said. “They were always here for me when I needed them. I give credit to the team for being there and giving me a family atmosphere. It helped so much to have friends who supported me.”
Going into the Hawkeyes’ (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) game Saturday against Northwestern (4-3, 0-3), Kirksey has made 32 consecutive starts. He’s third on the team with 49 tackles this season. He has four career interceptions and three defensive TDs, including a 52-yard fumble return for a score in the opener against Northern Illinois.
“(Outside linebacker) is a position that is invisible in our defense,” Coach Kirk Ferentz said, “but we don’t play very well if we don’t have a good player at that position. Chris is as talented of a guy as we’ve had at that position since I’ve been here. Tremendous young man, unbelievable attitude.”
Kirksey was voted a permanent team captain after the 2012 season. He’s been team captain every week this season. And, yes, he’s led the psych-up huddle.
“Christian holds everything in,” said Davis, a junior who’s been close with Kirksey since they began their careers. “He’s a reserved-type guy, he’s really laid-back. When game day comes, he turns on that light switch. He just gets going. He’s always been a fighter. He’s a really tough guy, strong guy.”
The screamer role does seem to go against Kirksey’s nature. He plays the drums and loves music. He’s been behind a drum set since he was 7 years old. He’s never taken a lesson and, no, he doesn’t use the drums to smash stress out in his life.
“Playing the drums is kind of set aside from playing football and set aside from a lot of stuff,” Kirksey said with a gentle smile, downplaying the fact that the drums came to him naturally.
This doesn’t sound like someone who tries to channel the emotional focus for an entire football team.
“A lot of what we are here is this presentation for the media — modest, humble, quiet, soft-spoken,” Morris said. “Christian is all those things in certain aspects of his life. He is a leader and when something needs to be said, he’s certainly going to say it. There’s no question that he’s the right guy to lead the powwow in the end zone.”
This role isn’t one that’s taken lightly. Here are some names who’ve filled it in the last few seasons — defensive tackle Mitch King, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, defensive tackle Mike Daniels and center James Ferentz.
“It’s leadership and being a team player,” Kirksey said. “You don’t have to be the person who makes the most plays or the person who talks the most or does the most, it has to be a person who loves the game and cherishes his teammates. That fits a lot of guys on the team.”
So, no, it’s not just that easy to lead your teammates in the pregame huddle. The choice has to be authentic and the players always seem to know who it should be.