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Guest Commentary

Hawkeyes and Cyclones: Good losers, and should stick to it!

12/10/2014

A time-honored maxim in business in particular and life in general is “Stick to what you do best” or “Stick to what you know best.” Both are variations on the need to stay focused, as in “Stick to your knitting.”

That advice comes to mind as one surveys the Iowa and Iowa State carnage of the 2014 football season and the Cyclone and Hawkeye faithful’s refusal to stick to what they have done best: losing

Face it, Hawkeye Nation and Cyclone Nation are better losers than winners, much more adept in losing. Yes, since 1889, the Hawkeyes are 613-540 and 38 ties, which cannot hold a candle to Iowa State’s 512-630-46 record over the same years, but it’s quality that counts. On that score both universities are better losers than winners and may as well stick to that role to put their best foot forward.

What is that foot? It is being gracious in defeat and being appreciated by the victors and their fans who always say: “Aren’t the Iowa people nice?”, “My, my, they sure support their teams, despite losing so much,” and, of course, “Iowa fans travel well. That’s why bowls want them.”

TV announcers and the non-Iowa press always echo the “nice people,” “good losers” themes.

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So let’s stick to what we do best.

Forget about having to win six games to be bowl eligible. With almost 40 bowls scheduled for this post-season, anyone who can field a team will soon be bowl eligible — even those universities that don’t pay a coach $4 million a year to disappoint them.

Almost everyone knows that Iowa and Iowa State fans are nice people. Those who don’t know are soon told so by Iowa and Iowa State fans. That is a reputation well-earned in years of being gracious losers. And if NCAA football needs anything today, it is less hypocrisy and arrogance. Good losers can provide that — with an occasional win to keep spirits up

If you want a date as to when we lost our priorities, when we strayed from being decent folks, satisfied with doing our best and being even better on occasion, try Sept. 15, 1979.

That’s when the Hawkeyes, despite a valiant effort against third-ranked Oklahoma, lost 21-6, even though they trailed only 7-6 well into the fourth quarter.

Any reasonable person would say the lowly Hawkeyes played surprisingly well.

But that was Hayden Fry’s first season as coach, and he vowed he would “Punch any player in the mouth if he was smiling” or satisfied with having given his all.

The Hawkeyes improved under Fry, of course, but couldn’t handle the role of being as gracious in victory as they were in defeat.

Consider Nov. 14, 1992, when Iowa thumped Northwestern 56-14 and Fry sympathized with Northwestern coach Gary Bartlett: “I hope we didn’t hurt any of your boys.” After having lost 19 games in a row to Iowa, the Wildcats are 10-10 against the Hawkeyes since that post-game gloating.

That same ’92 season, after beating Iowa State 21-7, a fourth-year Hawkeye lineman — Bret Bielema, now coach at Arkansas — told ISU coach Jim Walden how much he “enjoyed beating your ass these last four years.” (Since then the teams have played about even, with Iowa holding a 12-10 edge.)

The poor-winner mentality is reflected in press and TV coverage as well, where sportswriters and announcers crow about the Cyclones and Hawkeyes in pre-season forecasts and as the season unfolds fret about how the teams and coaches are failing the fans.

The boosterism for all things Hawkeye and Cyclone is compounded by downgrading other teams — Northwestern has real student athletes, so we should clobber them; how dare Northern Illinois think they can beat Iowa, just because the Huskies are ranked in the Top 20; anyone can beat Kansas, Minnesota, etc.

Maybe if seasons keep going the way they are, we won’t have to make a concerted effort to stick to what we do best — that role is being foisted upon the teams, like it or not.

May as well embrace it. After all, Iowans are such nice people. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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