It seems the Holiday Bowl was to Hayden Fry what the Outback Bowl is to Kirk Ferentz.
Neither would turn down the chance to play in their favorite warm destination — or perhaps second-favorite.
Growing up, the Holiday Bowl seemed like a worthy consolation prize to the Rose Bowl, often matching Big Ten and west coast teams just like the Grandaddy of Them All a short drive up I-5. Just swap the Pac for the WAC and Pasadena for San Diego. Simple with a side of sizzle.
Fry and the Hawks never lost a Holiday Bowl, going 2-0-1 with two one-point wins over San Diego State and Wyoming in 1986 and 1987, respectively, and finishing in a 13-13 tie with Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer and BYU in 1991.
That game shook my interest in college football for a time — after all, there were only four more bowls in all of the 1990s for the Hawks (2-2) — and it became my job to design newspapers highlighting the lowlights. (However, a proud moment was seeing my Hayden Fry retirement special section being passed around again this week in all of its 1998 glory.)
My love of college football probably didn’t return fully until 2002 when my talents took me to South Beach and I represented the Hawkeyes on a weekly basis to a newsroom full of Miami, Syracuse and various other non-Iowa fans as a rare Midwesterner in my first year at CBS SportsLine in Fort Lauderdale.
This Holiday Bowl completes my latest stint of 10 consecutive football seasons of Hawkeyes coverage in some form or another — first with Hawkmania, a site I helped create in 2000, and now with Hawkeye Headquarters.
But it’s only been in the past two seasons that I’ve really been able to appreciate how Kirk works. Getting to talk to players after every game home and road, they believe in the system. They believe if they execute on every play, they’ll get back in it, no matter the odds. No matter what crushing blow sent the fans online into a tailspin. They never get too high or too low. I’m here to encourage the fans with those tendencies to embrace that approach … and this team.
It doesn’t take much to knock some fans off the bandwagon. The old joke is that after every game Hawkeyes fans would scream “Big Ten champs” or “fire everyone” depending on the outcome.
Turns out, I found there are some that don’t wait that long. I always wanted to “like” all of the negative tweets I’d see during one game and post them after a win. Almost a Freezing Cold Takes in real time. But I never did. Hawkeyes twitter is a welcoming community, after all. No need to alienate them.
However, one particular fan stood out to me during this year’s Wisconsin game.
If the Hawkeyes are up 3-0 on Wisconsin in the first quarter of a game in Madison and you’re that mad, maybe being an Iowa fan just isn’t for you. I mean, if you aren’t happy in that moment as a Hawkeyes fan, when will you ever be?
Perhaps up 12 in the second half of a basketball game in Ames?
Nope. Throwing in the towel. Same energy. Same guy. (And they won that one!)
My point is not to throw this fan under the bus. It’s to remind everyone to enjoy the ride a little bit more.
It’s part of the journey. The end isn’t everything.
The 2019 Hawkeyes deserve appreciation for what they’ve accomplished, despite any shortcomings that appeared on a game-by-game basis.
The 2002 Hawkeyes, they are not.
Those Hawks and USC staged a Rose Bowl in Miami and called it an Orange Bowl for me and 70,000 of my closest friends during my time at CBS Sports. Walking into the convention center in Miami Beach and seeing what seemed like the entire state of Iowa having a pep rally is something I’ll never forget.
I like to say we tailgated all day, celebrated C.J. Jones returning the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and none of us remember anything else.
- A good friend, my cousin and his good friend crashing in my studio apartment
- Visiting the CBS suite because the powers-that-be found me club level tickets that day after I put in a “claim” the day the bowl was announced as the only Iowa fan
- Leaving that suite just as the national anthem ended because I knew only one guy in there — my boss — and they were all in suits and we — well, you’ve seen my Twitter profile picture
- And of course, letting a tie game at halftime get out of hand with 28 consecutive Trojan points.
I’m reminded of it every time I fire up NCAA Football 2004 on the PS2 for the totally irrelevant prediction before every Iowa game the past five seasons. Because there’s USC quarterback Carson Palmer (303 yards, 1 TD) in the wake of his 38-17 win … all up on the cover, all over the intro screen… throwing.
Still, it’s between that 2002 Iowa team and 2015 for my favorite this century. (For whatever reason I felt detached from the 2004-2009 teams while living in Chicago, even though I got back to Iowa City for more games.) And this year’s team is right up there, since I’ve been able to cover every game.
That 10th win in a highly respected bowl full of nostalgia would make it a season for the books, just like Michael Ojemudia says it would.
These Hawkeyes have just three losses by a total of 14 points, all to teams ranked higher.
Would it have been nice to sneak out of Ann Arbor or Madison with a win? Of course, the Wolverines and Badgers were there for the taking, but the truth is this is a rare season with no bad losses. Not one.
