Brown: Iowa's acceptance of failure paves way to perfection
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Dan Dickel was one of the hearty souls who sat in the snow at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday and witnessed history in the making.
He saw Iowa’s football team beat Purdue to improve to 11-0 for the first time ever. Forty-two years earlier, on the same field, Dickel also had a hand in perfection.
“I was the captain of the 0-11 team,” Dickel said.
Frank Lauterbur’s 1973 team lost the final game that season 15-6 to Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium to complete a winless campaign.
“I was there for every game of 0-11,” said Dickel, now the Coaches Ministry Coordinator for the Eastern Iowa Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “And I was there for 11-0.”
Dickel had 11 sacks in 1973, a bright spot in a celebration-free season. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1974 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts and played five seasons. He later became a high school coach, and he still loves the game. And his alma mater.
“I think about all these other teams, and it seems like things are handed to them,” Dickel said. “In recruiting, and everything. And to know the team aspect overshines individuals (at Iowa), that’s really great.”
That’s been Kirk Ferentz’s approach to the game all these 17 seasons. His first team was 1-10. He, too, appreciates 11-0. Ferentz is quick to tell you that football is a game of ebbs and flows.“I think about all these other teams, and it seems like things are handed to them,” Dickel said. “In recruiting, and everything. And to know the team aspect overshines individuals (at Iowa), that’s really great.”
Last season, he was on the ebb side. This year, things are flowing nicely. Stay at a place long enough, and Ferentz promises you’ll experience the same ride.
The ride has been nice so far this season, heading into Friday’s game at Nebraska. The Hawkeyes have a shot at regular-season perfection. Iowa left Kinnick Stadium in last season’s final regular-season game in a much different place.
The Hawkeyes surrendered a 24-7 third-quarter lead and lost to Nebraska 37-34 in overtime. It is a game that has stuck in Ferentz’s craw ever since. I’ve heard him bring it up so many times I’ve lost count.
That loss was the genesis for a culture change in the football program, a needed wake-up call.
“It’s all about us taking ownership,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “That game is the centerpiece for it.”
“It’s nothing against them,” Ferentz said. “They did what they were supposed to.”
Football, Ferentz style, was off the tracks, destination unknown. The Cornhuskers helped open the coach’s eyes. So Friday is not a revenge game of sorts, as much as a chance to show how much Iowa football has changed for the better in the past year.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was fired after that Iowa victory. Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst said he like the resiliency and character of the Cornhuskers that day in Kinnick Stadium.
“But in the final analysis, I had to evaluate where Iowa was,” Eichorst said.
Another wake-up call.
“I don't think he was the only guy that said that,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “It seemed like there was a lot of company on that front. What happened, happened. We take ownership. And the good news is we get to swing the bat again, and things are working out a little bit better right now. But it's temporary parking, just like all the rankings and all that stuff.”
Iowa’s 1973 team averaged 12.7 points a game, and allowed 36.5. Teams averaged 349.8 yards rushing. Earl Douthitt set a school record with 43 kickoff returns. Someone stopped near an Interstate 80 sign during the season and taped these words under it: Iowa 0.
In the ultimate testimony to ebbs and flows, Iowa heads west on Interstate 80 Friday in search of another perfect season.
A season that would please Dan Dickel to no end.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.