By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa football team has been criticized, ridiculed and joked about since being crushed by Michigan 42-3 in the Big Ten Championship game last Saturday.
Iowa entered the game as a double-digit underdog, and then showed why with a performance that left much to be desired in all three phases of the game.
Critics pounced on the opportunity to say that Iowa is overrated despite having won the Big Ten West Division and despite having won 10 games during the regular season.
Iowa will face Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day in Orlando, Florida with a chance to become just the fourth team in school history to win at least 11 games.
That would be a worthy accomplishment under any circumstance.
However, the purpose of this column isn’t to argue that Iowa deserves more respect for its success on the field because people are going to believe what they want to believe.
At this stage, you’re either with Kirk Ferentz in his 23rd season as head coach, or you’re not.
To write anything positive about the Iowa football team right now puts you at risk of being called a Hawkeye homer, or a Kirk Ferentz apologist, or both.
And so be it because this is a glass-half-full column on Hawkeye football.
Despite what some might think, the Iowa football program is not the sinking ship that some are making it out to be in the wake of last Saturday’s drubbing.
Does Iowa have problems on offense that are exacerbated by the offensive coordinator being the head coach’s son?
The circumstances at Iowa are unique to say the least with Kirk Ferentz the longest-tenured head coach in the country, and the Big Ten’s fourth all-time winningest coach, working with his son as offensive coordinator.
When Iowa loses and the offense struggles, as was the case in all three losses this season, some scream nepotism and demand that the offense be overhauled.
It’s hard to know how much of the fan base supports that narrative because social media can be misleading.
But again, this column focuses on the bright side of Hawkeye football away from the playing field, little things that should make fans feel proud of the team they support.
Like when Iowa junior linebacker Jack Campbell offered his condolences to members of Tate Myre’s family after the coin toss last Saturday. Tate Myre was one of the four students shot and killed last week by a 15-year old classmate at a high school in Michigan.
The victims were being honored prior to the kickoff of last Saturday’s Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis when Campbell took it upon himself to approach Myre’s family in a show of support.
Hawk Fanatic photographer Rob Howe was on the field and close enough to see that whatever Campbell said to Myre’s family members meant a lot to them.
Here’s a young man that was just minutes from playing the biggest game of his life, and yet, he still had enough awareness and kindness to think beyond the game.
That says a lot about Jack Campbell, and about his parents for raising him the right way.
Iowa junior center Tyler Linderbaum gets plenty of notice for his play on the field, and deservedly so as arguably the best center in college football.
But equally impressive is his desire to help those less fortunate.
Linderbaum has used his Name, Image and Likeness to help raise money for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital by selling #BaumSquad t-shirts with all the proceeds going to the Children’s Hospital.
At last check, he had helped to raise over $30,000.
The bond between the Iowa football program and the Children’s Hospital is truly special and unique.
The Wave at Kinnick Stadium receives most of the attention because it involves thousands of fans, and because it’s arguably the greatest tradition in college sports, but there is so many acts of kindness behind the scenes that go unnoticed.
Linderbaum doesn’t raise money for attention. He does it because it’s the right thing to do, and because of how he was raised to help those less fortunate.
His parents also should be very proud of the young man they have raised.
Linderbaum is on course to graduate from Iowa in 3 1/2 years and he could’ve easily opted out of playing in the Citrus Bowl due to the risk of injury, and you couldn’t have blamed him with an NFL career, and the riches that come with it, waiting for him.
Being an Iowa football player means a great deal to Linderbaum, who grew up in Solon dreaming about wearing the black and gold.
But there is more to being a Hawkeye than just playing well on game day.
There is a responsibility that goes with it and Linderbaum clearly understands that responsibility.
The news broke on Tuesday that Iowa junior receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. had entered the transfer portal, and it came as no surprise.
Tracy hasn’t had the season he had hoped for on the field, but that hasn’t caused him to lose focus on what really matters.
His friendship with Peyton Meares, who has Down syndrome, dates back to high school and touches your heart because it shows that just being kind can bring so much happiness to a person’s life.
Tracy arranged it so Peyton and her family could attend some Iowa games this season, and their friendship was recently highlighted with a video on Twitter that was posted on the @TheIowaHawkeyes Twitter account.
The nearly seven-minute video explains how their friendship started and how it has evolved over the last several years. It’s hard to watch the video without crying because the look on Peyton’s face whenever she sees Tyrone is what a true and lasting friendship is all about.
Tracy also played a key role after multiple former Iowa black players accused the program of racial disparities in the summer of 2020. He served as a spokesperson for the team and helped to unite the locker room, and helped to create a new and more inclusive culture.
And for that Hawkeye fans should forever be grateful and should wish Tracy well in his new journey.
These are just three examples of what’s good about Hawkeye football beyond the playing field.
It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and of what really matters in the heat of competition.
It’s also easy to forget that Iowa football players have lives away from the playing field.
Campbell, Linderbaum and Tracy all represent what’s good about college football in how they use their platform to help those less fortunate.
Popularity brings power and influence, and when it’s used to help others, the impact is immeasurable.
As for Kirk Ferentz, his offense certainly deserves to be scrutinized, but his willingness to help those less fortunate should never be questioned.
Ferentz sets a fine example of what it means to be kind and charitable through his relationship with the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
In 2017, Ferentz and his wife, Mary, donated $1 million that was used to create a the ‘Savvy Ferentz Program in Neonatal Research’ at the Children’s Hospital.
They made the donation in memory of their granddaughter, Savvy Elizabeth, who was born in August 2014 at under 22 weeks gestation. She did not survive.
They turned a personal tragedy into a triumph and hope for others.
These noble acts are easy to dismiss or ignore during tough times, but that’s when they should be most appreciated.
The Iowa roster is filled with quality young men who don’t always measure up on the field. But what they do off the field to help others should make even the critics and naysayers proud because there is a lot more to life than winning or losing a football game.