If you ask me, the Iowa's 2002 regular-season football schedule is ending the way it should for Ben Sobieski.
Playing the Gophers.
Battling injuries his entire career. Trying to help his team keep possession of a bronze pig. His home is 10 minutes from the Metrodome. Iowa playing for the Big Ten championship. Hawkeyes trying to be the winningest team in school history.Attempting to be the first team from the school to finish with a perfect conference record since 1922.
What more could Cynthia and Jim Sobieski's kid ask for?
I mean, how much more emotion can Big Ben, all 6 feet 5 inches and 305 pounds of him, jam into one football game?
If Iowa (10-1 overall, 7-0 in the Big Ten), ranked fifth in today's coaches' poll and sixth by the Associated Press, wraps up the regular season by beating Minnesota, Sobieski might be tempted to put Floyd of Rosedale on his shoulders and strut around the Metrodome for an hour or so.
Those are the same shoulders that have been injured, and operated on, throughout much of his career.
"I've definitely come full circle, and it's really been a long haul," the Hawkeyes' senior offensive right guard said as he looked forward to Saturday's 11:05 a.m. game. "I kind of believe that everything happens for a reason."
Sobieski has been around Iowa's football program for so long that it's a wonder people aren't asking him what it was like to block for Nile Kinnick.
It wouldn't surprise me if other guys in some of his classes ask how it felt to play for Coach Forest Evashevski's 1958 Big Ten championship team.
Sobieski was one of four true freshmen to start for Hayden Fry's 1997 team, and here he is, finally almost ready to close the books on his collegiate career.
The one-time Parade and SuperPrep All-American from Mahtomedi, Minn., has battled injury after injury and admits he was "on the edge of quitting quite a few times" because of the frustration. "I've had so many more downs than ups the last few years,'' he explained. "But this year has definitely been worth it. It's the most fun I've ever had."
Sobieski, who plays behind Andy Lightfoot, will have plenty of family members and friends attending the game at Minnesota, and he said it's fitting that he's winding up his regular-season career at the Metrodome.
"That game up there in 1998 was my last start before I was injured for about three years," he explained. "We got blown out (49-7). It was a tough way to end the season, but it shows how far we've come now."
The 1998 season finale at Minneapolis was Hayden Fry's last game as Iowa's coach.
"That made it extra hard to see Hayden finish his career like that," Sobieski said. "I loved Coach Fry. He recruited me."
Sobieski underwent shoulder surgery following that season, and took his redshirt year in 1999. Good idea. Iowa went 1-10 in a year that was Kirk Ferentz's first as the Hawkeyes' coach.
The 2000 season wasn't any bargain for Sobieski, either. He continued to be bothered by shoulder problems and again underwent surgery at midseason.
After being hampered by a groin injury early in the 2001 season, Sobieski played against Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa State late in the year, but sat out the Alamo Bowl victory over Texas Tech.
He said he's not surprised that Ferentz has the Hawkeye program going at full-speed in 2002.
""I knew we had a lot of players, and I know we've got a very good coaching staff," the 23-year-old Sobieski explained
Sobieski's final home game was Saturday, when Iowa clobbered Northwestern, 62-10, and the senior offensive linemen gave the crowd of 68,728 a treat by running off the field together one last time.
"That was the best thing I could ask for in my last home game,'' Sobieski said. "It gave every senior a chance to play in front of a great crowd. They told us we'd go out there for one play. We didn't plan on holding hands. That decision was made at the last minute."
Vol. 2, No. 99
Nov. 9, 2002
[Ron Maly's e-mail address is email@example.com ]