'The Play' - Hartlieb to Cook, in their Own Words

If you are an Iowa fan over the age of 27 and someone mentions two simple words, 'The Play', it is understood that you are talking about 'Hartlieb to Cook' at Ohio State on November 14th, 1987. 'The Shoe' was the setting for one of the most dramatic and memorable plays in the history of Hawkeye football. We caught up with Hartlieb and Cook and they paint the pictures for us in their own words.

If you are over the age of 27, you likely remember Iowa's thrilling 29-27 win against Ohio State in Columbus on November 14th, 1987.

I know that I do. I was 16 years old at the time and a junior at West Branch High School.

Simply put, it contained one of the most memorable plays in Iowa football history, one that caused Ed Podolak to hug and kiss Jim Zabel in the press box, as you will hear later.

This game featured big plays from running back Kevin Harmon, including a 50-yard touchdown run, in addition to three field goals by Rob Houghtlin.

But any real Hawkeye fan will know exactly what you are referring to when you mention these simple words: The Play.

Iowa led at the half 15-14, then OSU went up 21-15, then the Hawkeyes went back on top 22-21. Ohio State took a 27-22 lead with 2:45 left to go in the contest (the two-point conversion attempt failed) and all signs pointed to yet another Hawkeye defeat at the hands of the Buckeyes. Keep in mind that to this day, Iowa has only beaten Ohio State nine times, ever.

Harmon returned the Buckeye kick 35 yards, giving Iowa good field position, and that is where it all began.

The two men who we remember from that game, quarterback Chuck Hartlieb and tight end Marv Cook, were roommates that year and will forever be linked in Hawkeye history.

Hartlieb completed five passes on the drive before ‘The Play', but a sack and a penalty would put the Hawkeyes in a tough spot; 4th and 23 on the Ohio State 28 yard line with just 16 seconds to go in the game.

These two Hawkeye legends take us back to Columbus and paint the pictures through their experience.


"Unfortunately, Ohio State and Michigan are still up on that pedestal and they are the ones that are not that hard to get up for, and it's kind of a dream to be able to go into their place and be able to knock them off." Hartlieb told HawkeyeNation.com.

"Coach (Hayden) Fry had us revved up, but our engines were going pretty strong going into that game, just like I am sure is the case today when you have the opportunity to go into that stadium. It's neat; it's a great environment that has a lot of tradition. When you only get to do it a couple of times, you want to be at your best."

As we look at it in the context of history, Hartlieb illustrates the themes that were running through that game then and how interesting they are now. "There were a lot of interesting side lights to that entire scenario. It was Chris Spielman's last game, and he might be the best player in Ohio State history. Bo Pellini, who ended up being a good friend to a lot of Iowa guys, went to high school with the Stoops brothers; he was starting at free safety. Coach Fry had not won there and it was the one last game that he really wanted to target to win on the road. It was the whole Earl Bruce factor (Ohio State's head coach at the time who had some pressure on him to win), so you had all of that stuff wrapped up going into that last drive." Hartlieb said.

Though the last play is etched in our memories, what led to that dramatic Hartlieb to Cook touchdown pass has gotten lost in time, but not to the two who were there. They were not together when I asked them the questions about the last drive, but in hearing them retell it, you would not have known that.

"Four plays before the fourth down, we had a previous fourth and five where we called timeout and let the defensive end in off the corner and I took a shot that required five stitches after the game and had a slight concussion out of that deal, but we completed that and Marv made a nice play on it. It took me a few plays just to regroup and come to my senses again. We called timeout before that fourth down play." Hartlieb said.

Now Marv Cook: "One thing I remember is there was a sense of urgency, but not a sense of desperation. We had practiced two-minute offense so many times, and that was one of our strengths as an offensive unit. We were very comfortable with the clock management.

"I remember the fourth and five where Chuck got hit on the chin and actually got split open. I remember explicitly at that time, being in the huddle, that it was deafening. I literally had to read his lips because it was so loud, and looking around the huddle and seeing in the guy's eyes that we had worked to hard to not take a shot at this. Fortunately we were able to execute and it worked out well."

Having wiggled their way out of one jam, the Hawks surrendered a sack and had a penalty that forced them into a fourth and 23 on the Ohio State 28 with 16 seconds to go. They called a timeout to decide what to do with their last play.


"The unreal thing was that the previous three plays, they (Ohio State) brought everybody and left us man alone on the back end. During the timeout, we felt that they would blitz again, so what should we run against a blitz? And we also knew that we needed 23 yards, so in the back of my mind, I just wanted to give Marv a chance to make a play. We had gone to Quinn Early a couple of times and we could not get a play out of him. ‘Wide Trail' (the name of The Play) had worked in the past, so when we lined up for that play, they were opposite of what we thought. They ended up in a nickel two deep zone with an underneath man, so we did not have the best play called; but I really wanted to give Marv a chance to make a big play." Hartlieb recalled.

