Schwartz: How Will We Remember Nate Stanley?

November 28, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

Nate Stanley’s last two games as Iowa’s starting quarterback, a run so long and durable it feels like he’s held the job since Forest Evashevski ran the locker room, will do little to shape how we feel about his legacy. He’s already part of Hawkeye lore.

Stanley’s career statistics shadow nearly every other Hawkeye QB not named Chuck Long. He’s won bowl games. He’s owned Iowa State.

The Hawkeyes have won far more than they’ve lost with him behind center.

He’s tall and strong. Stanley’s arm could give any potato gun a run for its money. He’s also been a standup teammate, the kind of guy my grandpa used to say “keeps his nose clean.”

It’s disingenuous, however, to pretend we think Stanley lived up to his potential – unless his potential wasn’t as high as we thought it was, if perhaps we held unrealistic expectations. And if that’s the case, if Stanley truly did max out and yet we still want to withhold even 5 percent of our praise, what does that say about us as fans?

College football is just a sport, and on the big Top 10 list of what impacts our everyday lives, sports probably falls somewhere between 35 and 400.

Yet if we’re going give an honest assessment of Stanley’s legacy – what we’ll say about him when he returns to Kinnick in 2029 as honorary captain – then let’s at least have the integrity to be honest.

Fans grow defensive and testy when we perceive one of our own is under attack. Sometimes we confuse observation with insult. No one is calling Nate Stanley a lousy human being – nor should they.

What we can do is wonder out loud how his career – his legacy – would have been different if he had ever totally figured out how to control the strength of his arm as some of history’s most storied QBs had to learn before they could become great, players such as John Elway and Brett Favre.

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Stanley will be remembered for the W’s in the won-loss column, but when we close our eyes and let our memories roll footage through our brains, then what?

The most positive offensive memory will be of his otherworldly quarterback sneaks. Without hyperbole or exaggeration, in my years of watching college football I can’t recall a quarterback consistently better at the sneak than Stanley. Maybe Texas’s Vince Young. Maybe.

There can be no doubt about his most storied moment: Iowa’s 55-24 victory over Ohio State at Kinnick Stadium in 2017. Stanley threw for five touchdowns, and for that reason alone he deserves his place among Iowa’s most memorable players.

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That’s also where it becomes complicated. Because we know what Stanley could do, we grew frustrated by what he did or did not do.

That giant arm. The ultimate football weapon we kept waiting for him to harness that he never fully did. We’ll always remember Ohio State, but we’ll also remember all of the times he overthrew receivers downfield, such as TJ Hockenson against Penn State in 2018.

The touch never quite matured. Wait until 2018, we said in 2017. Wait until 2019, we said in 2018. Still, so many passes sailed deep. So many screens and crossing routes twisted receivers to catch a ball thrown behind them. Enough, it should be noted, that it came to be expected. Over the years Hawkeye fans from Kinnick and beyond came to express disappointment – never surprise – when Stanley’s cannon overshot or undershot its mark.

It feels unfair to Stanley to write this, but endings invite retrospection. I believe we all think the world of Stanley. I hope so, anyway. If college football magically became an openly professional league and Iowa signed Stanley to a six-year extension, we’d be happy because the Hawkeyes would be set at quarterback.

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We carried such enormous expectations for Stanley because he showed us moments of greatness. He’ll live forever through his statistics.

So let’s spend Iowa’s last two games appreciating Nate Stanley in the moment, appreciating him for who he is.

A Hawkeye who won.

A Hawkeye who could never do enough to please us, no matter how much he did, which was a lot.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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