Hawkeyes are back in Outback Bowl, and safety Jake Gervase has 70 reasons to be happy
IOWA CITY, Ia. — No one was happier than Kathy Wolfe to find out that the Iowa football team will be making its sixth appearance in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.
Wolfe's grandson is Hawkeye safety Jake Gervase. Each Christmas, Wolfe, her 10 children and 41 grandchildren, plus assorted spouses, gather for a week or two in Palm Harbor, Florida. That is 45 minutes north of Tampa, where Gervase will be playing his final college game in front of a throng of fans that now will include 60 to 70 relatives.
Mississippi State will be Iowa's opponent for that 11 a.m. kickoff in Raymond James Stadium. Gervase's No. 30 will be well-represented in the stands.
"She texted me (Sunday) and said she's excited to get to see my final game," Gervase said of his grandmother.
"She texts," Gervase confirmed. "It's not pretty. But she tries."
Gervase's mother, Sheila, grew up a Wolfe. As a child, her father, Bob, bought a condo in north Florida and began the annual tradition of bringing the family to Florida for the holidays. Bob died nine years ago, but Kathy has kept hosting a rotating group of children and grandchildren spread out from Boston to Seattle.
Football has kept Gervase away from the Christmas gatherings for the past four years. And now football is bringing the family to him, one last time.
"I was excited about any bowl we got, but my mom selfishly was really looking forward to a Florida bowl game because they'll all make the trip and be there supporting me and supporting our team," Gervase said.
His cousins will be sporting his jerseys. His parents are more low-key. Gervase's father, Steve, just wears a cap with a "30" on its side.
"It's hard to hear them with that many people in the stands," Gervase said. "But I'm sure everyone around them hears them because we're a pretty loud group, the Wolfes are."
They'll be witnessing the end of a career for 13 Hawkeye seniors, and also a bit of history. Iowa and Mississippi State have never before met for a football game.
The Hawkeyes were just in Tampa two years ago, losing to Florida 30-3, and have played in six Outbacks since 2004. Still, Outback Bowl CEO Jim McVay said he had an easy choice to make Sunday.
"The team's tough. They can play with anybody. They can beat anybody," McVay told the Register shortly after the announcement was made, speaking of the Hawkeyes.
The Outback Bowl now equals the Rose Bowl as Iowa's most-visited bowl site.
McVay said he wasn't concerned that Iowa fans may be growing weary of traveling to the same destination for bowl games.
"They're some of the best fans in the country. They love the football team. They're glued together," McVay said. "They were the best team. Tell me who's better?"
Iowa is 2-3 in previous Outback Bowls. The Hawkeyes will be making their 32nd overall bowl appearance, with a record of 15-15-1 in the postseason contests.
The Bulldogs went 8-4, including 4-4 in SEC play. Their losses were to Kentucky, Florida, LSU and Alabama. Each of those teams are in bowl games.
Mississippi State is led by Joe Moorhead, who is in his first season as coach. He was previously the offensive coordinator at Penn State.
Iowa also brings an 8-4 record into the game. It will be seeking its first nine-win season since the 2015 squad went 12-2. It is the sixth consecutive year the Hawkeyes will be playing in a bowl game under coach Kirk Ferentz.
"A lot of our older players know what a great experience it is," Ferentz said.
"Anytime we've played there, we've played a really good opponent, and this will be another one of those matchups."
Iowa was selected for the Outback Bowl over Northwestern, which fell to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Northwestern won the Big Ten West and had a 14-10 victory in Kinnick Stadium. But the Wildcats lost the Big Ten title game to Ohio State on Saturday.
"Because we wanted to," McVay said when asked why he chose the Hawkeyes. "There's a lot of good teams in the Big Ten. There's a lot of quality programs and coaches. This team just made the most sense for us this year. And they've expressed that they want to come and the players want to be here. And they want to play a big-time SEC team. We're getting everything we want."
The Iowa Athletics Ticket Office is accepting online bowl orders at hawkeyesports.com/bowlcentral. Fans may also order tickets by calling 1-800-IAHAWKS Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Priority-point order deadline is Friday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m.
Official bowl travel packages are also available at hawkeyesports.com/bowlcentral.