My sweeping generalization of the way Iowa fans regard the Hawkeyes’ football rivalry with Northwestern is this: We should own those eggheads.
A private school, a much-smaller student body, the toughest recruiting standards of any Big Ten athletic program, no victory in any bowl game since 1948 … this should be the kind of program a sturdy outfit like Iowa beats 21 times in a row. Which it did, in fact, from 1974 to 1994.
But that world changed in 1995. Overall, the Hawkeyes unquestionably have been the superior program since then, though Northwestern has been no slouch with five bowl appearances since 2000.
Head-to-head, though? The Wildcats have won the last two, four of the last five, and eight of the last 13 games against Iowa.
Part of the reason, probably, is that Northwestern made Iowa its top rival. Not Illinois, from the same state. Not Wisconsin, though Madison is 85 miles closer than Iowa City to Evanston. In the 1990s, Coach Gary Barnett targeted the Iowa game, and NU fans picked up on it.
Those Wildcat supporters have had a lot of good times over the last 15 years at Iowa’s expense, none more so than last year when their team ruined Iowa’s unbeaten season.
I asked Jay Sharman, the creator and operator of Northwestern sports blog Lake the Posts (there was a time when NU fans celebrated oh-so-rare wins by uprooting their stadium’s goal posts and depositing them in nearby Lake Michigan) to explain how his side views Iowa fans. Also, I asked how he thinks Hawkeye fans view Northwestern. He said:
“Today, Iowa fans, by far, hold the biggest stereotype hangover of the NU dark ages against us. It is still seen as unacceptable to lose to Northwestern. If you use message boards, blogs and the like as a litmus test for fan-reaction, the vitriol has heightened with each passing loss to Northwestern.
“I guess you could say that Northwestern fans feel like Iowa fans are sore losers and get so outrageously pained when Northwestern wins that it makes it that much more enjoyable. The recent “trend” among Hawkeyes fans online has been to accuse Fitz (NU Coach Pat Fitzgerald) and the ‘Cats of intentionally injuring Shonn Greene and Ricky Stanzi. You can have all the fun you want, but if you assault NU’s character — something the fan base cherishes — then watch out.
“I guess Iowa fans’ perspective of themselves is that they should be a national-title contender every year. I for one marvel at what Kirk Ferentz has done at Iowa and even more so his willingness to admit that Iowa isn’t the type of program that attracts 4 and 5 star players and they must rely on coaching up good players.
“It is the same philosophy at Northwestern, but from a recruiting perspective Northwestern fans are likely biased the other way thinking Chicago, Fitz and the academic value of an NU degree make it very attractive. It is, but to a certain type of player.
“I think Iowa fans take for granted what they have — a pro team in a college town that has done pretty darn well when you stack them up against the competition. At NU, we’re trying to edge in to the upper tier (top four) on a consistent basis and have the 8-4 years be the “down” years. Iowa is already there.
“NU fans are only looking for respect, and when you earn it by beating a team to the point it becomes a trend you’d hope the stereotypes about snooty rich kid school stuff get old. Kind of like farm and pig jokes. Really? The truth is NU is building its fan base (happily and thankfully) with non-NU related fans. This is exactly the stuff that makes Iowa, Iowa.
“We lose out every time on the state pride factor Iowa enjoys or any program with the state name in the school name, but man, we’re trying.”
Now, let’s enjoy the resumption of the Iowa-Northwestern rivalry. A real rivalry.
And please, Hawkeye fans, keep your tractors out of the way of Northwestern’s Mercedes and BMWs.