By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Those associated with and loyal to the Iowa football team are hurting right now.
Hawkeye fans are upset and frustrated, and so are the Iowa players and coaches.
It was hard enough having the Michigan game canceled. But now the chance to cap a season like no other in the Music City Bowl on Wednesday will not happen because the opponent, Missouri, has experienced an uptick in COVID-19 cases, and has withdrawn from the game.
The game was scheduled for 3 p.m. on Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn., but has officially been canceled.
“We are extremely disappointed to have our season end today,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said in a release. “This is a remarkable group of players and men, and it has been an honor to coach them. This has been a very special team. We have overcome several challenges together during a season like no other. I am incredibly proud of this entire team and saddened that we will not have one more chance to get out and compete together.
“Finally, I want to thank everyone within our program, players and parents, coaching staff and medical staff, and our fans for their support throughout this season.”
Iowa was looking to win its seventh game in a row after having started the season 0-2, and its fourth consecutive bowl game.
But the 2020 Music City Bowl seemed doomed almost from the moment it was announced.
Iowa had to pause in-person activities for five days this past week due to COVID-19 health concerns, but was able to practice on Saturday and Sunday.
UI officials weren’t aware of Missouri’s uptick in COVID-19 cases until it came out publicly on Sunday.
The cancellation hardly should come as a surprise, though, considering how many regular-season games, and bowl games, have been canceled due to health concerns.
The Music City Bowl was the 17th bowl game to be canceled.
The Missouri players also were given time off over the Christmas holiday, which was just asking for trouble during a global pandemic.
Some might say that Missouri’s approach to the bowl game was irresponsible or reckless, but in fairness, the Tigers played 10 games under difficult circumstances.
Missouri head coach Eliah Drinkwitz wanted his players to spend Christmas with their families after having so little contact during the regular season.
Drinkwitz responded to criticism on social media about his team’s handling of the bowl preparation, and about the decision to cancel so close to the game.
“I know there’s a lot of social media warriors out there that have all the answers, 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,” Drinkwitz said. “But what do I know, I’m a football coach?”
Even with no bowl game, Iowa has reason to be proud of what it has accomplished this season.
It would be easy to dwell on the negative after having a bowl game taken away so late in the process.
But what would that accomplish?
There was talk in the moments after Missouri had canceled about whether Iowa could find another opponent in real short notice. That was wishful thinking at best because there are no other opponents available, and because the Music City Bowl is just three days away.
The Iowa players and coaches should appreciate what they were able to accomplish under strange and surreal circumstances, as should Hawkeye fans.
Iowa was one of just three Big Ten teams, along with Penn State and Rutgers, to have played all eight regular-season games. That’s a noteworthy accomplishment, considering how the pandemic has gutted some team’s schedules.
Iowa also won six games in a row, which included a victory over Wisconsin for the first time since 2015.
You could argue that this was Kirk Ferentz’s best coaching job in 22 seasons at Iowa, and that’s saying a lot.
Ferentz not only has had to deal with the challenges from COVID-19, his program also has been accused of racial disparities by multiple former Iowa black players.
The accusations cost Chris Doyle his job as the Iowa strength and conditioning coach, and also put Ferentz in a negative light.
So when Iowa started the season with losses to Purdue and Northwestern, it was easy to assume the worst.
It was easy to assume that the team was divided, and that Ferentz’s message wasn’t be heard anymore.
Iowa then responded with a six-game winning streak, and the chance for seven wins in a row looked promising against a 5-5 Missouri team that allowed at least 35 points in seven of 10 games this season.
But it just wasn’t meant to be.
And for those saying Iowa deserved a better ending to its season, maybe so. But losing out on the chance to play a 2-4 Michigan team, and to participate in a mid-level bowl game, is a small price to pay compared to how others have suffered from the global pandemic.
It’s unfortunate that it had to come to this; a bowl game being canceled just three days before it was scheduled to be played.
But sometimes, you don’t get what you deserve, in life, or in sports.
It didn’t look as if there would even be a 2020 season when it was canceled in August.
The fact that Iowa played eight games, and won six of them, is reason to celebrate.
“This team will go down as one of my favorite teams, the commitment and dedication they have shown and finishing with six straight wins,” Kirk Ferentz said Sunday on a zoom conference. “I will remember this team with how they handled things.”
The 65-year old Ferentz also said he has had no thoughts about retiring.
“This is what I like doing,’ Ferentz said. “I’m not quite ready to start stamp collecting or bird watching. I’m thinking more about five-year plans than five-weeks plans.”
From a player standpoint, junior defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon and sophomore center Tyler Linderbaum had breakout seasons in 2020, while defensive coordinator Phil Parker had yet another solid performance.
So once fans get over the disappointment of having the Music City Bowl canceled, they should appreciate what Iowa accomplished during this COVID-19 shortened season, even without playing in a bowl game.
This season was about more than just wins and losses.
It was also about staying the course, and staying unified, and Iowa met that challenge.