Hawkeyes excited to see sights of New York, but mainly want to end bowl drought
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Sean Welsh isn’t much of a baseball fan, but he appreciates the significance of Yankee Stadium.
The senior guard is thrilled to get a chance to finish his Iowa football career at the landmark venue. Welsh said he’ll make sure to take some time to soak in the ambiance when the Hawkeyes face Boston College on Dec. 27 in the Pinstripe Bowl.
“You have to be careful. It’s kind of a balance between enjoying the moment and staying focused at the task at hand. You kind of have to catch yourself sometimes, bring yourself back down,” Welsh said Sunday after the Hawkeyes (7-5) learned their bowl destination.
“It’s definitely the most unique” stadium he’s ever played in, Welsh added.
Iowa is making its 15th bowl trip in 17 seasons, but the first to New York City and the first in a venue whose primary function is hosting Major League Baseball games. Kickoff is at 4:15 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.
The first item of business for Hawkeye players is ending the team’s bowl-game losing streak at five.
Beyond that is a chance to see America’s largest city, for the first time in the case of many Hawkeye players.
“I’ve always heard about New York and how fast-paced it is,” said cornerback Josh Jackson, a Texas native.
The itinerary for Iowa players includes visits to the 9/11 Memorial and Radio City Music Hall. Coach Kirk Ferentz and three Hawkeyes of his choosing will get to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Dec. 26. That evening, the Empire State Building will be lit up in Iowa gold and Boston College maroon.
“I couldn’t tell you anything about stocks,” Ferentz joked about his appearance on Wall Street. “Buy low, sell high, or vice versa, whatever it is. … I just hope I don’t have to wear a suit.”
New York was not the preferred destination for Iowa’s fans. Even Jackson said he was hoping for somewhere warmer.
But the Music City Bowl in Nashville took 9-3 Northwestern, which beat Iowa in overtime. That pushed the Hawkeyes to the East Coast.
“There certainly were fans who shared with us that it would be easy for them to drive from Iowa to Nashville,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said. “There were fans who live out in the East Coast who were telling me they are thrilled we're coming out there.
“At the end of the day, hopefully our fans know, it's not a selection process by the university to the bowls.”
Iowa fans typically travel well to bowl games, but there’s a sense that this matchup, in an expensive city that likely will require a flight, is not particularly enticing. Barta said he’s still confident Hawkeye fans will show up on game day. He estimated there are 20,000 alumni living within driving distance of Yankee Stadium.
The university has an allotment of 7,500 tickets at prices ranging from $55 to $140 each. Fans can order them online at hawkeyesports.com/tickets or by calling (800) 424-2957 during business hours.
Iowa is coming off a 56-14 victory at Nebraska on Nov. 24. After that, the players got eight days off, returning to practice Saturday.
Defensive tackle Nathan Bazata said the extra time away from football was beneficial, something new Hawkeye coaches tried this year in an attempt to better prepare for the bowl game.
“It was a great time for recovery, some guys with bumps and bruises to get healthy,” Bazata said.
The Hawkeyes will be looking across the sideline at a familiar face in the Pinstripe Bowl. Jim Reid is in his second year as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator after coaching Iowa’s linebackers for three seasons.
“They are a hard-nosed, aggressive defensive football team. That's how Jim coaches football,” Ferentz said of his former assistant. “They will be energetic, I'm sure of that. We'll have our work cut out.”
“From the day he got here, his respect for that football program has been clear, sincere and up front,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said Sunday, speaking of Reid’s ties to the Hawkeyes.
The Eagles are also 7-5 after a rocky season marked by injuries and an early three-game losing streak. Boston College, which went 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, has won five of its past six games, starting with a 45-42 thriller at Louisville.
The team was minus 10 starters in its final victory, 42-14 at Syracuse, Addazio said.
“I’m kind of jacked about what we went through, not naive about it, because really what I think it did was make us stronger,” said Addazio, who has led Boston College to four bowl appearances in his five seasons. “It gives you a confidence level. It gives you a feeling you can overcome.”
The Eagles are led by running back A.J. Dillon, who gained 1,432 yards with 13 touchdowns. They are the least-penalized team in America, with just 41 for 331 yards on the season.
They also won their most recent bowl game, 36-30 over Maryland in last year’s Quick Lane Bowl. It was the first bowl victory for the Eagles in nine years.
Iowa’s players, especially the seniors, are eager to finally end a season with a victory as well.
“We’ve never felt that and we really want to get that win so we can celebrate in the locker room one more time,” Bazata said.