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Schwartz: Final Thoughts from Pasadena

January 5, 2016

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

It’s been a few days since Stanford beat Iowa in the Rose Bowl. The game was lopsided, but the experience before the game and in the stands was so special that the overall spectacle has taken a few days to digest.

What follows isn’t so much a running diary of what I saw in Pasadena, but rather a handful of experiences of what it was like to be there as a fan.

I realize others who attended may have seen things differently than I did, but hopefully for those of you who did not attend, this short article can show you a different angle on a Rose Bowl that – despite the final score – deserves remembering.

Six observations, randomly ordered:

Christian McCaffery’s first touchdown: Imagine you’ve spent 10 years working hard for the world’s most beautiful crystal bowl. You’ve worked overtime. You’ve saved. You always eat the leftovers in your fridge.

Finally, you have enough money. You go online and find that crystal bowl. It’s beautiful. It’s going to sit on the middle of your dining room table for the rest of your life. You double-check your savings account and you have enough to click “buy now.”

Tiffany & Co. tells you it will be delivered to your home in four weeks. You have to wait four more weeks! But that’s OK. You’ve already waited 10 years. What’s another month?

The big day arrives. The box is on your doorstep when you get home from work. You call your spouse into the living room. Your kids. Your dog. Filet mignon is on the grill, because this is going to be a special night.

You open the box. What do you find? Your crystal bowl smashed into a thousand pieces. You never even got to enjoy it. Never got to look at it, didn’t get to admire it for even a single meal. It was destroyed before you even took it out of the box.

Now imagine that happening to 60,000 people simultaneously and you’ll have a clear picture of what it felt like 11 seconds into Friday’s Rose Bowl. This wasn’t air going out of a balloon. This was the Empire blowing up Alderaan.

For about 60 seconds, the Rose Bowl – nearly two-thirds full of Hawkeye fans – grew silent. Then, slowly, you started to hear people trying to talk themselves and others back into an optimistic mood.

“That’s OK, boys. Lotta time left! It’s only one score!”

“It’s just like the 2003 Orange Bowl when C.J. Jones took back the kickoff and then we got our butts kicked – only the opposite. We got ’em right where we want ’em!”

McCaffery’s first touchdown was shocking. Hell, everything he did was shocking. It swept over the crowd like a like a tsunami of disappointment.

It got worse: But Hawkeye fans, mostly, stayed to support their team. With Iowa down 14-0 in the first quarter and its offense driving, a man two rows behind us said, “Well, at least we’ve got the ball, so they [Stanford] won’t be able to score.”

Two plays later, CJ Beathard through a pick-six and Iowa trailed, 21-0. It got worse.

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A tweet made its way through the section. Iowa was losing worse in the first quarter than any team in Rose Bowl history. Groans. It got worse.

For some reason, Iowa punted straight to McCaffery again early in the second quarter. 28-0. At this point, some in the crowd began to express frustration.

But no one left, even when it got worse.

Six minutes later Stanford scored on a deep pass play after faking a fumble. 35-0. By now, Iowa fans mostly were silent. Or complaining to their friends and family. Or burying their heads in Twitter, like me, because it took my mind off what was happening on the field.

And yet, no one left. Some rationalized they couldn’t leave because they’d already spent the money to get here, but most continued to shout support, clap when Iowa achieved a first down or a few points. We used halftime to find perspective.

Iowa fans are loyal. That showed at the Rose Bowl.

Iowa dominates the Tournament of Roses Parade: The Hawkeyes may have lost the game, but they won the parade. Black and gold was everywhere along the parade route.

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Even better, a handful of marchers in the parade played to the Iowa crowd. One guy led an I-O-W-A chant, another started a “Let’s go Hawks” chant.

There are some grumps who will roll their eyes at this, but it speaks volumes when a high school marching band member from Texas or some old guy on a float is so swept up by the Iowa contingency that they try to be a part of it. That says something special about Iowa and its fans.

We need to talk about the Stanford band: We’ll get to the much-talked-about halftime show in a few paragraphs. First, it should be noted that many attending Iowa fans were unaware at the time of what the Stanford band is all about.

They’re poor-to-good musicians whose gimmick is that they troll opposing teams instead of marching like other college marching bands. They use, in their own words, “a combination of witty political, borderline potty and artful musical humor to entertain its pregame and halftime audiences.” Read more about them here.

They like to give themselves a lot of credit, but their actions get them into trouble, such as being banned from road games for a year. Here’s a list put together by Bleacher Report of the band’s past controversial performances, which includes poking fun at polygamy during a game against BYU and using a white Ford Bronco in a game against USC while O.J. Simpson was on trial.

OK, so back to the Rose Bowl. Full confession: I loved their pregame performance. They made fun of Kinnick Stadium’s famous pink locker rooms. Their announcers threw around terms like “emasculate” and “heteronormative.” The smart performance skewed the Hawkeyes for hanging onto 1970’s masculine thinking in a way that would have made famous audience troll Andy Kaufman proud.

Then came their uninspired, cheap halftime performance that played to every stereotype about Iowa one can imagine. Iowa fans in the crowd lost their minds. The performance was so dumb and so lazy that even some Stanford fans in the crowd started booing them.

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At first, like a dummy, I tried telling a couple of irate Iowa fans in the crowd to not waste their breath booing. “This is what they do,” I said. Now I wish I would have booed with them. Not because I was insulted – the Stanford band isn’t any more insulting than when my 5-year-old calls me poopy head – but because students from one of the United States’ top universities couldn’t come up with anything better to mock Iowa than corn and cows. For goodness sake, we’re the state of Tom Harkin and Steve King, and the best they can do is cow tipping?

So, so lazy. To paraphrase from social media someone else’s line about the Stanford band: big brains, small minds.

Speed and more speed: I’m not an Xs and Os guy. Obviously. But what most stood out as most similar to last year’s bowl game against Tennessee – other than a lopsided final score – is how much slower the Hawkeyes were than their opponent.

I’m not just talking about McCaffery, who reminded me of Tim Dwight on Dwight’s best days. Stanford’s defensive line ran past Iowa’s offensive line. Stanford’s offensive line played like it had two steps each play on Iowa’s defensive line.

The Cardinal’s receivers were faster. Their defensive backs were faster. This article is intended to bring you into the stands at the Rose Bowl, so I’ll let a fan who sat behind us conclude this item. “Oh my God we’re so slooowwwwwww!”

Beyond the game: Midway through the third quarter I took a walk. My mood was dark.

Just then, a teenage son and his parents – decked in Hawkeye gear – walked past. They seemed in good spirits. The boy held a bag full of souvenirs. He smiled.

He’ll probably always remember that Stanford creamed Iowa, but he’ll remember more the experience he had of going to the Rose Bowl with his parents.

Bowl games are fun, but except for the College Football Playoffs, they’re just exhibitions. They’re meaningless beyond whatever affect they have on our morale. I hope every Hawkeye fan who made the trip to Pasadena is glad they went, and I hope everyone who stayed home and spend money on food or a party is glad they did. Mostly, I hope no one looks at the final score and regrets making the effort to cheer on Iowa.

The Hawkeyes put on one hell of a show for us in 2015. I’m thankful for that. I’m not going to pretend the Rose Bowl result didn’t bum me out, but I’d rather Iowa made it to the Rose Bowl and gotten their butts kicked than never made it at all.

But next year, Hawkeyes, how about a Rose Bowl win?


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