By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – If you cover the Iowa football team long enough, you’re bound to have some memories about bowl games.
Unless, of course, you covered Iowa during the 1960s and 1970s when it played in no bowl games.
I started covering Iowa as a beat writer for the Iowa City Press-Citizen in 1992, and my timing left something to be desired, considering the 1992 season marked just the second time since 1981 that Iowa didn’t make a bowl game.
My first bowl experience came in 1993 when Iowa played in the inaugural Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, and now nearly 30 years later, I’m preparing to cover Iowa in the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky on New Year’s Day in Orlando, Florida, and during a global pandemic.
To sort of borrow a line from one of my favorite bands of all time, The Grateful Dead, ‘what a long and sometimes strange trip it’s been.’
Let me explain.
The best way to start is at the beginning, which in my case, is the aforementioned 1993 Alamo Bowl.
A 6-5 Iowa team faced an 8-4 California team in what would prove to be a mismatch throughout.
A 42-yard field goal by Brion Hurley is all that kept Iowa from being shutout as Cal cruised to a 37-3 victory.
Three things stood out about that bowl trip, and all three are unpleasant to say the least.
The first was sharing a packed hotel room with the younger brother of a co-worker who had the worst case of flatulence I had ever experienced. It was overwhelming at times, and the more I complained, the more it seemed to motivate this person to keep producing.
The second memory is when I ate dinner at a place called Dick’s Last Resort in San Antonio, not knowing that the wait staff hurled insults at customers as part of its appeal if that makes any sense.
Those who attended dinner with me knew about the restaurant’s unusual approach and were eager to see how I would handle it.
Let’s just say I didn’t handle it well.
I started hurling insults right back at them and my dinner partners let me make a fool of myself for several minutes before filling me in on the restaurant’s so-called appeal.
My third memory from the 1993 Alamo Bowl was one of my co-workers telling me after the game that he had heard some Cal players begging the Iowa players while walking off the field at halftime to put up more of a fight in the second half because they wanted to face a tougher challenge after traveling so far.
Cal led 23-0 at halftime and would go on to outscore Iowa 14-3 in the second half.
The 1995 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas was my second bowl experience and what stood out the most is that Iowa proved almost everybody wrong by rolling to a 38-18 victory over a Washington squad that had tied for the Pac-10 regular-season title.
Sedrick Shaw blasted through a huge hole and raced 58 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game and Iowa never looked back.
Hayden Fry called out the Iowa media after the game after having been told that only one member of the Iowa media had picked the Hawkeyes to win and that was Greg Smith from the Associated Press.
Fry thanked Smith for his faith and confidence in his post-game press conference and joked about the rest of us being clueless.
Next came a return trip to San Antonio for the 1996 Alamo Bowl, and this trip would bring mixed emotions caused by both triumph and tragedy.
Iowa’s defense held Doak Walker Award winner Bryon Hanspard from Texas Tech to just 64 rushing yards on 18 attempts and that paved the way to a dominating 27-0 win.
The Iowa players were on an emotional mission as they were coping with the death of Iowa City resident Diane Mitchell, who was the mother of Iowa linebacker Mark Mitchell and a life-long Hawkeye fan.
Diane was killed in an auto accident while traveling to the bowl game.
Iowa already had a good team in 1996 with Sedrick Shaw, Tim Dwight, Tavian Banks, Jared DeVries, Vernon Rollins and Damien Robinson leading the way.
So, Texas Tech would’ve had its hands full under any circumstance.
But the death of Diane Mitchell, at least in my opinion, inspired the team to play at its highest level, and Texas Tech never stood a chance.
My fourth bowl trip took me back to the 1997 Sun Bowl for an experience that I would just prefer to forget, except for one thing.
I had the privilege to interview Arizona State linebacker Pat Tillman, and while the interview doesn’t stand out after all these years, little did I know at the time that I had just spoken to an American hero.
Tillman left a career in the NFL to enlist in the United States Army in May 2002 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He would go on to serve in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but was killed by friendly fire on April 22, 2004 in Afghanistan.
The game itself was a huge disappointment as Arizona State defeated Iowa 17-7 in what was the last game for Tim Dwight and Tavian Banks.
Tillman and his defensive cohorts held Iowa to just 19 rushing yards, while Arizona State rushed for 268 yards.
Reserve receiver Ricchard Carter scored Iowa’s only touchdown on a 26-yard pass from backup quarterback Randy Reiners in the fourth quarter.
Making matters worse is that I spent the first two days in El Paso in my hotel room sick with the flu.
After a three-year bowl absence, and a head coaching change in which Hayden Fry retired and was replaced by Kirk Ferentz shortly after the 1998 season, Iowa made its third trip to the Alamo Bowl in 2001, and its first bowl trip under Ferentz.
Iowa hadn’t won a bowl game in five years and had lost 18 of its first 20 games under Ferentz before finally getting over the hump in 2001.
