A trip down memory lane after 25 years of covering Iowa bowl games

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard on the run against Florida in the 2017 Outback Bowl

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa – I will leave for Tampa, Fla., on Sunday to cover yet another Outback Bowl that matches the Iowa football team against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference.

Iowa’s opponent this time is an 8-4 Mississippi State squad that is led by one of the most dominant defenses in the country.

The game, and the trip as a whole, I’m sure will produce some lasting memories because covering an Iowa bowl game truly is a unique experience, on and off the field.

Being on the Iowa beat since 1992 has allowed me to cover more than a dozen of Iowa’s bowl games and to have a life-time of memories and stories to tell about each experience.

I decided to put some of those memories in writing in this column.

There was the time when I stood on the San Antonio River Walk in the days leading up to the 1993 Alamo Bowl and joked about how filthy the water in the San Antonio River must be while comparing it to toilet water. An elderly lady standing next to me then turned and said, “Good Lord, you must be a joy to be around," and then walked away shaking her head in disgust.

There was the time in 1993 when I allowed one of my former colleagues from the Iowa City Press-Citizen to sleep on the floor of my hotel room in San Antonio. He and his younger brother had driven from their hometown in Fort Dodge to watch the 1993 Alamo Bowl and wanted to save some money on lodging. I was happy to help until the younger brother started passing gas, sometimes on purpose, at an alarming rate and continued to do so throughout their stay. I remember almost crying with joy after they finally had departed.

There was the time when members of the California football team tried to encourage the Iowa players to bring more fight in the second half as both teams headed off the field at halftime of the 1993 Alamo Bowl. I didn’t actually see this happen, but a former colleague at the Iowa City Press-Citizen was on the field at halftime and said he heard several of the Cal players telling the Iowa players that they didn’t travel this far for nothing. It didn't work, though, as Cal cruised to a 37-3 victory.

There was the time when Sedrick Shaw blasted through a massive hole in the Washington defense and raced 58 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the 1995 Sun Bowl. That set the tone for what would prove to be a big upset as Iowa prevailed 38-18 in what also proved to be Bill Braisher’s final game as the Iowa defensive coordinator.

There was the time when Hayden Fry during his post-game press conference at the 1995 Sun Bowl singled out for praise the only Iowa media member who had picked the Hawkeyes to defeat Washington. That person was former Associated Press reporter Greg Smith, to whom Fry offered his thanks after the game while joking about the rest of the Iowa media being kind of stupid.

There was the time when that same Greg Smith accidently smacked a fellow media scribe in the face with a basketball in the days leading up the 1995 Sun Bowl. Everyone sitting nearby in the hotel lobby laughed except for the person who had absorbed the hit. He took his ball and went to his room, I’m guessing with watery eyes.

There was the time when Iowa crushed Texas Tech 27-0 in the 1996 Alamo Bowl to cap a 9-3 season. The Iowa defense held 2,000-yard rusher Byron Hanspard to just 64 rushing yards. My lasting impression from that season is that Iowa was better than its 9-3 record and used the Alamo Bowl mismatch as a stage to show it.    

There was the time when I interviewed Arizona State linebacker Pat Tillman before the 1997 Sun Bowl and came away so impressed with his insight, charisma and sense of humor. He could have easily just gone through the motions because neither team was excited to be there. But Pat Tillman never did anything where he just went through the motions. I cherish that brief interview even more now knowing that I was in the presence of greatness that would stretch far beyond the football field.

There was the time when Ricchard Carter caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Randy Reiners late in the fourth quarter of Iowa’s 17-7 loss to Arizona State in the 1997 Sun Bowl. The loss marked the end to one of the most disappointing seasons in all my years of covering the Iowa football team. An Iowa offense that featured star receiver and All-America return specialist Tim Dwight and 1,600-yard rusher Tavian Banks sputtered pretty much from start to finish in the Sun Bowl with exception to the meaningless touchdown by Carter, who is now a good source for a trivia question about who scored Iowa’s only touchdown in the 1997 Sun Bowl.

There was the time from 1998 to 2000 when Iowa didn’t play in a bowl game, but did have a head coaching change for the first time in 20 years when Kirk Ferentz replaced Hayden Fry shortly after the 1998 season. Ferentz will conclude his 20th season as head coach in the Outback Bowl. 

