Feel better now? Me either. In fact, I kinda feel physically sick in addition to a little depressed about way things transpired in Columbus last Saturday.
I guess I'll have to resort to what makes me feel better about the state of the Hawkeye Nation: comparative analysis. As it currently stands, Iowa is a healthy 5-2, with road losses to No. 8 Ohio State and No. 11 Michigan State. Iowa themselves are currently ranked No. 16 in the major polls, which is pretty impressive for a team that lost so players to the NFL last year and currently is giving significant playing time to a passel of true freshman players.
It's not too bad for a team comprised of players not highly touted by the recruiting services and were ignored by bigger institutions. In comparison, Texas, a perennial winner of the mythical recruiting national championship has achieved a similar status with far greater talent and inept coaching. Michigan, the Texas of the North, has already been dispatched by this scrappy Iowa team. Our Iowa Hawkeyes, led by the impressive coaching staff have played hard throughout each game. In turn, loyal fans pack the stadium every home game, pack the sports bars every away game and pack the internet message boards every day in between. Let's face it: Iowa football is still pretty cool.
As if we needed something else to make us feel better about being a Hawk fan, Penn State is coming into town this weekend. Once a team that invoked great fear and trepidation in the hearts of opposing football fans, Penn State (0-3) is now relegated to being the doorstop which rests adjacent to the doormat of the Big Ten football world (Illinois).
I'm not saying that Iowa is going to destroy Penn State this weekend. I'll leave the predicting to Jon Miller and my Magic 8 ball. But this much I know: I don't have to ask my Magic 8 ball "Is PSU football no longer cool?" I know the answer.
It is certain.
This is no big secret. For a couple of years now, people have been saying that legendary coach Joe Paterno has lingered in the coaching ranks for too long in a quest to best Bear Bryant's all time victory totals. Ten years ago, PSU was new to the Big Ten, drunk on plans of dominating the conference en route to multiple national titles. Today, PSU is just another team, coping with the loss of luster from the days of yore and trying to eek out a couple victories before the conference string is played out.
Penn State's lack of coolness is reflected foremost in their head coach losing his cool. As he strolls the sidelines screaming at the officials for some allegedly biased call, you can help but think of Paterno as the crotchety old man telling the kids to get off his lawn and threatening to not let them have the game ball back if they don't behave. You wonder if he can accurately see the game through the 1970's frames which hold his two inch thick lenses (someone should get him some polycarbonite lenses for Christmas). You gaze upon this coaching legend and can't help but wonder if he has been too loyal to his coaching staff to a fault. You feel sorry for the 100,000+ loyal fans that descend upon Not so-Happy Valley to witness the one of the saddest sports clichés: the coach/player who hangs on far after his effectiveness.
However Penn State is not going to take the loss of coolness laying down. Last week, I heard that PSU the coaching staff invited former 80's has-beens Gary Coleman and David Hasselhoff (pictured) to campus to speak to the team during the recent bye week. The topic? How to cope with no longer being cool. Unfortunately, the duo were unable to provide any significant advice which will translate to Saturday's game.
Coleman, fresh off his unsuccessful California Gubernatorial bid, stated that he copes with his loss of coolness by trying to place himself in the media's eye as much as possible. It was his suggestion that Penn State try to develop some sort of catch phrase that will make the University's football team irresistibly cute. "There used to be a time when a couple of ‘what you talking bouts' would have won me any election, but it still gets me strip mall grand opening gigs" Coleman reportedly said. There is still no word on whether the University will begin referring to Nittany Lion Football as "Paternoriffic."
Hasselhoff however, offered other suggestions. After his star faded everywhere but Germany, the former "Baywatch" and "Knight Rider" star checked into rehab for an alleged substance problem. "Sure it's cliché, but checking into rehab does put yourself in the spotlight if even for a brief moment… and that can make you feel cool again" Hasselhoff suggested. As of Monday morning, I have not seen any press releases documenting Paterno's checking into a rehab program for Geritol overdoses or enrolling in game official anger management therapy.
Notwithstanding our thinly masked envy regarding the recent campus appearance of the motivational speaker duo of Hasselhoff/Coleman at Penn State, we Iowa fans can take heart that we are not in Penn State's position. However, it was not that long ago that Iowa fans were watching their beloved coach hang on a couple of years too long to the program's detriment. And for this, we can identify with what they are going through. PSU fans are as classy and knowledgeable as you'll find in the Big Ten and the current demise of their program has to be hitting them hard. Given the strong recruiting base they draw from, PSU football won't be down for long. We should enjoy the current state of affairs while we can.
While it's perfectly fine for Iowa fans to have inflated expectations, it is also important for us to reflect on where this Iowa team has come from. It wasn't long ago that a 9-point road loss to Ohio State would seem like a moral victory. All the credit goes to Kirk Ferentz, his coaching staff and the incredible group of players he has assembled over these past five years. While it is unreasonable for us to expect the team to win every game, we should feel good that this team is in a position where every game is winnable. It's great (and cool) to be a Hawkeye!!!
P.S. If we do win this weekend, please don't storm the field. This is clearly an "act like you've been there before situation."