By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Dan McCarney was in Iowa City this weekend to celebrate one of the greatest achievements in his life.
City High’s 1970 conference championship team, for which McCarney was a key player, held a reunion on Friday and Saturday.
A banquet was held Friday night at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, and then McCarney watched the current Little Hawk football team work out Saturday morning.
He also addressed the team and spoke with many of the current players individually, offering words of encouragement and advice.
I spoke with McCarney before he left the field, and he was thrilled and honored to be back home, and surrounded by former high school teammates and life-long friends.
McCarney smiled from ear-to-ear as he looked back at that special season in the fall of 1970 when City High won a championship after having finished 0-9 just two years earlier.
“Love it, great memories,” McCarney said. “I grew up just down the street on Morningside Drive. We made history fifty years ago.”
City High’s success in 1970 is one of McCarney’s proudest moments, and that’s saying a lot, considering everything he has accomplished in football, first as a player and then as a college coach.
So I made sure to stay on topic, but couldn’t resist asking McCarney about the much-anticipated showdown between Iowa and Iowa State on Sept. 11 in Ames.
That was my final question because who better to breakdown the matchup than the 67-year old Dan McCarney, the former Iowa player and assistant coach, and former Iowa State head coach?
McCarney has a unique perspective of the rivalry from having been emotionally attached to both sides.
The teams haven’t met since Iowa defeated Iowa State 18-17 in 2019 in Ames, a day in which McCarney will cherish forever due to the unique circumstances with ESPN Game Day having broadcasted from Ames that day.
“Honest to God, when I turned that TV on in Sarasota, Florida two years ago and saw College Game Day at the Iowa-Iowa State game, I got freaking choked up, I could hardly talk to my wife,” McCarney said. “How much that means now to the country, and for a long time it was nonsense, it was no rivalry. Iowa won 15 in a row, and it’s a really good rivalry now.”
Iowa has won the last five games in the series under veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz, but the last three games have been decided by 10 or fewer points, including a 44-41 overtime thriller in Ames in 2017.
Iowa State has risen steadily under head coach Matt Campbell and could be ranked higher than Iowa when the teams meet in Ames in week two.
“I can’t wait for it,” said McCarney, who coached at Iowa State from 1995 to 2006 and led the Cyclones to five bowl games, while also ending Iowa’s dominance in the series. “You’ve got two of the best in college football with Kirk Ferentz and Matt Campbell, and two phenomenal teams.
“And let the best team win. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”
Campbell has lifted Iowa State to unprecedented success, winning the Fiesta Bowl this past season, but has yet to defeat Iowa, while Iowa finished the 2020 season on a six-game winning streak after starting 0-2.
Last year’s Iowa-Iowa State game was canceled due to COVID-19 health concerns as Big Ten teams only played conference games.
So that just adds to the hype surrounding this year’s matchup.
Kirk Ferentz is college football’s longest tenured head coach, and Iowa’s all-time winningest head football coach.
Both teams are considered conference contenders and McCarney spoke highly of the talent and experience on both rosters.
The series has been competitive ever since the McCarney-led Cyclones ended Iowa’s 15-game winning streak with a 27-9 victory in 1998 at Kinnick Stadium in what would be Hayden Fry’s final season as the Iowa head coach.
Ferentz then replaced Fry shortly after the 1998 season, but Ferentz was winless in his first four games against McCarney and the Cyclones.
I didn’t ask McCarney to make a prediction about this year’s game because I didn’t want to put him on the spot.
But a strong case could be made for either team to win.
Iowa State will have home-field advantage, a three-year starter at quarterback in Brock Purdy and one of the top running backs in the country in Breece Hall, while Iowa will counter with All-Big Ten running back Tyler Goodson, All-America center Tyler Linderbaum, and with Phil Parker’s always tough defense.
It’s easy to see why McCarney can’t wait for the game to be played.