Iowa star linebacker Josey Jewell faces potentially emotional return to Wisconsin
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The last time Iowa traveled to Wisconsin for a football game, middle linebacker Josey Jewell came away with a win and a loss.
Or maybe the win was because of the loss. Jewell can never be sure.
Jewell, then a Hawkeye sophomore, headed north for the Oct. 3, 2015, game knowing that his grandfather, Robert, was on his death bed at the family homestead in Decorah.
Robert Jewell had taught Josey about farming, fishing and football. And it was difficult for Josey to see the proud patriarch of his family fading away.
“We knew it was coming for a while,” Josey said this summer. “I tried to go see him a couple of weeks earlier. It was good to see him during one of his good times, his chipper times, where he was able to talk and not on bed rest.”
Bob and Paula Jewell, Josey’s parents, left Robert with other family members and drove to Madison early that October morning. An hour before kickoff, as they were getting out of their car near Camp Randall Stadium, the Jewells got the call. Robert had died at age 87.
The Jewells gave the news to then-Iowa linebackers coach Jim Reid, but instructed him not to tell Josey until after the game.
What a game it was for the Hawkeyes. Jewell had 10 tackles. Iowa held the No. 18 Badgers to 2.5 yards per carry.
Iowa secured a 10-6 victory, helped in part by Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave tripping and fumbling at Iowa’s 1-yard line. It was a bizarre finish.
Or was it something more?
“There was something extra special going on that day,” Bob Jewell said. “To this day, we joke that dad tripped Stave at the goal line and he fumbled the ball.”
Jewell was informed of his grandfather’s death after the game, although he already sensed it. Bob Jewell told his son that he felt like Robert had been the team’s “12th man” that day, guiding the improbable win.
An emotional Josey agreed with his dad at the time.
Word spread among Jewell’s teammates as they celebrated on the field.
Ben Niemann, also a sophomore linebacker, remembered the Hawkeyes rallying around Jewell.
“There’s a lot more to life than football,” Niemann said Tuesday. “When you’re going through something tough, you have your teammates around you to help pick you up and sometimes you can go out on the field and get some release.”
Jewell said he’s trying to treat it as just another game when he makes his return visit to Madison for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday against the No. 3 Badgers (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten Conference). The Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3) are trying to build on the momentum of Saturday’s upset rout of Ohio State.
Jewell, who leads the Big Ten with 92 tackles, said he won’t spend a lot of time dwelling on his grandfather. He said his focus needs to be on the Badgers.
“You try to let some of those things kind of go and as the years go by let them seep away,” he said Tuesday.
But he vividly recalls the Stave fumble, which was recovered by Faith Ekakitie. Jewell had an up-close look at the play as he rushed toward the line to take on a Badgers fullback.
“You usually don’t plan for those kind of things to happen,” Jewell said.
Does he still think his grandfather had a hand in it?
“I just think it was probably a play that happened. He tripped,” Jewell said.
“But if you like to think about that, maybe.”
Jewell’s father does like to think about it.
Robert Jewell had been a high school football star in Decorah who was set to play at Iowa in 1947. Instead, doctors discovered a brain tumor and the ensuing surgery left him deaf in one ear.
The family has long believed that Josey is living out the dream that Robert was unable to. But they also are aware that Robert feared for his grandson’s health if he continued playing football — worried about concussions or a broken neck. He had cautioned Jewell not to pursue an NFL career for that reason.
This was all so unsettling to Bob Jewell that he once visited a medium to connect with his late father. Family members told him he was crazy for wasting the $25.
Bob said the medium, channeling his father, described every one of his four children “to a T.” He found reassurance in what he heard about his youngest son.
“Don’t you worry about Josey,” the medium told Bob. “He’s got a plan, and it’s all going to work out.”
The next step in Jewell’s plan will unfold Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. He would love to lead his Hawkeye family to another victory against a top-5 team.
For the Jewell family, there’s no way the afternoon can be as significant as what occurred there two years ago.