I've got to admit it. For a long time yesterday, I was afraid Mike Reilly and I had put a hex on Iowa's football team.
I was standing in the radio booth at Kinnick Stadium, waiting to join the smooth broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Gary Dolphin and commentator Ed Podolak for a few minutes of first-half air time during the Hawkeyes' game with Purdue.
Dolphin had invited me to talk about the book I'm in the process of writing—tentatively titled "Tales of the Iowa Hawkeyes'' by the publisher—over the vast Iowa network.
Before donning the headset and microphone, I talked briefly with Reilly, a guard who was Iowa's most valuable player in 1963. He played for Jerry Burns' teams in 1961, 1962 and 1963.
Reilly, always a witty guy, said, "Hey, Ron, do you think those four Big Ten referees who were fired this week have been assigned to this game?''
I thought it was a funny line because it appeared the refs had taken over the Iowa-Purdue game. They threw more yellow flags and walked off more penalties early in the game than I had seen in any stadium this season.
Three days earlier, the Big Ten had disciplined four officials for what commissioner Jim Delany called work "that did not meet Big Ten standards. Therefore they will forfeit future off ciating assignments.''
The zebras who were disciplined had worked the Wake Forest-Purdue game Sept. 21.
So, as I was wrapping up my appearance on the air with Dolphin and Podolak, I said something like, "Hey, our old buddy, Mike Reilly, just guaranteed himself a spot in the book. He said he wondered if the four referees who were fired by the Big Ten were assigned to this game.''
Afterward, I began to wonder if the comment about the lousy officiating in the Iowa Purdue game and what Reilly and I said about it was going to cast a dark cloud over Iowa's homecoming game, which was being played in bright sunshine.
Did the officials somehow hear what Reilly said about them and what I repeated on the radio network? No, I finally told myself. I was just being paranoid.
But, for what seemed an eternity, the officiating got no better and neither did the Hawkeyes' performance.
They fell behind, 14-3, in the second quarter and they were penalized a whopping nine times for 80 yards in the first half. Purdue, meanwhile, was penalized three times for 28 yards in the opening 30 minutes.
Interestingly, Iowa (5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten) wasn't called for one penalty in the last half and stormed back to win, 31-28, on Brad Banks' 7-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Clark with 1:09 remaining.
So, despite being outgained, 507-384, and outplayed much of the game, Iowa dodged a huge bullet while winning its second wild Big Ten game in two weeks.
The Hawkeyes will try to stay unbeaten in the conference in an 11:05 a.m. game Saturday against Michigan State (3-2 and 1-0) at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa has had so many closes finishes this season that running back Fred Russell was asked if there was any reason fans need to show up before the fourth quarter.
"We make it tight,'' said Russell, who led all rushers with 121 yards in 22 carries. "When we had a 10-point lead, I tried to remind everybody that we still had one quarter to play.
"We had already seen one game slip away (against Iowa State) and almost another (at Penn State).''
After arriving in the interview room, Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby said, "I need a physical.''
So did a lot of others.
It was that kind of day.
Clark's winning touchdown catch came after he earlier dashed 95 yards with a pass from Banks that, with Nate Kaeding's extra point, gave Iowa a 24-14 lead.
The linebacker-turned-tight end said, "I'm still trying to catch my breath'' after out-racing Purdue's defenders on the 95-yard run—which tied for the longest pass play in school history.
"It was a quick slant,'' Clark explained. "The linebacker was in the box and had a tough angle. He had me one-on-one, but I made him miss, then just had to out-run some guys.''
The 6-4, 244-pound Clark, a junior from Livermore, Ia., showed surprising speed on the play.
Chuck Hartlieb also threw a 95-yard pass to Quinn Early in 1987 at Northwestern. However, the Banks-to-Clark pass play set a Kinnick Stadium record.
On the winning touchdown pass, Clark said it "was a last-second call from the sideline. We've had that play in store for about a year now, and I' ve just been looking for the right opportunity to use it. There was none better than now.
"Purdue was getting hyped. They were overplaying everything. I was able to sit there and be patient. I saw the last linebacker sprint across and try to catch up with the running back, and all I had to do was catch the ball. Fortunately, I did.''
Clark said the team worked on the play in practice all week.
"I didn't know if the coaches knew we'd use it or not, but it worked every time. Against our defense in practice, they know it's coming, so it's hard to tell if it's going to work (in a game). You kind of need the game-like atmosphere and the momentum to find out.''
Coach Kirk Ferentz said "the play came out of the press box (from the assistant coaches). Les Erb suggested it and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe jumped on it. It was a fantastic call.
"It's one of those plays that's either there or not there. Dallas kind of gets lost in the shuffle, then sneaks through there. If the other team is in man-to-man coverage—which Purdue was—then you have a chance.
"It wasn't an easy throw. That guy was bearing down on Brad (Banks) from the right side.''
Purdue may be headed for a quarterback controversy after true freshman Brandon Kirsch played well as a replacement for Iowan Kyle Orton in the last half.
Kirsch passed for 163 yards and led Purdue's rushers with 49 yards—including a 16-yard scoring dash. Orton, a sophomore from Altoona, completed 22 of 37 passes for 247 yards and one touchdown.
Coach Joe Tiller didn't address the matter of who will start for the Boilermakers Saturday at Illinois.
Tiller, obviously irritated with the manner in which Purdue lost, said Orton was taken out of the game because he was "dinged'' and not because the coaches were unhappy with his performance.
Asked if Orton suffered a concussion, Tiller said, "I don't know. He could not remember the last play, so you can interpret that any way you want.''
Until then, Tiller said, he was satisfied with how Orton played.
When a reporter said, "There was a report in the press box that (Orton's exit from the game) had nothing to do with an injury, Tiller interrupted him to say, "That's not true.''
Tiller said Kirsch "did everything we could ask of him. The only (other) comment I have about him is that he deserved better than to have our last pass of the game go off our receiver's hands into their defender's hands.''
Tiller said the "kicking game obviously was the key to the game, turnovers in the kicking game. We held onto the football, and now we find a way to turn the ball over in the kicking game, which is unacceptable.
"It's interesting on the sideline. We ask the players what happened (on breakdowns) and (the players) develop amnesia.''
Vol. 2, No. 71
Oct. 6, 2002
[Ron Maly's e-mail address is email@example.com ]