IOWA CITY, Iowa – Kirk Ferentz turned 60 years old on August 1.
He was three years old the last time the Iowa football team won the Rose Bowl.
The date was Jan. 1, 1959, the day when Iowa crushed California 38-12 behind an overpowering rushing attack that produced 429 yards. Bob Jeter had 194 of the yards on just nine carries, highlighted by an 81-yard thing of beauty in the third quarter as Iowa pulled away before 98,297 fans.
“It is crazy to think about,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said Tuesday of Iowa’s Rose Bowl victory drought. “It’s surprising. But it’s crazy to think he was three. I mean, wow, that is crazy.
“But we’re excited for this opportunity. It means a lot to coach Ferentz and it means a lot to this team.”
At least 18,000 Iowa fans made the trip to Pasadena in 1959 and it marked the second time in three seasons that Iowa had prevailed in the Rose Bowl under head coach Forest Evashevski.
It was fun while it lasted, but fleeting and so misleading, winning two Rose Bowls in three years, considering what has happened since then.
The 12-1 Hawkeyes will make their first appearance in the Rose Bowl in a quarter century when they face Pacific-12 champion Stanford on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.
So much is riding on the game, including the chance to be just the third team in school history, and the first in 57 years, to win a Rose Bowl.
“This Iowa football team would go down in history and we want to do that,” Beathard said. “Twelve-and-0 is a big accomplishment. But winning a Rose Bowl game would be even bigger.
“We want to cap this season off with a win and that would be awesome.”
Wisconsin has won three Rose Bowl games since the 1993 season, while Iowa is 0-3 in the Rose Bowl since the 1981 season, with all three games against Washington (1982), UCLA (1986) and Washington (1991) barely being competitive.
The Hawkeyes didn’t even sniff the Rose Bowl for about two decades until Hayden Fry led the resurgence in 1981.
Iowa has fielded a football team since 1889, but only played in five Rose Bowls. That’s about one appearance every quarter century.
It’s not Hailey’s Comet, but close to it.
Playing in the Rose Bowl isn’t the same as competing for a national title in the four-team playoff. But for Iowa, it’s pretty darn close.
It’s a chance to bridge a gap that has grown uncomfortably large, made worse by what Wisconsin accomplished under former Fry assistant Barry Alvarez.
Even lowly Illinois has a more recent Rose Bowl appearance than Iowa after the 2007 season.
The Hawkeyes did enough to qualify for the Rose Bowl in 2002, but the BCS bowl system placed them in the Orange Bowl against Southern California. It was sort of like playing in the Rose Bowl, though, with USC representing the Pac-12 Conference and with Iowa losing, 38-17.
Ferentz has referred to playing in the Rose Bowl as a chance to handle unfinished business. He was Iowa’s offensive line coach when the Hawkeyes lost the Rose Bowl in 1982 and 1986.
He would cherish a victory, not only for his team and for the fans, but also for Fry, who lost all three of his Rose Bowl games while coaching the Hawkeyes from 1979 to 1998.
The Rose Bowl is a blemish on Iowa’s record. It’s a source of frustration to go this long without winning a Rose Bowl, a drought that almost has reached retirement age.
Losing to Michigan State 16-13 in the Big Ten title game was a devastating blow because it kept Iowa from making the 4-team playoff.
Nobody is complaining about the consolation prize, though, because there probably isn’t anything better from Iowa’s perspective than playing in the Rose Bowl.
“It was awesome to kind of sweeten the loss if you could,” said Iowa offensive lineman Ike Boettger. “Nobody was happy after that (Michigan State) game for probably a week. Still, people are angry about it, just wishing we could have pulled that game out.
“But just looking on the bright side, we’re going to the Rose Bowl. There is nowhere else we’d rather be if we didn’t win that (Michigan State) game. So everybody is happy and super excited now.”
The Iowa fans have expressed their excitement by purchasing thousands of Rose Bowl tickets. There is speculation Iowa will have at least 40,000 fans in Pasadena for the game.
Ferentz wants his players to enjoy this rare experience, but he also wants them fully aware of what winning a Rose Bowl would mean for the past, present and future of the Iowa football program.
“This is something they’ve earned,” Ferentz said of his players. “But you also want them to have an awareness of what we’re trying to get accomplished at the end of the day.”
The 2015 Iowa football team is trying go where only two other Iowa teams have gone before. A victory in the Rose Bowl is something fans would cherish forever because it doesn’t happen very often.