Nate Kaeding kicked a 47-yard field goal with 44 seconds to play and defensive back Bob Sanders intercepted a Texas Tech pass in the end zone on the final play to secure a 19-16 victory and a 7-5 record.
Aaron Greving filled in for the injured Ladell Betts at running back and rushed for 115 yards on 25 carries. Greving also scored Iowa’s only touchdown on a 1-yard run in the second quarter.
Following the game, Kirk Ferentz addressed the crowd in the Alamodome and proclaimed that Iowa was back.
And he was right.
A magical 2002 season ended in a magical place better known as the Orange Bowl in Miami.
It marked the first time that Iowa had played in a January bowl game other than the Rose Bowl, and Iowa was also riding a nine-game winning streak and was led by 2002 Heisman Trophy runner-up Brad Banks at quarterback.
The game produced a sobering result, however, as Iowa lost to the University of Southern California 38-17 to finish 11-2.
USC was led by the quarterback who had edged Banks for the Heisman Trophy and Carson Palmer showed why by passing for 303 yards.
The game started in spectacular fashion as Iowa receiver C.J. Jones returned the opening kick 100 yards for a touchdown. It was the loudest I’ve ever heard a stadium as Jones raced down the sideline.
I spent nearly a week in Miami, along with three co-workers from the Press-Citizen, which is hard to believe with so many newspapers having been gutted or downsized over the past decade.
What stood out most about the trip, besides the hotel being on the ocean, and across the street from a bar that served all my needs, was traveling to Belle Glade, Florida to interview Brad Banks’ mother.
It was easy to tell after meeting Vida Banks why her son was so polite, easy-going and friendly and always smiling. It started at home with her.
She welcomed us in her home and made us feel so comfortable.
She beamed with pride as she spoke about her son’s incredible rise as a Hawkeye, and she never stopped smiling.
I remember Brad Banks saying that his mom was happy just hearing the birds sing and that was precisely the person I met that day in late December 2002.
Iowa returned to Florida for the second year in a row to play in a bowl game, only this time it was the 2004 Outback Bowl in Tampa where Florida coach Ron Zook stood out, but not in a positive way.
His talented squad looked overmatched on the field as Iowa scored 27 unanswered points after falling behind 7-0 and cruised to a 37-17 victory.
It was Iowa’s first win over the Gators and its first January bowl win since the 1959 Rose Bowl.
Zook raised eyebrows when he inexplicably referred to Iowa kicker Nate Kaeding as a running back in the days leading up to the game.
Kaeding wasn’t just a kicker. He had won the Lou Groza Award the previous season and was widely regarded as one of the top kickers in the nation in 2003.
Zook later tried to defend himself in 2005 in response to an article in the Iowa City Press-Citizen that quoted Kaeding about Zook’s blunder.
Part of the story read:
“Twenty-one months later, Zook still is known best to some Iowa fans for referring to Kaeding as a running back before the 2004 Outback Bowl.”
Zook responded with the following comment that was published in the Champaign News-Gazette on Sept. 28, 2005.
“I know the Iowa papers are complaining about me not knowing the Iowa kicker’s name in the bowl game. I just got off a recruiting trip and I just found out we’re playing them in four days and I’m supposed to know their personnel.”
Sometimes, it’s just best to stay silent.
Away from the field, what I remember most about this trip was riding on a Red Baron bi-plane over Tampa Bay. I gave the pilot permission to do tricks and then saw my life flash before my eyes when he stalled the engine as we ascended.
It was all part of the performance as I was relieved to find out.
Next up on my bowl journey was the 2005 Capital One Bowl, which featured the greatest ending in Iowa bowl history, and that’s saying a lot.
Tate to Holloway is a phrase that Iowa fans will cherish forever.
Iowa was on the verge of losing to LSU in Nick Saban’s final game as the LSU head coach when quarterback Drew Tate threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway as time expired, giving Iowa an improbable 30-25 win in Orlando.
In addition to being Saban’s last game as the LSU head coach, it was also Holloway’s first and only touchdown as a Hawkeye.
Frank Capra couldn’t have scripted it better.
Iowa’s game against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl will be its first trip back to Orlando since the incredible ending 17 years ago.
A fourth consecutive trip to Florida marked the end of the 2005 season as Iowa faced Florida in the 2006 Outback Bowl.
Iowa made a spirited comeback, outscoring the Gators 17-0 in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough as Florida held on for a 31-24 victory.
Not much stood out about this trip other than a member of the Iowa media ordering a seafood appetizer at market price that cost over $200. The look on the person’s face upon seeing his bill will be etched in my mind forever.
I didn’t attend the 2006 Alamo Bowl loss to Texas, or the 2008 Outback Bowl victory over South Carolina for the Press-Citizen for reasons I don’t remember, but money is probably a good guess as to why I stayed home.
Iowa also failed to make a bowl game in 2007, finishing 6-6.
That brings us to the 2010 Orange Bowl, which proved to be a showcase for the greatness of Norm Parker.
