By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A perception is sometimes more accepted than the truth, and Kirk Ferentz knows that all too well when it comes to facing Iowa State.
“I know there's a perception out there at one point we didn't think this was important,” Ferentz said. “That was highly insulting, really insulting. But you know, you can't do anything about it. You go through all that stuff like you go through anything else.”
Ferentz was selling himself short by saying a perception couldn't be changed because he already has changed the perception with regard to the Cyclones, and he did so simply by winning.
A victory on Saturday against Iowa State would be Iowa's first four-game winning streak against the Cyclones in 20 seasons under the 63-year old Ferentz.
Ferentz lost his first four games against Iowa State from 1999 to 2002, but is 10-5 against the Cyclones since then, including winning four of the last five games.’
And with that turnaround comes a change in perception in which Ferentz no is longer accused of thinking the Iowa State game isn’t very important.
The game always has been important to Ferentz, but fans needed an excuse to explain or justify why he struggled to defeat the Cyclones in the early years, and saying that it wasn’t important to Ferentz became a convenient excuse.
Saturday’s annual showdown at Kinnick Stadium will be Ferentz’s 29th game in which he has been a part of the series. That includes the nine seasons he spent as the Iowa offensive line coach under Hayden Fry from 1981-89.
Iowa was in the midst of a 15-game winning streak against Iowa State, which lasted from 1983 to 1997, when Ferentz left after the 1989 season to become the head coach for Maine.
The streak finally ended in Fry’s final season as head coach in 1998 as Iowa State rolled to a 27-9 victory at Kinnick Stadium. It was the start of a five-game winning streak for Iowa State in the series.
“It's changed. Yeah, it's changed a lot, I think,” Ferentz said of the rivalry. “Go back to '81, it was an unhealthy rivalry in my opinion, at least based on what I saw my first trip up there. But the whole world has changed so much in that regard.
“I think this is really great for the state, you know, and it's been -- outside of the one game, and then we've been guilty of that, too, but overall, since I got back in '99, there's been a lot of really good ballgames that have gone right down to the wire, and I think that's good for everybody. No question about it.”
This game is good for both teams, for both schools and for both fan bases, even though some fans from both schools like to downplay its significance and its appeal.
Iowa fans say the game is a no-win situation because the Hawkeyes gain little from winning, while Iowa State fans say that Iowa’s elitist attitude isn’t deserved because the series is now competitive.
The push to remove Iowa State from the schedule seems to have lost some momentum, thanks mostly to Iowa’s recent success in the rivalry. It’s much easier to tolerate something when it brings happiness.
The reason Iowa and Iowa State should play on an annual basis is simple: you have a unique setup with two teams from different power five conferences in a low population state.
Nebraska can’t match that, nor can Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio or Arkansas.
We have something special in our state, so why not celebrate it on annual basis on the football field?
“I do enjoy playing in it,’ said Iowa senior defensive end Parker Hesse, who is from Waukon. “I think being a competitor, or enjoying any sport or form of competition, an opportunity like this where both sides are in to, their fan bases are intensely into it, that’s something that’s fun.
“It’s big stage for being a kid from Iowa. So that something I’m definitely looking forward to and that I’ve looked forward to each year.”
And Ferentz enjoys coaching in it.
He might not always show it, but that says more about Ferentz’s demeanor than his feelings about facing Iowa State.
Dan McCarney and Paul Rhoads both coached with lots of emotion, especially McCarney, but they both were ultimately shown the door at Iowa State.
The fact that Iowa State beat Iowa five times in a row under McCarney from 1998 to 2002 didn’t sit well with Iowa fans, partly due to McCarney’s background as a former Iowa player and assistant coach from Iowa City, and because McCarney treated the game as if it were the biggest event since the moon landing.
He would stomp up and down the sideline and give pre-game speeches and halftime speeches that were credited with lifting Iowa State’s level of performance, whereas Ferentz would coach the same way against Iowa State as he would any opponent.
Ferentz still coaches that same way, but Iowa has won three games in a row against Iowa State, so it doesn’t matter.
Winning cures everything, including an inaccurate and unfair perception.