It would have been easy last Monday to say no, to say that eight games was enough, to say that a season of tumult and confusion and ultimate success had run its course.
Iowa’s football program had been put on pause after coach Kirk Ferentz, some members of his staff, and others had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Preparations for the TransPerfect Music City Bowl in Nashville were put on hold.
But the Hawkeyes wanted to keep playing, which is the message the team’s Leadership Group gave to Ferentz.
“It’s one of the prouder moments of this season, quite frankly,” Ferentz said on Sunday. “Because it was a very resounding ‘Yes.’
“They were clear, to a man. The attitude was we had come this far, every guy wanted to finish this thing out, play one more final game together.”
There will be no bowl. Missouri, Iowa’s opponent, had way too many COVID-19 issues within its own program, and had to back out of the game.
Instead of a chance to play a ninth game, instead of the chance for a seventh consecutive win, the ‘no’ was just as resounding.
“It’s just really extremely disappointing to end the season this way,” Ferentz said, and yet the finish was so fitting for a season that had everything.
The Hawkeyes dealt with the pandemic that shut the program on March 13. They dealt with racial issues within the program in June and July. They dealt with a season that looked to be starting on time, then got postponed by the Big Ten, then got restarted. And they dealt with two losses to open the season, defeats that could have easily sucked whatever energy was left within the program.
Instead, Iowa won its final six games.
“It’s amazing what they’ve done, especially the last six games,” Ferentz said. “The way they performed, the way they prepared, the dedication they’ve shown.
“If you look at how these young guys have handled things, it’s really remarkable. They’ve handled disappointment in stride. They’ve handled all kinds of things in stride. They’ve stayed together, and they’ve pushed forward. And collectively, they’ve done some really impressive things.”
Ferentz’s press conference drifted into a history lesson. He spoke of the 2004 team that started 2-2 and won its last eight games, and of the 2008 team before winning six of its last seven games.
This team, Ferentz said, was right up there with those teams.
“For a lot of reasons, this is a year we’ll all remember,” Ferentz said. “We’ll always remember this team, for the way they’ve handled things.”
Iowa had its last two games canceled because of the virus — the Champions Week game against Michigan that would have been at Kinnick Stadium was called off — but both times the issues were within the opposing programs.
Ferentz wasn’t about to criticize the Tigers. He admitted that luck played a big part in the Hawkeyes getting this far, referring to how just one week earlier there were questions about their ability to play.
“We’ve made choices all along, with the end point being trying to play,” Ferentz said. “We were having our hardships a week ago. … It’s hard to judge anybody else’s actions, and I really don’t want to get in that game.”
Ferentz hinted that the Hawkeyes wouldn’t have had a full roster had there been a game.
“We wouldn’t have been at full strength on Wednesday, but we were here to play,” he said.
If anything, the Hawkeyes have a chance to take a breath and reflect what has been accomplished. They are collectively a stronger group, something Ferentz and the players have pointed out repeatedly during this season.
“These guys,” Ferentz said, “acted like a football team.”
Ferentz thought back to what turned out to be the final game, a 28-7 victory over Wisconsin on a snowy, cold day at Kinnick Stadium.
“If we had to end it, I guess in retrospect it’s a good way to end it,” Ferentz said. “That’s a pretty good moment to finish it on.”
Ferentz thought back to August 11, when the Big Ten originally postponed the fall football season.
“It was a really tough day for everybody,” he said. “To have the opportunity to play eight (games), I’m looking at that side of the equation. Not what could have been, but what we did get to do.”
Ferentz smiled when asked about next season, his 23rd with the Hawkeyes.
“I might need an oil change, a 65,000-mile oil change, one of those shots,” Ferentz quipped. “I feel pretty good physically. This is what I like doing. … I’m not ready to start stamp collecting or bird-watching.
“This is what I enjoy. But I think we’re all ready for a break. We could use a break.”
The Hawkeyes’ work is done. Eight games, six wins, and so many things that can’t be quantified.
Ferentz had one more thing for his players to do.
“Today is another disappointing day,” he said. “I’m hopeful that tomorrow everyone could step back and really appreciate — and you don’t get to do that until the season is over, but I encourage them to appreciate what they have accomplished, not only the eight weeks we’ve played, but this entire stretch from March 13 until now. They just did a tremendous job.
“Let’s just appreciate those eight games together, all the time we had together.”