There was the time when 46-year old Kirk Ferentz stood on the podium after Iowa’s 19-16 victory over Texas Tech in the 2001 Alamo Bowl and yelled to fans inside the Alamodome that the Hawkeyes were back. Iowa has now been bowl eligible in 17 of the last 18 seasons under Ferentz.

There was the time when O.J. Simpson showed up for an event in conjunction with the 2003 Orange Bowl matchup between Iowa and USC, and fortunately, didn’t kill anybody.

There was the time just days before the 2003 Orange Bowl when a Press-Citizen photographer and I traveled from Miami to Belle Glade, Fla., to interview the mother of Iowa quarterback Brad Banks. Much of that visit has faded, but one thing I’ll never forget is the warm welcome from Brad’s mother. She just seemed so happy and appreciative that we were there. Brad once said his mother is happy just hearing the birds sing each day, and I realized what he meant after making that visit.

There was the time before the 2004 Outback Bowl when then Florida head coach Ron Zook mistakenly thought that Iowa All-America kicker Nate Kaeding was a running back, or, at least it sure sounded that way when Zook was asked to comment on Kaeding. Zook’s answer focused on the Iowa running backs and that gave the impression that he thought Kaeding was a running back. It also probably should have been a hint about which team would be better prepared as Iowa would go on to crush the Gators 37-17, thanks in part to three field goals by Kaeding.

There was the time in the days leading up the 2004 Outback Bowl when an Iowa beat reporter ordered an appetizer at a fancy steakhouse in Tampa with either lobster or crab legs that cost in excess of $200.  His reaction upon receiving his bill was priceless and something I’ll never forget. He stayed relatively calm and said, “wow, market price is a little more expensive than I thought.”

There was the time when I said you have to be freaking kidding me, but not necessarily in those exact words, after Drew Tate completed a 56-yard touchdown pass to senior Warren Holloway as time expired to defeat Louisiana State 30-25 in the 2005 Capital One Bowl. The circumstances were almost too good to be true with it being Holloway’s first career touchdown catch in his final game as a Hawkeye and with it being Nick Saban’s final game as the LSU coach.

There was the time when I rode shotgun over Tampa Bay in a Red Baron bi-plane as part of a promotion for the 2006 Outback Bowl. I gave the pilot permission to do tricks and nearly soiled myself when he turned the plane vertical and appeared to make the engine stall. We then started rushing toward the water with my life flashing before me when the pilot finally readjusted the plane. I tried to stay composed, but the pilot knew that I was terrified and he seem to enjoy watching me squirm like a baby.

There was the time in the days leading up to the 2010 Orange bowl when I accidently flipped a Press-Citizen photographer on his head in the hotel parking lot after he had put me in a bear hug. He then called me about an hour later saying that he was in an incredible amount of pain and bleeding out of both ears, and that he needed me to take him to the nearest hospital ASAP. Needless to say, I started to panic when he burst into laughter and said he was only joking.

There was the time when Iowa faced Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners in the 2011 Insight Bowl, but I hardly remember anything about the 31-14 loss besides that it never felt like Iowa had a chance to win. What I do remember is accepting the challenge from a restaurant in Tempe, Ariz., to eat chicken wings until I could no longer tolerate the heat. I lasted for a while due to my love for spicy chicken wings, and to the encouragement of others, but would go on to pay an unpleasant price if you know what I mean.

There was the time when I turned my head for just a few seconds in the press box and missed most of Christian McCaffrey’s 75-yard touchdown catch on the first play from scrimmage in the 2016 Rose Bowl. I moved my computer bag underneath my chair right before the ball was snapped, and by the time I turned my attention back to the field, McCaffrey was close to scoring the first of six touchdowns by Stanford during the 45-16 drubbing.

There was the time when my stringer reached out to me after the first quarter of the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl in New York City and told me that he had little to no feeling in his fingers and toes. I thought he was joking until he informed me that the press box at Yankee Stadium wasn’t heated. I told him to try to stay warm and hang in there and that I would cover Iowa’s next appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl. It was the best I could do under the circumstances.

And there was the time when it was announced that Iowa would be making its sixth appearance in the Outback Bowl and I immediately thought about the media hotel in Tampa being pretty cheap and that it featured a lively media hospitality suite with a legendary host.

As you can tell, I only remember the important things.