Iowa Fans Deserve Credit for Outback Bid

Iowa has built up quite a reputation over the years for having tough football teams and dedicated fans. That valuable combo played well for Outback Bowl Officials who chose the Hawkeyes Sunday to play in their Jan. 2 bowl against Florida in lovely Tampa. While the team deserves a lot of credit for sticking with it this season, it might have been the Black and Gold faithful that tips the scales in Iowa's favor.

If you're an Iowa fan that traveled to Florida to watch the Hawkeyes play in a bowl game during the last three years, feel free to stretch either arm passed your head and give yourself a large pat on the back. Heck, smile as well. Shoot, conduct a celebration any way you see fit.

Why? You and more than 100,000 of your closest Iowa brethren pushed the Hawkeyes into Jan. 2's Outback Bowl. That's what bowl officials estimated as the number of Black and Gold fans in attendance in the Sunshine State since 2002's Orange Bowl, according to Iowa Sports Information Director Phil Haddy.

Kirk Ferentz and Bob Bowlsby credited the team's performance down the stretch last month as a reason for the Outback reaching out to the Hawkeyes. The AD also rightly stated that Iowa's coaching and administrative staffs perform wonderfully in handling bowl responsibilities like organization, ticket sales, etc.

No one would argue those points. The Outback wants the entire package of intangibles if it can get it. But on their own, those points would not have Iowa playing during the fourth January in a row, joining only USC, Georgia and Florida State as the only other teams to do that.

"We didn't play the game we wanted to at the Orange Bowl, but they've never seen anything like the way we traveled to the Orange Bowl," Bowlsby said. "It was remarkable. It was the same way in Tampa and it was the same way in Orlando. And that is something that is special about this program. On this occasion, I think it was the difference."

As Elaine from Seinfeld once said, "You don't think I can put asses in the seats?" That question never gets asked of the Hawkeyes.

One of the sweetest aspects of the Outback Bowl's decision to pit Iowa against Florida was that it selected the Hawkeyes ahead of college football giant, Michigan. And the Wolverines won in Iowa City this season and finished with the same 7-4 record as your Black and Gold.

Bowlsby and Ferentz were asked about that, and they both politely and with class declined a shot at mighty Michigan, although the AD did bring up when the Outback picked the 7-4 Wolverines ahead of the 8-3 Hawkeyes in 1996. You could tell the memory sticks in his craw and he was laughing wildly inside on Sunday that the roles were reversed.

The Outback folks just felt like Iowa would travel better than Michigan this year, a testament to Iowa's improving reputation and the spoiled nature of Wolverine followers.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of their bowl, Outback officials desired a match-up that would make the game a tough ticket, Bowlsby said.

"They were very anxious, and I think it played in our favor," Bowlsby said. "They were very anxious to have somebody that is going to travel well. They want it to be an appropriate celebration of their 20th year."

Read that quote back to yourself and then consider that they chose an Iowa-Florida matchup, which just occurred in Tampa two years ago, over a Michigan-Florida contest. Man, that's got to give you chills.

Iowa scooped up 16,000 tickets for Tampa, according to Iowa Ticket Manager David Sandstrum. He didn't see any problem in getting rid of those, as the school sold 16,700 for Orlando's Cap One Bowl last year and could have sold a lot more. And those numbers didn't include what has gotten sold and will sell this year on the open market.

"For the last three years at Florida Bowls they don't have to hear what Iowa does at bowls, they see," Sandstrum said. "Tampa and Orlando are two hours apart. Those tickets managers know each other. They know how we travel. That's one of the factors playing in our favor right now. That's a fantastic thing."

We also shouldn't sell the football team short here. Iowa finishing in the Top 8 the previous three years ratchets up an already strong fan base to silly proportions.

"We've always known that we have great fans," Bowlsby said. "Yet, there are places that have great fans, but as Kirk said, you have to carry the water. We play exciting football. Our staff and players pride themselves with being blue collar people. And that wears well with people.

"I couldn't be prouder of our football program and the people that populate it. But I also couldn't be prouder of our fans. It's a real special relationship between the Hawkeyes and the people of Iowa and the fans and alums around the country."

You have feel that the way this thing unfolded after two weeks of crazy speculation about the bowl destination bodes well for the Hawkeyes' future postseason plans. Even a less than spectacular season, which we'd all label this one, lands Iowa in a decent bowl.

Think about it, the Outback, which seemed like a pipe dream a few weeks ago, went out of its way to bring back the Black and Gold. Other bowls have noticed that, including a new destination in Arizona and an additional contest in Orlando that join the Big Ten party next year.

"I'm not calling (bowl officials) up and giving them a whole lot of Shinola about the Iowa program because they already know," Bowlsby said. "We have a good relationship. The Iowa credibility is good and has been for a long time."

Go ahead, take a bow.

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