Normally after a game, I get my quotes, grab the stats and hit the streets of Iowa City as they wind to my dwelling on the eastside. I'm a man of routine.
Last night, I was the last reporter to leave the press box. I sat there until after 1 a.m. typing up the Kirk Ferentz transcript, occasionally staring out into a darkened Kinnick.
Missing opportunities in life weigh on you. I saw that in the eyes of Kenny Iwebema and Mike Klinkenborg outside of the Iowa locker room. As I walked passed the fans in the stands, I sensed the same thing.
The stage was set. Game Day, ABC primetime, the No. 1 team in the country, all of the elements were present. We were thinking that this would be the night that the college football world felt what we all know is great about our town and our team.
And then…THUD. It crashed and burned like many of the experts felt it would. You've got a nice little town and a nice little team, but you're not hanging with the big boys. People in LA and NY turned off their TVs last night, saying, "Yeah, that's about right."
What sucks is that we wake up today knowing things could have been different. A few plays here or there, and maybe the sun rises with everyone talking about the mighty Buckeyes falling to the little engine that could. Instead, we have tattooed in our head the incredible play of Anthony Gonzalez coming out of his hyperbolic tent and slicing through our defense like Charlie Weis at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
It hurts. It stings. It's worse than a hangover from an all-night bender. And I know a lot of you are dealing with both.
I really feel that this team had a chance at a national title. Call me crazy or a delusional homer. I can live with that. I say that game last night was winnable.
Who knows what happens if Dominique Douglas catches that first-down pass on the opening series? Maybe that gives Iowa momentum to go down and score. Who knows what happens if Drew Tate doesn't get picked off in the second quarter after we had seemingly grabbed the momentum? Who knows if Scott Chandler doesn't fumble during a possible comeback? Who knows if Iowa doesn't do three and out from the 50 in the second quarter?
And I was not pointing fingers at just these guys. There were mistakes all over the field, from missed tackles to missed blocks to questionable play calling. That could not happen against a very strong Buckeye team that made very few errors last night.
I've heard this point posed in a few areas – if Iowa and Ohio State meet 10 times, what happens? Well, the Buckeyes probably win most of them, even at Kinnick.
Why? Well you saw last night. Iowa would need to play an almost flawless game, and even that might not be good enough against an Ohio State team playing at a high level. But, it was possible. And it doesn't matter what happens in 10 games, the Hawkeyes just needed to win that one last night.
People have asked me all season on radio shows I've done all over the state, Omaha, Seattle and other towns from coast to coast, what is the pulse of the Iowa fan this season? He doesn't seem satisfied or maybe he's anxious for something.
I sensed that everyone was waiting for the Ohio State game. Yeah, Iowa State was flying around like a pesky mosquito, but the Buckeyes were the team against which we wanted to be tested.
The fans confirmed that idea last night. They piled into the stadium and had it filled with gold almost 45 minutes before kickoff. That hasn't happened much in the past. Usually you all are pounding that last cocktail before settling in. The atmosphere was just awesome with the gold sea swinging white towels above its head.
That's why it hurt so much when the team failed to conquer the giant. Goliath won again. They remain in the spotlight, and we troll along in that second or third tier of teams until the Michigan game. Oh, it would have been cool to have the hype around here for a few more weeks.
I guess I can see where the Florida bowl scene has turned into a been-there, done-that for the Hawkeye fans. We expected more this season. Why not? We've been there and done that.
I'm not willing to throw in the towel yet. This still could be a very special season and a memorable one.
But will we be thinking back to Sept. 30 if we're sitting in Orlando or Tampa against this January? Will we be wondering what life would have been like had we done what we were capable of doing against Ohio State?
Yeah, probably, letting go of missed opportunities can be difficult especially when you dream big. We all want to take that next step, and it's frustrating when you get pushed back in place.
Iowa will get another chance in Ann Arbor on Oct. 21. If you're thinking that nobody was giving the Hawks a chance against OSU, wait until that weekend. The prognosticators will be all over the Big Blue in the Big House.
That's OK. That's what Iowa is used to hearing. But opportunity will again be knocking at the door.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not mailing in the rest of the schedule. As we saw in East Lansing on Saturday, even Ron Zook is capable of jumping up and biting someone in the ass in this league.
However, Iowa at Michigan represents another chance for Iowa to allow their fans to push out their chests. Wins against Purdue and Wisconsin are nice, but something tells me that a season without beating either the Buckeyes or Wolverines will leave some empty.
Those are tough standards, but it's the product of success.