They also can be the first Iowa team since those 1991 fit-to-be-tied Holiday Bowl Hawkeyes to go wire-to-wire in the AP Top 25.
So even though last year’s team had a chance to be really special with all of those NFL draft picks — imagine if they were back — this year’s team can make a significant mark of their own.
Support them… until the game is won.
Speaking of support and making a mark…
On a personal note, I want to thank Adam Rossow, the quarterback of Hawkeye Headquarters, and Dan Vasko, the “guy in the chair,” who most Saturdays was handling things back at the studio while we were in Ames or State College or somewhere on I-80 hoping to not fall asleep.
Dan’s contract ended on Black Friday. Both Adam’s and my contracts expire before next football season. You never know what will happen between now and the September 5, 2020 kickoff at Kinnick against Northern Iowa, but I am extremely proud of what we have done in three seasons at Hawkeye Headquarters. I’ve worked in newsrooms big (Chicago Tribune, CBS Sports) and small (Elgin Courier News, Bettendorf News) and I’d take these guys on my team in any one of them. Talented journalists and solid people. They’ve done great work and their best is still ahead of them.
I think I hear the orchestra playing me off, so I will see some of you in San Diego. But one last thing: Orange you glad it isn’t the Outback Bowl again? (Make no mistake: Kirk isn’t.) Happy Holiday Bowl!
For the final time in 2019: Let’s get to the picks.
We are so thankful to have our predictions this year on Hawkeye Headquarters brought to you by Draft Day Sports Lounge inside Rhythm City Casino, “where you can grab a bite and make live bets!”
The Hawkeyes’ all-time leader in receptions is back for a third season of picks.
Kevonte Martin-Manley: Iowa 27, USC 17
Steve Batterson: Iowa 24, USC 21. Kedon Slovis can sling it with the best of them, but Iowa’s defense has shown over the course of the season it is more than capable of slowing productive offenses. USC will find that out Friday. The Trojans will make some plays, but expect A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston up front and Michael Ojemudia and Geno Stone on the back end to deny Southern Cal. If Iowa can gain a little traction on the ground, expect the foot of Keith Duncan to once again make the ultimate difference as the Hawkeyes reach the 10-win mark for the first time since 2015.
Steven Lassan: Iowa
Mitch Light: USC
Mark Ross: USC
Dennis Dodd: Iowa
Jerry Palm: Iowa
Tom Fornelli: USC
Chip Patterson: USC
Barton Simmons: Iowa
Barrett Sallee: USC
Ben Kercheval: Iowa
Iowa 30, USC 28
Jake Rill: Iowa
Ralph D. Russo: USC 26, Iowa 23
Bill Bender: USC 34, Iowa 27
Chris Hummer: USC 27, Iowa 21
Brad Crawford: USC 31, Iowa 27
Cam Mellor: USC
Gordon McGuinness: USC
Mike Renner: USC
Shannon Ford: Iowa
Austin Gayle: USC
Steve Palazzolo: USC
Bruce Feldman: USC 31, Iowa 23
Stewart Mandel: Iowa 31, USC 27
Hawkeye State predictions
Marc Morehouse: Iowa 27, USC 24
Chad Leistikow: Iowa 30, USC 27
Rob Howe: Iowa 26, USC 24
Cody Hills: Iowa 23, USC 17
And finally, the totally irrelevant prediction based on playing EA Sports’ NCAA Football 2004 on a PS2, as is the tradition since 2015.
Ryan Jaster: Hawkeyes 47, USC 14. Long touchdown passes (44, 39) hurt the Hawkeyes in the first half, but they counter with short touchdown runs (1, 2) and end up tied at the break. The Iowa defense shuts down the passing leaks, shuts out the Trojans, records five sacks and forces four fumbles in the second half, helping lead the Hawks to 3 TDs, 4 FGs (if that happens IRL that’s a Keith Duncan record) and a commanding win in San Diego. USC ends up with more offense, despite having negative rushing yards, but the Hawkeyes had such great field position in the second half, they didn’t need yards. Points came easy.
Prognosis: This season hasn’t been easy. The Hawkeyes told us they like to keep it sticky. And maybe it will play out that way — at first. But I think this team is better than they get credit for, will get an extra push from Hayden Fry and pull away from USC the same way the Trojans did 17 years ago at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Others expect pain — mostly national experts this week due to the timing of the bowl — but I don’t. This will serve as another signature moment for Kirk Ferentz… and maybe even an exclamation point.
Predictions on Hawkeye Headquarters are brought to you by Draft Day Sports Lounge inside Rhythm City Casino, “where you can grab a bite and make live bets!”
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Ryan Jaster, born and raised in Rock Island, writes a weekly predictions column during football season for HawkeyeHQ.com and previously wrote and edited for CBS Sports, the Quad-City Times, ChicagoSports.com and the Chicago Tribune. You can follow his Hawkeye musings at @Hawkologist.