Perhaps more surprising than Missouri pulling out of Wednesday’s scheduled Music City Bowl was the number of Iowa fans who planned to go to the game.
I heard from many Hawkeye supporters who made plans to fly or drive to Nashville for the game. Tourists typically don’t go there to isolate.
Maybe the two things are connected. If people were willing to travel to Nashville for football despite the CDC’s warnings to people to stay home over the holidays, why wouldn’t another college football team get an uptick in COVID-19 cases and why wouldn’t a 17th bowl game get canceled this year?
Missouri, a team with a 5-5 record that had allowed an average of 49.3 points over its last three games, elected to participate in the Music City Bowl. Alas, its Dec. 19 game at Mississippi State apparently helped it bring some COVID-19 back home.
Then the Tigers players got to go home for Christmas. There were more positive tests after they returned to Columbia.
“I know there’s a lot of social media warriors out there that have all the answers,” Missouri Coach Eliah Drinkwitz said after repeatedly saying the blame should be placed on his shoulders, “but if we knew all the answers about COVID it wouldn’t continue to have an outbreak that’s, you know, the largest it’s ever been. But what do I know, I’m a football coach.”
We’ll never know, of course, but it may ultimately be for the best. The game meant a lot to Iowa’s coaches and players because they live for this stuff, and we can understand and respect that. But if several thousand travelers spend 48 hours in a big city for a football game during this pandemic, some of those people are bringing something bad home.
But what do I know, I’m a sportswriter who has traveled to cover games this fall and winter and been lucky so far.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz tested positive for COVID-19 a week-and-a-half ago, and he wasn’t the only Hawkeye coach or player who did. In-person football activities were paused for five days.
Ferentz coughed several times during his Zoom conference with reporters Sunday afternoon, but also had the sound of someone who had been ready to try to lead his team to a rout over Missouri on Wednesday.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Ferentz said. “I really haven’t been affected. If it weren’t for COVID I would have been at work that Thursday. I got sent home. I was lucky. It never really affected me.”
His team was lucky, too. The Hawkeyes were one of just three Big Ten teams that got to play all eight regular-season games.
That gave them a chance to show they were good, and they did more than that. By season’s end, they were very good. But their luck only went so far. A bonus home game with Michigan was yanked, and so was this thing in Nashville. Disappointing, certainly, but not devastating.
“In the big scheme of things,” Ferentz said, “the things that are going on in our country right now, if a college football game doesn’t get played it’s not the end of the world.”
OK, so ... see you at Kinnick Stadium for the Hawkeyes’ season-opener against Indiana on Sept. 4. Hopefully, it’s 69,250 of you.
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