As a die-hard Cub fan for 34 years, I cannot express the combination of frustration, disbelief, anger, pain, more frustration, bitterness and disappointment that I've been carrying with me since Wednesday night.
You know how you feel for those two or three seconds before you throw up…when you KNOW you're going to throw up and you're just waiting for it to happen. THAT is how I've felt for the last few days. Every day. There is a rock in my stomach the size of a loaf of bread. And it's not moving.
For crying out loud, I haven't even been able to watch SportsCenter for the last four days—at least not nearly as regularly as normal—because it seems that every other segment shows Moises Alou jumping for that foul ball or Alex Gonzalez muffing the double-play grounder or Dave Veres actually pitching in a playoff game. Geez…I get it already.
So, when Saturday rolled around and college football could dominate the sports scene again, I felt rejuvenated. Ready to throw the sports fan in me at something ELSE for a while. Something less painful, less disappointing, less agonizing…less awful.
Then, the Hawkeyes lost to Ohio State, 19 to 10.
And I had several questions as I was watching the game. For example…
- At what point did ANYONE think that running the stretch play to the weak side of the field would work against the Buckeyes? Fred Russell might have only averaged 1.9 yards per carry in Columbus, but this play certainly wasn't helping matters.
- With about four minutes remaining—down by seven points—and the ball at your own 8-yard line, is that REALLY a good time to run off tackle on a play that eventually eats up over a minute on the clock?
- How difficult is it to complete the center-to-quarterback exchange?
- How difficult is it to snap the ball OVER a 6-7 quarterback's head?
- How in the world do officials MISS things like the block in the back that Bob Sanders suffered on Ohio State's punt return for a touchdown? Seriously, it was as obvious as it could be…wasn't it? And nobody SAW that? (Warning: Joe Paterno-like rant about Big Ten officials could be forthcoming.)
(Pause for a deep breath.)
OK. I can bounce back from this. After all, I'm a Cub fan. It's like what Steve Martin said in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, "…I can take ANYTHING because I've spent time with DEL GRIFFITH!"
That's how I feel right now. The world of sports can throw just about anything my way and I can take it. Because I've been through worse.
That's how sports fans like me have to bounce back after a difficult week. Keep in mind that this isn't the end of the world. Despite the tough loss to the Buckeyes, there were still several positives for Iowa, including:
- Jermelle Lewis has returned to the field. His presence and abilities will certainly help Iowa's offense in its remaining games.
- Nate Kaeding continues to be automatic as a kicker. And as a runner?
- Iowa's defense is one of the best in the nation. In the Hawkeyes' two losses, the defense has given up next-to-nothing. Time and time again, Norm Parker's unit has come up with big stops when Iowa has needed them.
- Abdul Hodge is a terrific linebacker. So is Chad Greenway. These two guys can hit, they can run and they can anticipate as well as any Iowa linebackers I've seen in a long time.
- Bob Sanders is still one of the finest hitters and tacklers in the country. Some NFL team will LOVE having him on its special teams units next season.
- Howard Hodges is having another great year. The senior defensive end racked up three QB sacks on Saturday.
The Hawkeyes have home games in the next two weeks against Penn State and Illinois, which could improve their record to 7-2 going into a showdown at Purdue on November 8.
Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself here a little bit. Much like I did last Tuesday night after the seventh inning, with the Cubs leading 3-0 and Mark Prior on the mound. I told my wife that I would drive over to my dad's house and watch the final two innings with him. "He's been waiting for this season for 78 years," I told her. "We can celebrate together a little bit."
Eight runs and several profanities later, the Cubs had blown Game 6…and I headed for home. I wrote about "The VCR Jinx" a couple of weeks ago. Now, I can add the "Go to Dad's House to Watch the End of the Game Jinx" to my list. It won't happen again.
The lesson: Don't etch the victories over Penn State and Illinois in stone just yet. Just as you can't assume that the games at Purdue and at Wisconsin will be losses. Iowa can win every one of its five remaining games. But, a 3-2 mark during that stretch would leave the Hawks with an 8-4 record and a nice bowl trip. A bowl victory would give Iowa nine wins.
I think most Hawkeye fans would have taken a 9-4 season back in early August. But, the potential is still there for a final record that's even better than that. Who knows? Could Iowa finish with another 10- or 11-win season? It's possible.
And it's amazing. Consider the shape this program was in four years ago.
Now, I'm rambling a bit. But, it's nice to get that optimistic feeling going again, especially after the things I've seen in the last five days. T
he good news is that there will be better days than the one the Hawks just spent in Columbus. Many of them. And very soon. Starting next Saturday.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)