Saturday, October 20, 2012

Penn State Football at Iowa: It's Time to Win at Kinnick Stadium

It's been a long dry spell at Kinnick Stadium, and I'm not talking about the weather.  In fact, as I write this, it is a misty morning in Iowa City.  The prediction for later today is for clouds giving way to sun and a high of 60, low of 40, winds of 5 mph with gusts up to 7 mph. Right now at 9 a.m. it feels just a bit raw and damp outside.

Yesterday it was windy enough that I started to worry about what I had brought to wear to the game.  So I went to the mall across from the hotel to buy yet another layer of fleece and some light gloves to complement my hooded sweatshirt and light jacket.

With the game starting at 7 p.m. we could be wearing cotton shirts at 3 p.m. and wishing for down jackets at 11 p.m. So layering seems the best approach.

Oh how I long for the pre-2001 days of being able to bring a back pack into a stadium with your extra clothes!  Now stadium security will take such carry-in items away from you.

We are also boarding a train to get to the stadium from our hotel (the black and gold Hawkeye Express) - a first for us.   So we are going to have to be inventive about how we carry all the garments we might need or want to shed for a long day and evening with a twenty degree difference in temperature range.  Sun making way to dark night.

Kinnick Stadium makes our top ten list as a college venue.  It was the first Big Ten (B1G) stadium we visited in 1993, the year we joined the B1G conference.  It was also the venue that made us realize that Penn State would fit in nicely in the B1G - with the exception of Northwestern, the schools were all similarly sized, public, large land-grant institutions with amazing football atmospheres.   

Iowa has a vibrant tailgating atmosphere, friendly fans, and most importantly a family based in Iowa City - the Cahoons and the Schraeders - consisting of both Iowa and Penn State fans who have welcomed us each year to a rather special tailgate in their reserved parking lot. Some of their tailgates have been quite elaborate, including a year when deep-fried turkey injected with cajun spices was on the menu, made in a special high-speed cooker. It's been fun.

The first three times we came to Iowa City, in 1993, 1995, and 1999, Penn State won the games. Hayden Fry was head coach for the first two of those games.  In 1999, Kirk Ferentz was the new head coach.

In that first decade it was a very pleasant, laid-back atmosphere where beer and brats were the order of the day and the fans supported their team, win or lose.   Our hosts were clearly upset whenever Penn State beat them but they were always kind. 

Then came the new century, the year 2000, a very painful double-overtime 23-26 loss at home in Beaver Stadium.  Penn State rallied from behind to tie the game, bring it into overtime and then lost it in second overtime when Iowa was ahead by 3 and intercepted a pass.

What followed in those "dark" mostly losing seasons from 2001-2004 were four consecutive losses to Iowa.  The worst of which was a 4-6 loss at Beaver Stadium in 2004, when both teams were horrible offensively, and Kirk Ferentz took an intentional safety with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter and allowed Penn State two points on a bet that Penn State couldn't produce enough offense to kick a field goal.  Alas he bet correctly.  One of the worst Penn State losses we have ever witnessed.

After two years where Penn State and Iowa didn't play each other, Penn State became a force again in the Big Ten, including earning the Big Ten Championship and a BCS bowl berth in 2005.  The Iowa rivalry renewed in 2007 and Penn State won 27-7 at Beaver Stadium.

We headed to Kinnick Stadium in 2008 and this time the Penn State team was undefeated and looking potentially at a BCS bowl berth, even the national championship.

It was a bitter cold windy day.  I was sitting right behind the Penn State bench next to our friend Tyler, whose dad was 60 rows above us with my husband, shivering in that wind.  Tyler and I were mostly out of the wind, but so low in the stadium that it was hard to see over the players or the photographers/press roaming the sidelines. Still, it was darn cold.  Fortunately we were well clothed.

Coach Joe Paterno's philosophy at the time was not to coddle the players with things like heaters on the sidelines.  There were cloaks the players could drape over themselves, but no heaters.  What we could see in front of us were football players shivering in that cold.  To this day people believe that made the difference in the game.

But whether it was cold hands on the part of the receiving corps or Darryl Clark, the quarterback, playing beyond his capability after suffering a concussion two weeks earlier, it didn't matter.  Iowa outscored Penn State 10-0 in the fourth quarter.  It was an errant pass by Clark when the score was 23-21 that led to a field goal kicked by Iowa's Daniel Murray at the end of the game.   Murray won it for Iowa, with one second remaining.  Penn State lost 23-24.

Those kinds of losses always hurt, especially when all the stats went Penn State's way.  The rush onto the field after the game where Tyler and I nearly got trampled didn't help our feelings.

Iowa had become a very tough environment to play at.  And in the process Iowa had become a fierce rival of Penn State.

The logo on a t-shirt sold by the Central Iowa Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association
Penn State lost again in 2009 10-21 and 2010 3-24.  In those years Iowa simply had a better and more experienced team.  The "stripe-out" black and gold stadium was a difficult atmosphere to play in, and even some of the Iowa fans we encountered were a bit more overbearing.   Or perhaps it just seemed that way.   The hospitality of the Cahoons and the Schraeders, of course, have always far offset any negativity we have experienced from any Hawkeye fan.

In 2011, at Beaver Stadium, Penn State won only its second game since the year 2000 in ten contests against Iowa*, a 13-3 defensive battle that was a very satisfying victory after so much frustation in the past decade.

That same defense is mostly still here.  Penn State has had a week off to prepare, not necessarily a good thing, but somehow I think that the Penn State offense and defense will be ready for Iowa.  What I worry about is special teams play, because in tight battles, the kicking game does matter.

Will Penn State be ready enough to finally win one here?

That's why we're here.

It will be a nice feeling to finally come home from this battle in the cornfields bearing our shields, rather than on them.  And we don't want to miss it.

*Note:  the wins against Iowa in 2007 and 2011 have since been vacated due to NCAA sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  However, the statistics and history still remain, as do my scoreboard photos of those wins.

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