Monday, October 12, 2009

(On Location) In the Stands: Iowa 30, Michigan 28


For the people who don’t know me very well and see me walking around casually in Chicago (the Big Ten melting pot), they ask who I root for. It can be confusing because depending on the day, you can see me wearing: a Northwestern hat, Michigan shirts/shorts/hats, Iowa shirts/gloves/hat, an Ohio State A. J. Hawk jersey, or a Penn State sweatshirt/hat. I have sat in Ryan Field, in my alma mater Northwestern’s student section, rooting against the Buckeyes and in that same season, painted my face black and old gold in honor of Purdue while sitting in that same student section. I’ve Jump(ed) Around wearing Red and White, I’ve gone all White at the Whitehouse, face-painted a block “M” in maize and blue while sitting in the front row at Ross Ade Stadium, and cheered hard to “Play Thirteen” and through Ohio State’s upset of the Miami Hurricanes for the National Championship. So it’s no surprise when I showed up to Saturday night’s affair in Iowa City wearing Hawkeyes gloves and hat with a Wolverine T-shirt tucked under multiple layers. Confused? Me too, I guess.

So was my section (G) for the night, while obviously sporting a majority in black for the home-team’s “Blackout”, we also housed a sprinkling of Michigan faithful, perhaps 100. One comment on the Blackout–it’s always impressive to see an entire stadium decked out in one color and black certainly is dramatic, but I wished the yellow hand-poms and towels were black as well. It would have made for an even more dramatic effect. I kept thinking “bumblebees”.

However, my pet peeve with the yellow-ness didn’t reduce the electricity of the crowd. Had we fronted the cold sans extra thick gloves, the noise level would have been spectacular. The stadium’s decibel level peaked in the second half, particularly early in the fourth quarter (Iowa 23, Michigan 21) when Michigan was pinned at their own one-yard line after Iowa was stone-walled on their fourth-and-goal attempt (a beautiful pass deflection by Stevie Brown who was first caught looking inside on the run). The crowd acknowledged the size of the moment and delivered a thunderous wall of sound—a drown-out A+ for the fans, which contributed greatly to a quick three-and-out for Michigan.

After a rocket 61-yard punt by Zoltan Mesko, who out-kicked his coverage, Colin Sandeman was able to gather the ball after a bounce and scoot 20 yards to Michigan’s 41. The Hawkeyes regained their cushion on the very next play, a perfectly executed play action bootleg fake-left, roll-out right dump off to tight end Tony Moeaki (my vote for POTG: six catches, 105 yards, team’s first and last touchdowns) dragging across the field after the receivers had cleared out the right side of the field. Ricky Stanzi found him on a similar 34-yard catch and run to tie the game up seven minutes in the first quarter—stick with what works. What little Iowa showed in variety, they made up for in tremendous execution.

One would think that the quarterback from the now 6-0 Hawkeyes would have a little more respect from his home crowd that night, but I often heard muddled exasperation, particularly after Stanzi’s pick-six by Donovan Warren and delay-of-game penalties. This was somewhat surprising since Stanzi finished 20-for-38 for 284 yards and two touchdowns. And what was really interesting about Donovan’s interception of Stanzi—one which gave the Wolverines the early lead, 45 seconds in—was the reaction of the Michigan fans behind me. Those fans of the maize and blue fans one row behind me—after hooting and hollering and responding to the cowbell call from across the section—said, “We’re going to get killed.” I found that awfully strange/ironic/fatalistic, so when I turned around to see who was throwing in the towel after his team just went up 7-0, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a dude sporting a blue and yellow Rey Mysterio, Jr.-style mask. I would hardly ever confuse the terms “Michigan fan” and “crazy”, but that caught me a little off guard–I moved my wallet to my front pocket.

Those of us who have watched enough Michigan football knew that Tate Forcier’s (8-for-19, 94 yards, one interception, one fumble) benching for the final two drives would eventually lead to the team’s demise (Again, a tip of the hat goes to the home crowd for making Forcier’s time even more miserable). Backup quarterback and fellow true freshman Dernard Robinson (nine rushes, 49 yards, one touchdown) did all he could, which means running really fast (and scoring) and hoping for the best when he dropped back to pass–his final attempt was intercepted by Brett Greenwood to seal it for the home team.

The crowd came to a crescendo with the game-clinching pick and hung around for celebrations, albeit with a modicum of cautiousness—two older Iowa fans were wondering after the game if this win was better or worse than last week’s slim win over Arkansas St. The woman quipped, “We played a high school team last week!” I almost got the sense that the Hawkeye faithful were in need of nothing less than a romp to feel good about their team. Again, it was strange and ironic. As for me, did I come out of Kinnick Stadium feeling better or worse you ask? The real Rey Mysterio, Jr. has yet to unmask himself, and neither have I. Wait, he has unmasked himself and his name is Oscar Gutierrez? Uh oh, gotta go.

Photos Courtesy of Iowa Sports Information