They paused to touch the trophy, the Big Ten championship trophy, there in the winning locker room. It was real.
It was theirs. The season of dreams was now indelible. And there was the hardware, golden and shiny and permanent, to confirm it.
From doormat to winner. In one implausible leap. Iowa. Yes, Iowa.
"I stood with my arms around that thing (the trophy)," senior free safety Derek Pagel said. "I had my picture taken with it. A lot of us did that. It was beautiful.
"I just wish I could hit pause right now and run over this about 100 times."
The Hawkeyes rushed for 365 yards and converted three Minnesota turnovers into touchdowns in a 45-21 victory before a sellout crowd of 65,184 at the Metrodome.
Or was that Kinnick Stadium? Iowa City?
Some 32,000 Iowa fans gave the Hawkeyes (11-1, 8-0 Big Ten) what must have felt like a homefield advantage over the Golden Gophers (7-4, 3-4).
"This place today was Kinnick with a roof on it," tight end Dallas Clark said.
First Big Ten championship since 1990. First undefeated Big Ten season since 1922. First Big Ten commissioner giving a speech and giving a trophy in the Iowa locker room maybe ever.
"I think you can argue that the Big Ten is the strongest
conference in the country," Conference commissioner Jim Delany said. "Iowa is the undefeated champion of the strongest conference in the country.
"But we'll see what happens with Ohio State. They may be
the undefeated champion of the strongest conference in the
No one within an arm's length of a rose or a Hawkeye seemed to care this is a shared championship, for another few weeks anyway.
Ohio State controls the BCS and Rose Bowl by virtue of a better overall record.
Iowa can win the Big Ten title outright and qualify for the Rose Bowl if No. 2 Ohio State (12-0, 7-0 Big Ten) loses to Michigan next week at Columbus. Iowa doesn't play Ohio State this season.
"No one cares a bit," said center Bruce Nelson, with the
tag from his "Big Ten championship" ballcap dangling over
his left ear and the tag from his "Big Ten championship"
T-shirt dangling over his collar.
"Rose Bowl, shared title, no one cares."
And no one seemed to care.
A Metrodome maintenance crew worked long after the game trying to piece together the south end zone goal posts. They had no idea.
This doesn't happen with the Gophers or Vikings.
Seriously, they were flummoxed, trying three times before finally figuring it out for Saturday night's game between
Concordia-St. Paul and Southwest State.
Yes, Iowa fans, after years of never touching the collapsible goal posts at Kinnick, made quick work of the Metrodome goal posts.
Minnesota also Gopher-izes the Metrodome with banners hanging on the upper deck facade for every Big Ten team. The Iowa banners were conspicuous by their absence after the game, long gone, in Cedar Rapids, Epworth or Des Moines by now.
Metrodome security tried about everything. The P.A. announcer issued two "final warnings." They also tried blasting a high-pitched squeal from the loudspeakers. The Minneapolis police arrested a handful of fans on the field.
"We're getting used to Hawkeyes fans running out on the
field," said defensive end Howard Hodges, whose sack and
fumble recovery turned into a 14-7 Iowa lead in the first quarter.
"We know the fans are just as happy as us. They've been
waiting for something big to happen for Iowa and it did today. They (Iowa fans) can drop in with us at the bowl game, I don't care. They can drop in at my house, it doesn't matter."
The fans took their bounty, an upright, for a couple of laps around the field, finally dropping it in the stadium concourse.
Negotiating the revolving doors might have been a bit too much.
"Someone said they got the goal posts," guard Eric
Steinbach said. "I knew they (security) had their hands full when our fans started lifting the O-line and carrying us around."
First 11-win season in Iowa history. First nine-game winning streak in one season. First mosh pit for Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, who was carried off the field by linebacker Tony Burrier and Clark.
"I'm kind of wondering how I got up there. I was a little
bit embarrassed," Ferentz said. "That was a pretty good
view, pretty good, I can say that."
Quarterback Brad Banks threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more, and running back Fred Russell rushed for 194 yards to spur the Hawkeyes, whose nine-game conference winning streak since is their longest since stretching a nine-game streak over the 1956-57 seasons.
Banks started his college career at Central Florida. He was a red-shirt freshman and No.3 on the depth chart behind Daunte Culpepper, now the Minnesota Vikings QB.
They met up Friday night in Minneapolis.
"He was watching today," Banks said. "I hope he
liked what he saw."
Banks completed 9 of 17 for 100 yards and two TDs, including a 31-yarder to Mo Brown. He rushed seven times for 39 yards and two TDs.
For the second straight week, he left the field in the fourth quarter to chants of "Heisman, Heisman, Heisman."
Russell left in the third quarter with a bruised left shoulder.
Sophomore Jermelle Lewis carried the rest of the way, rushing for 101 yards and a TD.
The bowl reps were there, and there was bowl talk.
"You win the Big Ten, you want to go to the Rose Bowl,"
Iowa Athletics Director Bob Bowlsby said. "But like coach has said, it's going to be pretty hard to disappoint us."
After the final gun they were swallowed. The young men who made magic couldn't find their way out of the madness.
The Big Ten championship trophy was theirs. And they had the pictures to prove it.