Harty: Nick Day now belongs on a special list of Hawkeyes
Nick Day always will have a special place in Hawkeye lore after hitting arguably the most dramatic and most important home run in the history of the Iowa baseball program.
His walk-off, 2-run blast against Ohio State, which came with two strikes and two outs in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Wednesday, has earned Day a spot next to former Hawkeyes like Chuck Long, Rob Houghtlin, Marv Cook, Luke Recker, Warren Holloway, Daniel Murray, Marvin McNutt and Tony Ramos.
They’re not necessarily all linked by individual stardom, but instead by how they seized the moment under gut-wrenching circumstances, each one rescuing victory from defeat.
The Iowa baseball team was just one strike from suffering a costly loss in the conference tournament when Day smacked a low, insider slider over the left field fence at Target Field in Minneapolis.
The Iowa football team was just one play from losing to Louisiana State in the 2005 Capital One Bowl when the unheralded Holloway slipped past two defenders and caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Drew Tate as time expired.
It was Holloway’s only touchdown reception in college, adding to his mystique. It was one play that Hawkeye fans will savor forever, much like May’s heroics on Wednesday.
I thought about trying to rank the biggest plays in Hawkeye athletics by order of importance, but it’s too difficult because each play stands tall on its own. It’s also hard to compare sports because football and men’s basketball have a huge advantage in terms of importance and notoriety.
So here’s a closer look in chronological order at 11 of the most famous plays in Hawkeye athletics beginning with Day’s stunning blast.
MAY DAY: You could make a strong case for Day’s home run being the most improbable of all the plays listed simply because of percentages. We witness game-winning field goals, game-winning catches and game-winning shots way more often than a ninth-inning, walk-off home run that had serious postseason ramifications.
The odds of even getting a hit, let alone a walk-off home run with two strikes and two outs, are rare, considering baseball is a sport where failing seven out of 10 times at the plate makes you a good hitter. Day defied the odds and did so despite suffering from a nagging back injury, another reason to put him on the list.
RAMOS ROCKS: Tony Ramos had a long list of accomplishments as an Iowa wrestler when he faced Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff in the NCAA title match at 133 pounds in 2014.
Ramos hadn’t won a national title, though, and time was running out on the senior.
The score was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, with both points coming on escapes. There was no scoring in the sudden overtime period or in the first tiebreaker.
However, in the second tiebreaker Graff began rolling on the mat trying to escape. Ramos reacted by pouncing on Graff and exposing his back for two match-winning points. The call was upheld after being viewed by officials, making Ramos Iowa’s 52 national champion.
MAGNIFICENT MARVIN: Marvin McNutt caught a 170 passes as a Hawkeye, which is second most in school history. But none were bigger than his 7-yard touchdown pass from Ricky Stanzi as time expired against Michigan State, lifting the Hawkeyes to a 15-13 victory on Oct. 24, 2009 in East Lansing, Mich.
Iowa improved to 8-0 with the victory and would go on to finish 11-2 that season, capped by a 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. McNutt’s catch kept alive Iowa’s momentum and kept the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten title hunt.
DANIEL’S DAY: Iowa was trailing undefeated and third-ranked Penn State 23-14 in the fourth quarter when it mounted a spirited comeback on Nov. 9, 2008 at Kinnick Stadium.
A 6-yard touchdown run by Shonn Greene and an interception by safety Tyler Sash helped set the stage for walk-on kicker Daniel Murray to be a hero. Murray met the challenge by drilling a 31-yard field goal as time expired to give Iowa a 24-23 victory on that frozen November night.
Fans stormed the field as the ball sailed through the uprights. The victory over Penn State was the start of a four-game winning streak that Iowa had to close the 2008 season, finishing 9-4.
HAIL HOLLOWAY: There probably were some Hawkeye fans who didn’t even know that Warren Holloway was a fifth-year senior on the team heading into the 2005 Capital One Bowl. By the end of the game, Holloway was a legend thanks to his 56-yard game-winning touchdown catch as time expired.
It was Holloway’s only touchdown catch as a Hawkeye and it came on a play in which Holloway initially thought Ed Hinkel was the intended receiver.
