NEW YORK CITY – Iowa football players stood outside of Yankee Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, posing for a team photo at the iconic site where the Hawkeyes hope to create a little of their own history today.
The Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College presents Iowa’s senior class with a chance to create a unique legacy of its own.
“Not one person on this team has been part of a win in a bowl game. It’s time for that to change," senior offensive guard Sean Welsh said. “It’s been too long since Iowa won a bowl and that is something we can do something about."
Ben Niemann, joining Josey Jewell and Bo Bower at linebacker among eight seniors expected to start in the 4:15 p.m. match-up between two 7-5 teams, recalls the silence of locker rooms following bowl losses during the first three years of his college career.
“The scene is so sad, seniors realizing that it is over, and not getting the chance to celebrate one last win," Niemann said. “It’s been tough to watch. Every year, it’s been guys who deserved better going out with a loss. It’s emotional. We don’t want to go out that way."
That’s among the reasons winning a bowl game has been among team goals for the Hawkeyes since they put pen to paper and established team objectives long before Wyoming showed up at Kinnick Stadium for the season opener on Labor Day weekend.
“It’s important to us and important to the program," defensive tackle Nathan Bazata said. “It’s a monkey we need to get off our back."
Iowa hasn’t celebrated a bowl victory since Micah Hyde returned an interception 72 yards with 5 minutes, 32 seconds remaining to give the Hawkeyes a 27-24 win over Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl.
Since then, the postseason has been filled with frustration for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes enter today’s game against Boston College looking to end a string of losses in five straight bowl appearances.
In the last three seasons, Iowa has simply struggled to compete.
Blown out 45-28 by Tennessee in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl, routed by Stanford 45-16 in the 2016 Rose Bowl and silenced 30-3 by Florida in the 2017 Outback Bowl, the lopsided losses have been a source of frustration and the byproduct of slow starts.
The Hawkeyes have been outscored 59-3 in the first quarter of the five most recent bowls they have played, setting the tone for results which have taken the shine off of plenty of seasons.
“There has never been a bowl game that we haven’t tried to win. I can’t think of any game that we haven’t tried to win," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who would tie Hayden Fry as Iowa’s all-time coaching wins leader if his team can end its bowl streak today.
“… Typically, we’re not favored in bowl games, but we weren’t favored against Ohio State either and we were able to win that. It really comes down to trying to win a football game and navigating the uniqueness of the month of December. Those are really the two big things."
Playing in a bowl on Dec. 27 – the earliest date Iowa has played in a bowl since taking the field on Dec. 26 for the 1984 Freedom Bowl – has impacted the Hawkeyes preparations.
Developmental work has continued to be part of Iowa’s postseason practice approach but with just over four weeks between the regular season finale at Nebraska, Ferentz said coaches tried to keep this year’s team more in “football mode" in recent weeks.
The hope is to recreate the success Iowa had in its finale against the Cornhuskers, a 56-14 road win, momentum the Hawkeyes would like to carry into the future.
“We want to build off of that," Niemann said. “It won’t be easy. Boston College is a good, hard-nosed football team. They’ve got our attention and we’ll put everything we have into it."
Jewell, who joined teammate Josh Jackson on the postseason awards circuit earlier this month, wants his last game to be a memorable occasion.
“It’s the last time I’m ever going to play with this team, the last time I’ll play for these coaches and for Iowa. It’s means a lot," Jewell said. “The best way to end it is with a win. We can’t get caught up in that. We need to get ready to play our best. That’s the only thing that matters right now."
Jewell said Monday the Hawkeyes’ preparation has gone well.
“I feel like we’re ready to go. It’s been a good month. Now we need to finish it off with a good game," he said.
That, Bazata said, would make all the difference.
“This is a chance for this team to leave its own mark," Bazata said. “Getting eight wins, that’s a lot better than 7-6 and we’re working to get that done. We want to celebrate together one last time."