Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz talks to his players after the team earned a spot in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2, 2017. The No. 25 Hawkeyes will play Florida in the matchup. Special to the Register
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As his 11-year NFL career winds down, Chad Greenway couldn’t help but be reminded this week of his final college playing days.
When Iowa, Greenway’s beloved alma mater, was chosen Sunday to play Florida in the Jan. 2 Outback Bowl, memories of a dark comedy of officiating errors returned, front and center.
Like Greenway, a lot of Hawkeye fans remember what happened 11 years ago.
For those that don’t, search “Worst Officiating in College Football History” on YouTube.
“There are few things I’ve regretted in my career,” Greenway told The Des Moines Register. “But that final game of my career (at Iowa), I feel like looking back, you wish you would’ve played a little bit better … and not to be in that situation of where you have to create an onside kick.”
Of course, Greenway was infamously and incorrectly called offside on Kyle Schlicher’s kickoff that Hawkeye teammate Scott Chandler recovered with 1 minute, 22 seconds to go in the Jan. 2, 2006, Outback Bowl against Urban Meyer’s Gators.
“I thought I timed the kick perfectly,” Greenway said.
He did. And he’s always known it.
Down seven points with an apparent recovery on Florida’s 47-yard line, Iowa owned all the momentum. Already having rallied with 17 straight fourth-quarter points, the Hawkeyes seemed to be just a few Drew Tate completions away from overtime.
Instead, Conference USA officials pushed them back 5 yards for a re-kick. And after Florida recovered that attempt, two kneel-downs sealed the Gators' 31-24 win and Greenway's college career.
The calls in the game were so bad that then-Iowa athletics director Bob Bowlsby railed against an officiating crew that “was obviously over their head in our game.”
Conference USA would later admit that the call against Greenway "should not have been made.”
That was the lasting memory of the day’s blunders. But the aforementioned YouTube video itemizes six botched calls that had ESPN analyst Chris Spielman seething on-air. After Kenny Iwebema was called for a helmet-to-helmet personal foul (the video shows no such contact), Spielman piped in: "That’s it! No more tackling!”
One face-mask penalty was issued against Iowa receiver Clinton Solomon, when it was his face mask that was yanked by a Gator defender.
Greenway has indeed watched the YouTube compilation.
But he needed no visual evidence to recollect the onside-kick call.
“I can picture the play like yesterday,” Greenway said. “I remember running at Chad Jackson, who was their star receiver, basically just diving in the air trying to do anything to not let them catch it.”
Greenway, an all-America linebacker and eventual first-round NFL Draft pick of the Vikings, couldn’t believe he was whistled offside. Neither could Hawkeye fans everywhere.
In fact, Greenway told a story this week about going to a Florida bar the night of the game (yes, he was of age back then). While he had a beer with his father, a fan approached Greenway with a printed-out screen shot of the onside kick – confirming Greenway was behind the line of scrimmage when the ball was kicked.
To this day, it's unfathomable how officials missed so many calls that sunny afternoon.
Greenway joked that someone should do a “where they are now type of thing. Like an ESPN 30 for 30.”
It was so egregious that after an NCAA review, officials from lower-tier conferences – including in the Sun Belt, which that same year botched the Alamo Bowl finish between Michigan and Nebraska – were no longer were assigned to prominent bowl games.
Conference USA’s officials this year will be working the likes of the Camellia and Dollar General bowls.
Iowa-Florida has been assigned a Big 12 officiating crew.
“I’m glad we were able to change the game,” Greenway said. “Hopefully it works out in our favor this year.”
Greenway remains a devoted Hawkeye fan. Check his Twitter feed, and much of what he posts is Hawkeye-related.
He and his wife, Jennifer, have four young daughters. The oldest two are already dreaming of becoming Iowa athletes someday.
Greenway proudly said, "We’re raising a bunch of Hawkeyes up here in Minnesota, up here in Gopher Country."
Greenway, the former nine-man high school player in Mount Vernon, S.D., who was identified in the recruiting process by Hawkeye assistant Reese Morgan, is forever grateful for the opportunity that Iowa provided.
His NFL career, all with the Vikings, is nearing the finish line – appropriate terminology for a man married to a former Iowa track and field captain. He has said this will be his last professional year.
On Wednesday, he was named one of 32 finalists (one from each team) for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given to a player for excellence on and off the field.
No doubt, Greenway can today look back at the 2006 Outback Bowl as an unfortunate blip on a remarkable career – and life.
“The reason I love Iowa the most is the people. The people that my family’s met in our years as Hawkeyes,” Greenway said. “You can’t go anywhere without running into a Hawkeye fan, which I appreciate and love.
“And obviously the biggest reason is (strength coach Chris) Doyle and (head coach Kirk) Ferentz, Reese Morgan, those guys giving me an opportunity to live out my dream. I can’t say enough about that program and those men that run it.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.