If Parker had a month to prepare for anybody, even Georgia Tech’s uniquely designed run-oriented offense from that season, chances are he would meet the challenge.
Parker certainly did in this case as Iowa held the nation’s second-leading rushing offense to just 32 yards on 20 carries and prevailed 24-14 to cap an 11-2 season.
It was a defensive masterpiece from one of the best in the business.
Kirk Ferentz has made lots of decisions that helped pave the way for his long-standing success, but hiring Norm Parker as his first defensive coordinator is among the best.
My next bowl game was the 2011 Insight Bowl, which matched Iowa against Oklahoma and head coach Bob Stoops.
The game itself was mostly uneventful as Oklahoma won 31-14 after having bolted to a 21-0 lead.
Stoops spent the days leading up to the bowl talking about facing his alma mater and a school that means so much to him.
Stoops was an All-Big Ten safety at Iowa under Hayden Fry in the early 1980s, and he got his start in coaching at Iowa.
He also interviewed for the Iowa job after Fry had retired, but Stoops took the Oklahoma job instead where he would go on to win a national title in his second season in 2000.
This game marked Iowa’s second consecutive trip to the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Arizona.
Iowa defeated Missouri 27-24 in the 2010 Insight Bowl as freshman Markus Coker rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 33 attempts.
Iowa finished 4-8 in 2012 and I didn’t cover the 2014 Outback Bowl or the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl, both of which were losses to LSU and Tennessee by scores of 21-14 and 45-28, respectively.
Iowa trailed Tennessee 35-7 at halftime in the TaxSlayer Bowl, which would prove to be Jake Rudock’s final game as a Hawkeye.
Kirk Ferentz announced shortly after the bowl game that C.J. Beathard had replaced Rudock as the starting quarterback.
Rudock, not surprisingly, transferred to Michigan where he started for Jim Harbaugh in 2015.
Iowa also started practicing in the morning in the wake of this bowl loss and still does to this day.
One of my favorite trips on this nearly three-decade-long bowl journey was covering the 2016 Rose Bowl, at least until the game started.
The game itself was a disaster as Stanford, which was led by All-America running back Christian McCaffrey, made Iowa look slow and unathletic during a 45-16 beat-down that was basically over at halftime with Iowa trailing, 35-0.
The days leading up to the game, on the other hand, were a blast due mostly to the accommodations for the media, which included food being served pretty much non-stop at the media hotel, along with alcohol.
It’s hard to think of any profession where free food and alcohol is appreciated more than by the media.
It was also strange spending nearly a week in Los Angeles and actually saving money.
Most of the money I spent was on a new piece of luggage after the zipper on my suitcase broke. The pickings were slim at a nearby Target and I ended up buying a piece of luggage that I could have fit into because it was so big.
That same piece of luggage will travel with me to Orlando this coming week.
I didn’t cover the 2017 Outback Bowl as Tyler Devine filled that role for us instead.
But I didn’t miss much as Florida whipped Iowa 30-3 in C.J. Beathard’s final game as a Hawkeye. Beathard played the entire game despite being slowed by injuries and he only passed for 55 yards while throwing three interceptions.
Iowa snapped a five-game bowl losing streak in the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl with a 27-20 victory over Boston College at Yankee Stadium in New York City.
I hired a stringer named Shawn Gibbs, a former UI graduate who lives on the East Coast, to cover the game. But I failed to inform him that the press box at Yankee Stadium wasn’t heated and was open to the elements.
It was 23 degrees at kickoff with wind chills in the lower teens. The playing surface was also frozen.
I spoke with Shawn after the first quarter, and he said that it was so cold that he couldn’t feel his fingers or toes. I thought he was joking, but he quickly informed me that he wasn’t joking and asked if I’d pay for his treatment for frostbite.
He was joking about frostbite, but it’s fair to say that the press box that day left much to be desired, namely heat.
Iowa defeated Mississippi State 27-22 in the 2019 Outback Bowl, and I was there to cover it, but remember little about the game besides the performance of receiver Nick Easley.
The former walk-on from Newton was named the MVP after catching eight passes for a career-high 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Easley then met with the media afterwards and talked about what a privilege it is to be a Hawkeye. Kirk Ferentz stood just a few feet from Easley and looked on with pride as Easley shared his feelings.
It was a very powerful moment in which Easley spoke from his heart.
And last but certainly not least on my bowl journey was the 2019 Holiday Bowl in which Iowa crushed USC 49-24 in San Diego.
What I remember most about this game, besides the performance of receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, is that it was played just weeks before the outbreak of the global pandemic and about six months before the racial unrest in the summer of 2020.
Much has changed since then, both in society, and within the Iowa program.
Iowa was scheduled to play Missouri in the 2020 Music City Bowl, but the game was cancelled due to positive Covid cases within the Missouri program.
The global pandemic still is raging a year later, but vaccines have made it possible for games to be played with fans in attendance.
The virus still is a threat, but hopefully, Iowa will have a chance to play in its 34th bowl game this coming Saturday as the journey continues.