On a wet and rainy fall Saturday in the mid-80’s, my dad took me to my first University of Iowa football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. And it wasn’t just any game. It was October 19th, 1985 – the day #1 Iowa was hosting #2 Michigan. Iowa’s quarterback, Chuck Long, had decided to stay for his senior season (insuring his body for a million dollars) and was an immediate favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. He led what was being called the most exciting offense in Iowa history.
The 5-0 Hawkeyes started the season ranked in the top 5 and eventually reached #1 (their first time in the top slot since 1960), after Bo Jackson and his Auburn Tigers lost to Tennessee at the end of September. On the other hand, Michigan (with quarterback Jimmy Harbaugh) had started the season unranked, and then proceeded to climb to the #2 spot by going 5-0, with wins over three ranked teams. Now they were set for a mid-season 1 vs. 2 showdown in front of 66,350 fans – the largest crowd to ever witness a sporting event in the state of Iowa.
The game was as good as advertised. The story of the day was Iowa’s offense against Michigan’s defense. And with 5:27 to play in the 4th Quarter, Iowa trailed 10-9 with the ball at their own 22. #3 Oklahoma (the team with Brian Bosworth, who many people felt should be #1) had just lost to Miami at home, with quarterback Troy Aikman, going out for the season with a broken ankle. Brent Musburger, calling the Iowa game live on CBS, reported the score by saying, “Vinny Testaverde is for real.” #4 Arkansas had also just lost to Texas that day. So fans tuning in to the Iowa game were now witnessing the Heisman favorite trying to march 78 yards to victory against the best defense in the nation. And with 2 seconds left, Long and his top weapon, Ronnie Harmon, had gotten Iowa inside Michigan’s 15.
Iowa’s kicker, Rob Houghtlin, who had made all of Iowa’s points on the day, but missed his prior attempt, jogged out onto the field to try for one more. He was promptly iced by Michigan’s legendary coach, Bo Schembechler. Schembechler, by the way, hated playing at Kinnick. Iowa’s coach, Hayden Fry (who had a psychology degree from Baylor), had created many new traditions since joining the team in 1979. One of them happened to be painting the visitor’s locker room pink in attempt to pacify the opposing team. Reportedly, Schembechler would have his staff cover all of the pink in white paper before the game. Maybe icing Houghtlin into a late game miss would be part of his sweet revenge.
But with a thick air of nervous tension, Houghtlin kicked the ball right through the uprights and the Iowa fans went bananas. “It’s on its way and it’s good,” Musberger said in a calm that didn’t match the tension and release of the moment. The Iowa student section wildly rushed onto the field, while the Iowa players jumped around in jubilation. A mob of students tore down the goal posts, severing the ear of one student. My dad, who was 32 at the time, leaned down and said to me, “Mike, you’ve got to remember this!”
Here’s the thing: I don’t remember anything about that game. Nothing. I was six-years-old and in kindergarten. And my only recollection of the entire day is having to wear a rain poncho and thinking it looked stupid. And I also remember an old man in front of me who kept saying, “Go Hogs!” and I thought he was an idiot because Iowa was clearly called the Hawkeyes. Not the Hogs. And that’s all I remember.
That same year, a kid in my kindergarten class told me he kept his boogers in a jar at home. Of course that I remember. Not the greatest college football game in Iowa’s history. No. But I remember a kid named Jason’s disgusting booger collection LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY. Same thing with getting in trouble for kicking my sister in the butt at recess one day. And then getting out of it by telling the teacher who caught me that I didn’t go to school there.
Same thing with avoiding a fight with an older kid because I told him I knew karate. Like it was yesterday. My little kid brain stored away every detail of those idiotic memories because it deemed them to be important to my development or something. Rob Houghtlin will never have to buy a beer in the state of Iowa ever again. Meanwhile, I was having booger conversations with weirdos and lying my way out of my problems
A few months ago, I went on Homage.com and bought a t-shirt that says, “Hawkeyes Win! 10-19-85.” Because I was there. But the more I thought about it, and the closer we get to the 30 year anniversary of that game, the more it bothers me that I have no recollection of anything about the actual game. And so I called my dad today to talk about it. After a great conversation, where he filled me in on a lot of the details, he said, “Just know in your heart that you were there.” And that’s all I can do. Go Hogs!