The Hawkeyes took over at their own 30-yard line, trailing LSU 25-24 with less than a minute in the game. The hope was to get into field-goal position, but after two short pass completions that gained just 14 yards, time was slipping away.
Hinkel helped Holloway get open by stepping in the path of one defensive back. Holloway caught Tate’s pass and then raced the final 15 years to the end zone. The 30-25 victory improved Iowa’s record to 10-2 and it came in Nick Saban’s final game as the LSU coach.
RECKER’S REVENGE: Luke Recker probably couldn’t have written a better script for how he landed on this list.
His shining moment came against his former school Indiana in the semifinals of the 2002 Big Ten Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Recker’s last-second baseline jumper, over the fingertips of Indiana’s 6-foot-9 Jared Jeffries, gave Iowa a 62-60 victory.
Recker had struggled against the Hoosiers in the regular season, scoring just eight points during a 79-51 drubbing at Assembly Hall. He got redemption at the Big Ten Tournament, scoring 17 points, including the game-winning basket, against a team ended up the national runner-up.
DALLAS DELIVERS: Dallas Clark went from being a walk-on linebacker at Iowa to arguably the nation’s best college tight end in 2002. His performance against Purdue in 2002 helped to establish Clark’s greatness.
In addition to catching a 95-yard pass in which Clark hurdled over one defender before outrunning several others down the sideline, he also caught what proved to be the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
It came on a play in which Clark faked a block at the line of scrimmage while the Iowa receivers flooded the left side of the field. Clark then broke away from his defender and was open in the right corner of the end zone when quarterback Brad Banks floated a pass to him. The ball dropped softly into Clark’s hands and he ran uncontested into the end zone.
Purdue still had a chance, though, and drove to Iowa 25-yard line behind backup quarterback Brandon Kirsch. However, the drive ended when little-used Iowa defensive back Adolphus Shelton intercepted a pass that had deflected off receiver Taylor Stubblefield.
MARVELOUS MARV: Before Marvin McNutt and Warren Holloway, there was Marv Cook’s stunning touchdown catch against Ohio State in 1987.
It came on fourth-and-23 with just 16 seconds left to play at the Horseshoe in Columbus. Cook caught a pass from quarterback Chuck Hartlieb near the Ohio State nine-yard and then powered through two Buckeye defenders, including a defensive back named Bo Pelini, for a 28-yard touchdown.
It was Iowa’s first victory under Hayden Fry at the Horseshoe and its first since 1959 at Ohio State.
CHUCK LONG’S BOOTLEG: The Iowa football team’s No. 1 ranking in 1985 was in serious trouble when all-America quarterback Chuck Long came to the rescue in spectacular fashion.
Long scored on a 2-yard touchdown on a third-down naked bootleg to secure a 35-31 victory over the Spartans on Oct. 5, 1985 at Kinnick Stadium. The play began with Long faking a handoff to running back Ronnie Harmon. The Michigan State defenders were convinced that Harman had the ball until Long turned and ran for the end zone.
ROB HOUGHTLIN VERSE TWO: Houghtlin’s 41-field goal as time expired lifted Iowa to a 39-38 victory over San Diego State in the 1986 Holiday Bowl. Iowa scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and had to convert two two-point conversions following two of its final three touchdowns just to be in a position to win at the end.
ROB HOUGHTLIN VERSE ONE: Houghtlin also made the most famous field goal in school history against Michigan in 1985.
The top-ranked Hawkeyes were trailing No. 2 Michigan 10-9 at Kinnick Stadium despite having dominated the game statistically when Houghtlin lined up to attempt a 29-yard field goal in the final seconds.
Iowa had driven from its own 22-yard line on 16 plays to the Michigan 12, setting the stage for Houghtlin. Iowa called timeout with two seconds left. Houghtlin spent most of the timeout hunched over praying to himself.
Michigan coach Bo Schembechler then called another timeout trying to rattle Houghtlin. But it didn’t work as Houghtlin’s kick split the uprights and triggered a wild celebration on the field.