A tape measure is the only prop that seems to be missing from Nate Kaeding’s mental rewind.
The San Diego Chargers kicker was a member of the last Iowa football team to win at Michigan Stadium, and his memories of Oct. 26, 2002 play out like scenes from a movie.
“You get up there and it is really, really big,” Kaeding said. “It’s kind of like the guys from ‘Hoosiers’ when they go into the basketball arena. The field is still 100 yards long.”
Gene Hackman, playing the role of coach Norman Dale, eased tensions by showing that basketball goals were 10 feet high, regardless of the venue.
For the Hawkeyes, history is a potential obstacle. They’ll be seeking just their seventh victory in Ann Arbor, Mich., when Iowa, ranked 15th by The Associated Press and 14th in the USA Today coaches’ poll, returns to the famed “Big House” on Saturday.
Success is rare, but a 34-9triumph eight years ago kicked off a Hawkeye revival under coach Kirk Ferentz.
“For us to go in there and win was really a special thing,” former offensive lineman Bruce Nelson said. “We had come off so many tough years; it was really just a huge step for us and our confidence.”
Iowa finished 2002 with an 8-0 record in the Big Ten Conference, quarterback Brad Banks was the Heisman Trophy runner-up and Kaeding received the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker.
“There’s nothing better than going in there like we did, and all of a sudden 100,000 fans become pretty quiet,” Kaeding said. “It’s a pretty neat experience.”
Beating Michigan became a signature moment of the Ferentz Era, launching the Hawkeyes to their first appearance in the Bowl Championship Series (losing to Southern California 38-17 in the Orange Bowl).
“It’s probably one of the few times, maybe the only time, where we really got some strong momentum,” Ferentz recalled. “It was one of those rare things that happen sometimes, and the team kind of caught fire and pushed it right through.”
Ferentz hopes for similar results when Iowa (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) returns to Michigan (5-1, 1-1).
The Wolverines, ranked 24th by the coaches, own a 24-6-3 mark when hosting the Hawkeyes, but The Big House has served as a maize and blue barometer.
Five of Iowa’s six wins have led to at least a share of a conference title, but Nelson was oblivious to the past in 2002.
“We were just trying to win that Saturday,” he said.
Banks threw three touchdown passes and reserve running back Jermelle Lewis rushed for 105 yards in the second half as Iowa handed the eighth-ranked Wolverines their worst home loss since 1967.
Defensive backs Bob Sanders and Scott Boleyn combined on a key third quarter recovery of a fumbled punt.
“We felt like we were in control of the game pretty much the entire time,” Kaeding said. “It took that one play to kind of swing it in our direction, and we just put the pedal to the floor.”
The ride was sweet for veterans such as Nelson, who endured a 1-10 season in 1999.
“I can remember my close-knit family and friends, how excited they were,” said Nelson, who is now living and farming in his hometown of Emmetsburg. “It really was a big deal to everybody else. To us (players), we didn’t realize how big it was until it was over.”
Iowa lost in it’s next two trips to the Big House, 30-17 in 2004 and 20-6 in ’06.
A victory this weekend would enable Ferentz to join Hayden Fry as the only Hawkeye coaches to win twice at Michigan.
“I read where we’ve lost eight of our last 11 in Ann Arbor,” Ferentz said. “There’s probably a good reason for that, probably the fact they have a good team when you go up there.”
A sign of good things to come
Iowa has won at Michigan six times. In four of those seasons, the Hawkeyes have gone on to play in an elite bowl game:
|Year||at Michigan||W-L (bowl game)|
|2002||W, 34-9||11-2 (Orange Bowl)|
|1990||W, 24-23||8-4 (Rose Bowl)|
|1981||W, 9-7||8-4 (Rose Bowl)|
|1958||W, 37-14||8-1-1 (Rose Bowl)|
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football