"So I was going to Marv all the way. I dropped back and looked him off as long as I could, flipped around and luckily he was pretty much by himself with Todd Bell, who ended up with the Bears for a little while, neck and neck. We had practiced that play before where I am supposed to throw a bullet at Marv's head, which allows him to come back.

"I didn't throw a bullet, it was a bit wobbly and not the prettiest of passes, but it worked out where we threw behind him in man coverage, so that gave him a chance to break underneath Bell and he caught it (on the right sideline) at about the 10 or 12 and he took it on in with Buckeyes draped all over him. I ran down thinking that that he didn't get in. Bo Pellini still swears today that he didn't make it in, but we would have had enough time to punch it in there."

That was the view from the quarterback's eyes, now here is what the tight end saw when he lined up for that last play and saw Ohio State in an alignment that was not what Iowa expected.

"It's a catch 22. I had a defensive back on me, which technically is a mismatch. We had someone running a push (clear out) route and I was running the trail, and we had someone coming across the middle for sort of a three level look. It doesn't work as well in man-to-man, but it worked better against a zone scheme. The one thing you are taught if you get man, and you have a player in the trail position and if the defender is running stride for stride with you, which was the case, is for the quarterback to throw the ball behind the receiver, which is what Chuck did. That allows me to see the ball first, and react first. I see it, I slow down and break, while the defender does that a half second later, but that is too late. I am able to cut back inside and he is a split second behind. That play was perfect. We used to do that all of the time. We did it in the Peach Bowl, too. It truly was a well-executed throw by Chuck, who had just gotten hit on the chin three plays earlier." Cook recounted.

Just what was Cook thinking after catching the ball and seeing several defenders converging on him?

"The tight end people are converging on the ball. The secondary guys are faster, so you have to work angles. I cut back inside and headed to the end zone, and I saw two or three guys, so I had to find that point in between them where you can avoid the contact as late as possible and see what happens. I had two guys hit me at the same time, and anytime you have multiple collisions, that can act as a propelling force, canceling each other out, and pushing me into the end zone, and that is what happened." Cook said.


"That place was the loudest that we had ever played in, and after that play, you could hear a pin drop. It was absolutely unbelievable. I remember going down and jumping on Herb Wester's chest and him lifting me up. As I was running down, Spielman throws his helmet 10 feet on the field, swearing up and down. It was hilarious." Hartlieb said.

"It was weird. It was weird." Cook said. "Looking back on it, I don't know if you enjoy 67,000 at home going crazy for you more than you do 90,000 people going dead silent, yet there is a 1,500 fan contingency in the corner of the end zone from Iowa that you can remotely hear, like an echo. It was a bizarre thing."

"We would have had a first down on that play, and the clock would have stopped and we would have been able to run one or two more plays, so it was not an all or nothing. "

As to whether or not Marv felt he actually scored on that play?

"Thank goodness for artificial turf; we bounced a lot on that." Cook joked.

Both Hartlieb and Cook played one more season at Iowa, the disappointing 1988 season that saw Iowa go 6-4-3. It was a year where the Hawkeyes easily could have duplicated or bettered their 10-3 mark from 1987, but they either lost or tied the close games.

Hartlieb's playing days were soon to be over, while Cook went on to earn All Pro honors in the NFL with the New England Patriots.

The Ohio State game ranks among the best moments for each former Hawkeye great.

"It's such an obvious highlight, because when you play quarterback ever since the fourth grade and never play another position, and you watch Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw, you just dream about being in there late to win a game." Hartlieb said. "To be able to do that in such a big game on the road, it was an unbelievable feeling. I can remember it like it was yesterday."

For Cook, the question of if this was his greatest moment as an athlete was a bit harder to answer.

"That is a good question. You know, it's obviously very high. But I don't know if I would put it any higher than the first time I walked out on to the field at Kinnick dressing as a Hawk, or the Mt. Vernon-West Branch games in high school," said Cook, a 1984 graduate of West Branch. "The Drake Relays in high school, I remember those more vividly than I do this one. But no question, this was a great moment and nothing can take away from that. I have just been blessed with a lot of great teammates and have had a lot of great moments in my athletic career."

For the 1987 Iowa-Ohio State game, Hartlieb was 20 of 37 with the one touchdown pass to Cook. Cook caught nine of those passes for 159 yards and the TD. Cook's 159 receiving yards is the 12th highest single game total in school history. Iowa amassed 489 yards of total offense in the ‘Shoe' that day.

Two days later, Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce was fired.

'Hartlieb to Cook', Iowa's version of Tinker to Evers to Chance.

Two great Hawkeyes, one amazing game, and ‘The Play'.

To relive the ‘Hartlieb to Cook' play against Ohio State, as called by Jim Zabel CLICK HERE

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