Leistikow: A big win for Iowa football. A bigger win for the Hawkeyes fan base.
IOWA CITY — As the black-and-gold striped sections of Kinnick Stadium emptied onto the turf of Duke Slater Field after third-ranked Iowa’s 23-20 vanquishing of No. 4 Penn State, Hawkeye players were out of time to plan their exits.
Matt Hankins, a fifth-year senior who experienced the stunning 2017 win against Ohio State as a true freshman, made the veteran move of darting to the players’ tunnel safely, right away.
Others who were slower to react had more intimate fan experiences. Spencer Petras got knocked to the ground briefly, emerging quickly so he wouldn’t get trampled. (What a downer that would’ve been to lose your starting quarterback in the celebration.)
Tyler Linderbaum joked that so many fans hit him in the helmet on his journey through the masses, that he might need to go into concussion protocol.
"That was the hardest part about the game," the all-American center quipped. "Trying to get out of that mosh pit."
Running back Tyler Goodson missed the start of the Hawkeyes’ locker-room party, relishing the historic moment that had just occurred on the field. So did free safety Jack Koerner, but he didn’t mind. The fifth-year senior from Dowling Catholic used to be one of those Iowa kids that were partying on the field Saturday evening, taking selfies with their parents. He knows what this win meant to everyone who stormed the field.
"I grew up a Hawk fan my whole life, going to Kinnick as a little kid," Koerner said. "High-fiving so many little kids, screaming 'Go Hawks!' about 150 times is a moment I’ll never forget."
And neither will you, Iowa fans.
While this one means a lot to the players and coaches and a ton to the hopes of Iowa's 2021 season, this win was for — and on many levels, about — you.
Those of you that were here, you had as much a part of rattling Penn State’s backup quarterback as anything.
Seven false starts by the Nittany Lions’ offensive line? Chalk that up to poor preparation from Penn State coach James Franklin — who was being criticized by his fans afterward for not having anything more than a hand clap to direct the snaps. But you the fans knew there was a vulnerable signal-caller in Ta’Quan Robinson, and you were all over it.
You showed up early. You never stopped screaming. I've heard from countless fans who have been in Kinnick for decades: This was the loudest it's ever been. And it didn't stop, from start to finish.
You deserve to get some tea for those hoarse vocal cords; and to keep celebrating.
"I’ve never seen anything like it," said Nico Ragaini, whose 43-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter was the jolt of offense that the crowd (and defense) needed to finish strong. "It was rowdy. I truly will never forget what it was like."
Said Petras: "The loudest I’ve ever heard that stadium. … It was really crazy from the kickoff to the end."
Added Linderbaum: "I’ve been a part of a lot of big games. I don’t know if (there’s) anything like this. Just the energy our fans brought today was amazing. The ups and downs, the fans were with us the whole game."
Two-time major golf champion (and noted Hawkeye fan) Zach Johnson even gave you the nod with this three-word headline submission for our postgame podcast: "Kinnick fans WON!"
Hawkeye fans have had some euphoric moments during the 23-year Kirk Ferentz era. But in the only three previous top-six matchups under Ferentz, the Hawkeye fan passion was on epic display … only for their team to lose in gut-punch fashion.
Those three big-stage moments:
- The 2003 Orange Bowl, as some 40,000 to 50,000 Iowa fans made their way to Miami only to see their team get shellacked by USC, 38-17.
- The 2015 Big Ten Championship Game, as Iowa fans dried up most of the beer in downtown Indianapolis but watched their team suffer a 16-13 heartbreaker to Michigan State.
- The 2016 Rose Bowl was another Hawkeye party of epic proportions, but that 45-16 loss to Christian McCaffrey and Stanford was over in the first quarter.
There was a notion from the fan base that it was time to come out on top in one of these moments in the ultimate national-spotlight stage. For many fans — those that weren't alive or too young to remember Iowa's 1-vs-2 win against Michigan in 1985 — this was their first such experience.
The Hawkeyes deserve to be the No. 3 team in the nation after a 6-0 start with wins against Indiana, at Iowa State, at Maryland and now against a very good Penn State team.
Anyone that wants to take away from Iowa's win because its rally occurred after knocking Sean Clifford from the game isn't appreciating Iowa's physical brand of defense. As Ferentz said afterward, the hard hit by Iowa middle linebacker Jack Campbell on Clifford "is part of the game. It's a hard game."
The Hawkeyes deserve (and get) credit for rallying from a slow start and 17-3 first-half hole.
As Ferentz joked — sort of — Hawkeye fans "were more ready than we were."
Player after player that came into Iowa's interview room spoke about how Iowa's coaches preach that it's a 60-minute game. Staying patient can be hard when things aren't going well, but it's the way Iowa operates. It wins around a no-frills defense and elite special-teams play.
It's a style Iowa fans who yelled in every situation Saturday appreciate and understand.
"Iowa football fans have always been smart," Ferentz said. "They know when to cheer. They've always appreciated defense — at least in my 30-plus years here."
As the fight song goes: "Fight! Fight! Fight! For Iowa … until the game is won.”
That’s what the Hawkeyes — and their fans — did Saturday.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.