With the news that Bob Sanders will miss at least the next three to four weeks due to his foot that will require surgery tomorrow (Friday, September 5th), a lot of Iowa fans are scratching their heads and wondering how significant this loss will be to this season.
Let's be honest; anytime you lose an all American, it hurts. It hurts even more when you lose a player that has had the impact on the Iowa program that Bob Sanders has had.
Just last week during the ESPN2 broadcast of the Iowa-Miami (OH) game, former Ohio State linebacker and now ESPN analyst Chris Spielman pointed out that since Sanders made his first start against Wisconsin as a true freshman, that Iowa was 20-9. Make that 21-9 after last week.
In the previous 30 games prior to Sanders starting and prior to his arrival at Iowa, the Hawkeyes had gone just 5-25.
Bob Sanders and his fearless attitude are tangible evidence one can point to when trying to figure out how the Iowa football program was able to make such a dramatic turnaround in recent years.
His physical play is near legendary in the Big Ten now and the ‘Sanders virus' spread through the program right away. Benny Sapp started to bring the wood and he and Bob had a running contest as to who could bring the biggest hits the final three games of the 2000 season.
The 2001 squad was extremely physical, and last year prior to Iowa destroying his team in Ann Arbor, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said that Iowa was one of the most physical teams in the nation.
Bob Sanders did not make every big hit, but he set the tone. He has been a leader on and off the field for the past three years.
But now, it's time for the ‘next man in'. Kirk Ferentz has preached this mantra since coming to Iowa. I have read where Iowa only saw starters sit out five games due to injury last season. This year, we have already seen Jermelle Lewis go. Mo Brown is not 100%, CJ Barkema and Blake Larsen are on the shelf with injuries and now, Sanders will have surgery.
Chris Smith played a solid game against Miami last week and had one interception. He started the first two games of the 2001 season, but he missed a few games due to injury and Derek Pagel then stepped in. Smith is a senior. He is the next man in.
From a football standpoint, Iowa will miss Sanders, but his loss does not spell doom for the season. Sanders is an exceptional football player, but possibly the biggest loss here is the psychological impact.
Iowa foes are always aware of where #33 is on the field. Opposing receivers are not as excited about coming across the middle when #33 is on the field.
With Sanders out of the lineup, a few teams might have less fear of the Hawkeye defense than they did coming in, which translates into more confidence.
Sanders also had the ability to change the course, tempo or mood of the game with one play. Will Iowa find someone to step into that role?
Chad Greenway looks the part after one start, but Sanders leadership shoes will be hard to fill.
At some point this season, the torch was going to be passed, because this was to have been Bob's last year at Iowa. Iowa football will go on in 2004.
Only now, it may include Bob Sanders.