During the last year of Iowa football, where on the field disappointments collided with poor behavior off of it, Hawkeye fans reached out to their past. It was natural to think about the glory days, even if some were only several years ago. What the faithful needed was a Bob Sanders' hit, a Robert Gallery pancake or a Nate Kaeding fake field goal for a touchdown against Ohio State.
The problem is that those guys have moved on to the riches of the NFL, all set for life. They don't have to think about sleeping on a crappy dorm room bed or waking up with the roosters to take a final.
All of that doesn't mean these guys forget from where they came. Wearing your school colors around an NFL locker room is as common as strapping on shoulder pads. That's why it's tough for the alums to watch what is happening with the Hawkeyes.
"It's frustrating for me as somebody tied so close to the football program to sit there and see how the team is being reflected upon," said Kaeding, who grew up in Coralville. "We kind of think of ourselves the exact opposite way. We think of ourselves as people of high social standing. Iowa people are about doing things the right way. That's the most frustrating thing for the staff and for me personally."
Iowa grabbed national sports headlines for much of this decade by competing successfully with the giants of college football. They defeated the likes of Florida and defending national champion LSU in bowl games.
In the last few weeks, the Hawkeyes continued to make news in a negative light. Two former defensive backs, Cedric Everson and Abe Satterfield, were arrested on sexual assault charges. Although old news for those that follow Iowa sports, it gained the attention of sports fans nationally and non-sport fans in the state and darkened the black eye of the program that's been festering for 12 months of arrests and citations.
Iowa went through a series of off field infractions earlier in the decade. One of the casualties of the period was starting cornerback Benny Sapp, who was booted off the team just before the historic 2002 season. Things calmed down off of the field after that dismissal.
While some people feel like Sapp being the final straw steered the Iowa program back onto a normal course. Kaeding, who lived next to Sapp for two years, didn't necessarily see the connection.
"If you're a dumb ass, you're going to get kicked off of the team," said Kaeding, whose last season at Iowa was ‘03. "If you do dumb things, you're going to get kicked off the team. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to have that sort of forethought to understand the circumstances of your actions.
"You see other people do stupid things and get punished. The coaches keep saying don't do these things. It's just a matter of not doing it."
Kaeding said that he enjoyed going to downtown Iowa City and having a good time when he was in college. But he also new he had limitations.
"If the guys on the floor above you are smoking dope in a dorm room or things that are completely idiotic, you have to make a sacrifice and just not do that," he said. "You're playing football at the collegiate level. It's a responsibility and a privilege that 99 percent of the population on campus doesn't have. You have to give up certain things. You can't go out and party like everybody else. That's not how it works.
"You can still go out and have fun. I was with a great group of guys that went out and did that at Iowa. But when it's time to call it quits, call it quits. Be responsible. It's all part of the gig of being a collegiate athlete. There are a lot of great things that you're going to get out of making that sacrifice. The person that doesn't quite understand that is going to miss out."
Kaeding said that he knows he was lucky to have great parents and to grow up in a strong community. He said it's harder for guys that come from less fortunate backgrounds.
"When you get people from single-parent homes in inner city, metropolitan areas, they're brought up a different way sometimes," Kaeding said. "Now you put them into a situation in Iowa City where you're around a party scene and there is no one there to look after you. That's a situation that I can't quite comprehend or comment on. It's easy for me to sit here and say that you have to know your boundaries between having a good time and doing something right. It's different when you have people raised in all different situations. We all have to be careful of that.
"With that being said, they do understand the difference between right and wrong. If you were to ask any of the guys that were in trouble or were thrown off the team, they would say that they did understand that what they were doing was wrong. You also have to understand that they've had a different upbringing."
Kaeding believes that off-field distractions can affect on-field performance.
"It takes steps," he said. "It takes people buying into doing it the right way, doing it the Iowa way. They've kind of hit that low point. I'd like to see them start to make that trek back up the hill, doing every little thing whether it's in their dorm room or out in the community or in class, just do it the right way, the Iowa way. Things on the field will take care of themselves after that."
Iowa finished 6-6 last season and missed a bowl for the first time since '00, Kaeding's freshman season. The Hawkeyes compiled a 21-5 record during his final two campaigns and he believes they'll get back to the success they enjoyed earlier in the decade under Coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff.
"I like to consider most of the coaches over there good friends of mine," said Kaeding, who was a football all-American and an academic all-American. "We keep in close contact. It's a great staff. I'm not involved with the team anymore, but I know what they're about and I'm extremely optimistic with the direction of it as long as those guys are still there."
In '01, Iowa posted a 7-5 record with its losses coming by an average of 5.4 points. The Hawkeyes did not lose any game by double digits. The following season, they were 11-2.
"Being around college sports and around the NFL, you begin to appreciate how close you are to being good," Kaeding said. "You look at a season that might turn on three or four games with two plays a game. You're looking at an entirely different season depending on how those things break."
Kaeding heard many cheers during his time in college and felt bad when he heard fans booing the Hawkeyes off the field last season.
"The Hawkeye fans that are out there playing chicken little, like the sky is falling, aren't quite looking at it the right way," Kaeding said. "They're extremely close to putting together another 8-4, 9-3 sort of season. It's just a matter of making a couple of plays at the right time and getting it done. They will."