By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – If you’re an Iowa football fan who remembers the bad days along with the good days, then you should realize the significance of Oct. 23, 2010.
But if not, here are four two-word clues to help out.
Does it now ring a bell?
It sure does with life-long Iowa fan Tom Suter, who was in Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 23, 2010 and watched the Badgers execute a fake punt to perfection midway through the fourth quarter while buried in their own territory.
Facing a 4th-and-4 from their own 26, the Badgers gambled but executed a fake punt that was called “Chains” to near perfection. With less than seven minutes remaining and Wisconsin trailing 30-24, Nortman took the snap and then ran up the middle through a gaping hole, gaining 17 yards and a first down.
Kinnick Stadium fell eerily silent as Wisconsin would go on to score a touchdown and prevail 31-30 in a game that still haunts Suter.
Wisconsin has won seven of the last eight games against Iowa and will try to make it five wins in a row against the Hawkeyes on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
“After the football game we walked by some Wisconsin fans and they looked at us and say, ‘why are you guys so sad? Everybody is quiet,’” said Suter, who is the general manager for KCJJ radio in Iowa City. “And we just continued walking and I don’t believe that the rivalry has been the same since that game.”
Iowa was 5-1 entering the 2010 game against Wisconsin, and had finished 11-2 in the 2009 season, so there was plenty of positive energy and momentum. But the fake punt, and the gut-wrenching loss that soon followed sucked the life out of the stadium.
The fake punt was called after the Badgers had lost yards on a snap that sailed over the head of the Wisconsin quarterback. Iowa was caught totally by surprise, as were many in the stadium that day.
“We were just so silent and so down,” Suter said. “It was just demoralizing because the stadium was as loud as I had ever heard that day. That is really about the only time I remember my ears really hurting after a football game. But it did after that game, and it was so loud, and then, boy, when that fake punt happened, and it should never have happened, because the play before the ball was hiked over the quarterback’s head and they sat way back.”
Iowa rebounded from the devastation to win its next two games against Michigan State and Indiana, but then lost its final three regular-season games before bouncing back to defeat Missouri 27-24 in the Insight Bowl.
An Iowa team that was thought to be a Big Ten contender instead finished 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten.
The fact that Bret Bielema was the Wisconsin head coach, and the mastermind behind the fake punt, makes a bad memory even worse for Suter.
“Yes, of course, it does,” Suter said.
Bielema poured his heart and soul into being an Iowa walk-on defensive lineman from 1989-92, and an Iowa assistant coach under both Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz.
But Bielema also had the same passion for coaching the Badgers, a job he held from 2006-12, and he burned his alma mater on that day in 2010.
The Badgers had seen from scouting, and from watching tape, that Iowa only rushed one or two defenders on punt coverage, while the other nine players turned their backs looking for blocking assignments.
It created a huge gap that the Badgers felt they could exploit, and that is exactly what they did to perfection.
Nortman’s fake punt is now deeply rooted in this border rivalry as one of its most memorable plays.
And while it would be easy think that Bielema called the fake punt in the heat of the moment, and in response to what had just happened on the field, it wasn’t like that.
Nortman said later that Bielema told him after the third quarter they would run the fake punt on the next opportunity they had.
Bielema is now an assistant coach for the New York Giants, while Paul Chryst now coaches the Badgers, who are 2-2 heading into Saturday’s game.
Kirk Ferentz has been the Iowa head coach since 1999, and there was a stretch from 2002 to 2009 in which the Hawkeyes won six of eight games against Wisconsin.
Ferentz took full blame after the loss to Wisconsin in 2010. He regretted not calling for safer coverage on the punt.
“Had we gone punt safe, it wouldn’t have been an issue,” Ferentz said. “We blew that one. That’s my job.”