Townie Hawk: Staying the Course

Realists and dreamers alike know that real love stays, through both triumph and tragedy. Woe be to the Hawkeyes if we were the kind of fans who left the stadium every time there was a deluge, or left the Deadwood every time they ran out of Sally’s kick-ass chili. There’s a lot of season left to play and I, for one, haven’t lost a single butterfly flutter in my tummy for our dear Hawks.

First things first: Iowa State came out prepared, focused and determined in game two of the 2011 season. Props to the ‘Clones, and their mad 3 a.m. tailgating legions. If my sister weren’t a Cyclone, perhaps I would have felt more of the visceral anger compelling so many Hawks to apparently abandon ship (and the 2011 season) altogether. This ridiculous inclination was eloquently shunned in Seth Roberts piece “Is Iowa’s season over?” (The Daily Iowan, Sept. 16). Google it–it’s well worth looking up.

Though some were appalled by the hate-speak peppering Twitter and Facebook post-ISU, to longtime football fans, it wasn’t much more than a public airing of the same couch-quarterbacking, Schlitz-stoned rants our Dads broke out every weekend. However, if any among you really have given up on the 2011 Hawks, I say so long, fair weather fans.

Your season officially ended after ISU? I guess all it takes is one hard-fought and terrifically exciting triple-OT upset to get some folks riled up enough to write off the remaining ten games of the season. Oh well, take your black and gold gear down to Mizzou for all I care. There’s plenty of us still interested.

Because for those of us willing to stay the course, well, there was Pitt. Enough said.

In preparation for the season ahead, I’ve taken a few notes that may help all of us keep our disappointment in check, and force us to recognize that college football is an imprecise, unpredictable sport where 100 percent of the time, half of the teams lose. For every Hail-Mary pass on fourth and seven that ends in fans erupting onto the turf and dragging down the goalposts, there are a hundred fourth-and-desperate face-down flops. Some points to keep in mind:

1. In Kirk we must trust. No matter how distasteful some fans find it, it’s best we all wrap our brains around the fact that Kirk Ferentz is not exactly a risk taker. If you’re looking for a long-ball style offense, field-goal faking and running backs who serve more as blockers, you best be catching another bus. But if you’re looking for a coach who plays it straight, one whose confidence in his team’s ability is evident, then Ferentz is your man.

Prime example: When asked in the post-ISU press conference about not going for it on fourth and one in overtime number three, Ferentz responded, “Obviously I was banking on us being able to keep them out of the endzone. Knowing what I know now, I’d have done it differently.”

I was watching the same game as Kirk that infamous Saturday and I had very little faith that our defense could hold ISU out of an endzone they’d been fancy-dancing into all day long. But Kirk’s confidence in his players’ ability to perform shows real grit and heart, even if that confidence was obviously placed on the wrong side of the ball. If there’s anything we Iowans respect, it’s a man who proceeds with clear-eyed, unflinching confidence into the terrible mistake he’s about to make. One who takes note of each epic failure, then tries his best to do better next time. That, as our mothers never fail to remind us, is life.

2. Duh do run run run. I like to regard the performance of our Hawkeye football team as a direct reflection of the character of the state. It helps me better understand the sometimes unfathomable direction we are driven in by one Ken O’Keefe and it also keeps me from getting bored by a team that can be, let’s face it, a little repetitive. Plus, who doesn’t like a little narrative substructure to keep the ol’ brain active on multiple levels? Oh, literary city, I know you do …

So think about it … the roads here, they run straight, right? Straight up the gut. Narry a turnpike or cloverleaf in sight. And the people? They’re straight shooters, too. Upright and true, and if there’s a six-foot wall of muscle standing in our way (or some equally impenetrable force), by golly, we will barrel into the heap, scratching and clawing our way through until we either get squashed like a bug too blind to see the shoe, or emerge shimmering Goliaths in the corn-colored sun.

Iowans like to keep it simple. O’Keefe can be predictable, but that’s not exactly a characteristic we detest. If you’re going to get into an argument with your neighbor, wouldn’t you rather know if the gun under his bed is loaded? In O’Keefe’s case, we all know it’s not. So, hey, no surprises.

3. Van’s the man. I don’t know if you were paying attention, but James Vandenberg is, um, kind of a stud. Lest we forget, Pitt was Vandy’s fourth start ever. Oh, and he threw for nearly 400 yards and led the team to the biggest comeback victory in Hawkeye history, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors. Huge. I’m willing to chalk a few errant passes up to growing pains and I’m ready to support a guy who carries himself like a cool, calm, able leader on the field. And some of his chucks are real beauts: remember that perfect spiral to Kevonte Martin-Manley–mere centimeters over the outstretched arms of a floundering Pitt defender? Ahhhh … yes. The experience and reliability will come; I predict our junior QB will age like the best of Iowa steaks. Prime, baby.

4. Our hidden heroes. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like two out of every three names being called up each game day results in a resounding “Who?” from fellow fans in the stands? This is a young team, people. Our stars are pre-eruption and all it takes is one stand-out play to ignite their dormant shine. It’s fun to see players like Martin-Manley explode onto the scene, scoring two clutch touchdowns in a tight game. I mean, who is this guy? And check out Nevada (that’s Nuh-vay-duh), Iowa’s own Eric Guthrie, our ginormous 6’ 6” punter, who has played well in every game this year. Granted, he is a senior, but he’s been waiting in line behind one of Iowa’s most successful punters, Ryan Donahue, for years, only to debut with a 44.4 yard punting average in the first 3 games. That’s 2.5 yards more than Donahue’s career average. Noooiice!

Hawks, are you with me? Let’s ride out this learning season with confidence! We know that hard times and tough challenges create the future maturity, experience and depth that wins championships. I, for one, can’t wait to see how we grow.

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