The plot of Friday night’s college football game between the Gophers and Iowa was all-too-familiar, at least for recent Minnesota football historians. The Hawkeyes blasted the Gophers 35-7, their sixth straight win in the rivalry game.
But the subplot? That was enough to stick around for until the increasingly bitter end.
The first eyebrow-raising move? Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz deciding to go for a 2-point conversion with a 26-0 lead in the third quarter. Maybe the famous chart that tells coaches what to do with leads of various sizes — the one former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema invoked a decade ago when piling up points on Tim Brewster — was Ferentz’s guiding light?
Or maybe Ferentz was proving a point — two points, really, since the try was successful — about what he thinks of P.J. Fleck.
That second notion seemed increasingly true when, with 19 seconds left in the game and the Gophers trailing 35-0, Ferentz used all three of his timeouts. I guess if I had to go back to Iowa I would want to linger in Minneapolis as long as possible, but again Ferentz was motivated by spite (and by the fact that Fleck had just called a timeout of his own as the Gophers frantically tried to avoid a shutout, which they did at least manage).
The money quote from Ferentz after the game: “They called a timeout, I guess to look at what we’re doing and reconsider. So we just kind of wanted to make sure we got a good look at what they were doing. Figured we’d take Floyd with us and leave the timeouts here.”
That’s 100% petty … and it’s exactly the kind of thing that makes college football rivalries great.
I would not want a friend to act like Ferentz did. I would not teach my kids to behave like that. In everyday life, we want to surround ourselves with good people and teach valuable lessons about sportsmanship.
But college football not real life.
We watch sports to be entertained, and things that deviate from normal behavior are exciting. I get irrationally excited when players charge the mound and start fights in baseball; if I saw the same behavior at, say, Arby’s I would be horrified.
The Gophers and Iowa have been playing for more than 100 years. There have been plenty of twists and turns along the way, and a rivalry needs moments to sustain itself. There are moments long forgotten, but there are enough recent ones to know these coaching staffs don’t really like each other.
You can bet Fleck and the Gophers will remember the three timeouts a year from now when they play again — hopefully in front of tens of thousands of fans, with coronavirus starting to fade into the background.
And you can bet they might deliver some sort of payback if they are fortunate enough to be in that position.
Avert your eyes. It’s just the charm of college football.