Miller: 'Hawktimism' Alive and Well

If a person took the temperature of the Iowa fanbase solely off of what they read on message boards, they might be a tad pessimistic heading into the 2008 football season. HN Publisher Jon Miller has been to a few I-Club events this year and has heard from folks that have been to others. His advice? Don't assume that's the prevailing opinion in Hawkeye Nation

I've been to two I-Club events this spring, and I have been very impressed with the turnout and the mood of the fans at each outing.  The first was for the Polk County I-Club football event in April.  Nearly 800 fans were in attendance, and Kirk Ferentz received a standing ovation.


The second event I attended was Wednesday night in Arcadia, the Carroll Area I-Club event.  Kirk Ferentz, Lisa Bluder, Chad Walthall and Luke Eustice were the speakers that night, and I was invited to be the emcee.


Lisa Bluder received a standing ovation, as did Ferentz and there were nearly 400 people in attendance.


I spoke with one of the event organizers that night, and he was absolutely thrilled with the turnout by the Iowa fans.   I don't want to speak for him and say that he was surprised at the great turnout, but I wondered if I couldn't hear a little of that in his voice.


Which is understandable to a point.  The reason I say, ‘to a point' is because the football team went 6-6 and lost its final game of the year in disappointing fashion to a MAC program which kept the Hawks out of a bowl game.  Had they won that game and finished 7-5, they would have been invited to the Insight Bowl in Tempe, not a bad consolation prize for a ‘disappointing' season in the eyes of a lot of Hawkeye fans.


The other reason I said ‘to a point' is simple; we are talking about Iowa Hawkeye fans. 


This may sound like pandering, and you can accuse me of that if you like, but I have been around large numbers of fans from other schools in my lifetime.  I probably know at least 50 people each from the following fan bases; Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Illinois, Notre Dame, Nebraska and of course, Iowa.


Kansas fans will follow their basketball far and wide, but they cherry pick in football.  The same can be said for Kansas State fans.  In my experience, I knew a lot of Kansans that cheer for KU in hoops and KSU in football; needless to say, those people made me want to vomit, as it applied to the loyalty department.


Illinois fans by and large are pretty much just basketball fans.  The people I know are just now beginning to pay attention to the football program, and only because they went to the Rose Bowl this past year.  One of them even sent me an Illini Rose Bowl shirt, which you can purchase on the cheap if you'd like one. 


Notre Dame fans are loyal to the football program, I will grant them that, but their understanding of reality is about as off base as any fan base I have encountered, and they could care less about basketball.  The same can be said about Nebraska fans; great football support, great loyalty, but that's it.


Iowa State fans…chances are that you know quite a few of them.  I will give them credit for their support of the basketball program over the past two years, and they have raised their football season ticket base by record numbers in each of the last two years.  But still, we are talking about a less than 50,000 per game average for home attendance and they have but six ‘ISU Club Tailgate' events per year; it's a different ball game.


Iowa fans are just different; we are a breed apart. 


Iowa sold out its season in football last year, again.  Iowa has been 19-18 over the past three seasons, which has more than a few people grumbling.  But the support was there, and had the Hawks gone to the Insight Bowl, I am convinced there would have been at least 20,000 black and gold faithful in attendance.


Iowa struggled mightily on the basketball front, and attendance dipped even lower than it was during the waning Steve Alford years.  I think Alford had a hand in the declining numbers, because there was declining interest in the product he was putting on the floor.  Todd Lickliter has a big time rebuilding job on his hands, in more ways than one.  But it's hard for me to be critical of Iowa fans for this winter's attendance numbers. 


The numerous 8pm starts that the Big Ten Network was responsible for was hideous.  The snowstorms that happened on or just before Iowa game nights was a stroke of bad luck.  And the overall Big Ten Network/Mediacom flap didn't help matters either.  Combine those aspects with a new coach and new system and his inheriting the most undermanned Iowa basketball team of my lifetime, and you got what you got.


On the wrestling front, I was at the Oklahoma State dual meet that was one of the ten most attended dual meets in NCAA history.  Iowa led the nation in attendance for wrestling yet again, and one third of the crowd in Hilton Coliseum for the Iowa-ISU dual were dressed in black and gold; I was there.


That was certainly a bright spot, but with the football and men's basketball teams being ‘down' this year, I can understand the foreboding projections of low attendance on the I-Club circuit.


But that has not been the case.  Not where I've been, and not in other outposts, based on conversations I have had with folks that have been in attendance.


And again, there have been standing ovations for Kirk Ferentz and Todd Lickliter.


Some folks might argue to say ‘yeah, but those folks are the ‘sheeple' of the fan base; they are the black and cold Kool-Aid drinkers.'


So what?  I guess I am of the opinion that there are more fans in that segment of the Iowa fan base than any other segment.


It's relatively easy to come onto the message boards or call into a radio show and vent your frustrations.  It takes much more energy to load the family into the vehicle and commit an evening to an I-Club event…these are days where family time is hard to come by and energy prices make people think before traveling somewhere on a whim.


That's not to say that voicing your opinion, be it critical or supportive, isn't fine in any venue.


I am just passing along what I have seen with my own eyes, and have heard with my own ears; the Hawks fans have been out in full force this spring.


Based on the numerous conversations I have had at the two events I have attended, people are very upbeat and optimistic regarding this upcoming football season and the future of the basketball program.


The people I spoke with saw how injuries played a part in last season's struggles.  The people I spoke with knew a basketball season like the one Iowa went through was coming last year, and there might be another on the way; still, they feel Lickliter is the right man for the job.


It was energizing to be around so many positive people at these events, and to see the excitement in their eyes.


As I have said on numerous occasions, the Hawkeyes are like a member of your family.  At times, you can get sideways with them, but in the end, you always come back to break bread at the same dinner table.


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I spoke to a friend on Sunday that asked me if I had heard of the latest undertaking by some members of the Iowa football team, along with Coach Ferentz.  I had not heard about what he had told me; perhaps you have and I have had my head in the sand.


From what I could gather, it sounds as though 15 or more football players, along with Coach Ferentz, are in the New Orleans area as we speak.


They are there to pitch in and help out with ongoing Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, pitching in with construction, clean up and whatever is there that needs a helping hand.  Some team members that are there, based on what I have heard, are Tony Moeaki, Trey Stross, Paul Chaney, Jake Christensen and A.J. Edds.  There are more, but those are just the names I recalled from the brief conversation I had on Sunday.  If I hear more names, I will share them.


It's great to hear about things like that and shows the class that exists in the program; because it does exist, and it starts from the top down with Kirk Ferentz.


Unfortunately, stories like these don't receive as much attention as the police blotter receives.  I'm not saying that those incidents shouldn't have been covered or gotten attention; there have been too many incidents to place them in a sterile, ‘nothing to see here' box.


But if you added up the number of hospital visits the players and coaches have made through the past 14 months, the number of community service events they have taken part in, the number of hours they have given to bring some sunlight into the lives of folks that a) need it and b) really appreciate it, they would outnumber the off field incidents at least 10 to 1. 


I think it's also fair to point out that nearly 90 percent of the scholarship athletes that are on the football program haven't gotten into any trouble over the past 14 months.



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As of Monday, May 19th, we are 103 days away from the opening kickoff between Iowa and Maine.  When that happens, it will have been 287 days between Hawkeye football games.  That's the longest streak since the end of the 1998 season and the first game of the 1999 season when Iowa went 288 days between football games.

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