I covered many things and wrote many columns and stories before this blog was born. Since I’m on vacation and out of America for the week (my Dobermans are staying at home with my house-sitter, a burly fellow who has wild mood swings and a nasty temper), I’m going to try keep the blog moving this week with pieces from the past that will be new to almost all of you.
This column was after Iowa’s 2003 regular-season football finale, a 40-22 victory over Minnesota. It was the last game as a Hawkeye for safety Bob Sanders and kicker Nate Kaeding. Safety Sanders, kicker Kaeding. Alliteration!
IOWA CITY — What could they have in common, a strong safety whose mantra is anything but “Safety First,” and a meticulous kicker?
What could Bob Sanders and Nate Kaeding possibly have in common? Besides probably being the best players at their positions in University of Iowa history.
A better question: What don’t they have in common?
Iowa’s 40-22 pasting of Minnesota Saturday was the final Kinnick Stadium showcase for many Hawkeye seniors. But the home-finales for Sanders and Kaeding were something else, perfect frames for college careers that bordered on perfection.
They have been two fireballs who have done so much to influence the way Hawkeye football has changed for the better. They signed on shortly after Iowa had gone 1-10. They’re leaving with a lot of winning moments.
“I knew in my heart that one day our program would be on top,” Sanders said, “that one day we’ll be able to celebrate with each other. I think we built that.”
Sanders has built by destroying. Saturday, he caused three Gopher fumbles, two inside the Iowa 20-yard line. He recovered one at the Iowa 1 after he freed it from Laurence Maroney just before the freshman crossed the goal line late in the first half.
Had Maroney scored, Iowa would have led 17-13 and it might have been a tug-of-war the rest of the game. Instead, the Gophers knew they and their New Year’s bowl hopes were wrecked.
More confirmation came two minutes later when Kaeding smoked a 55-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half. It was 20-6, and might as well have been 200-6 even though Minnesota picked up enough nickel-and-dime yardage to fill a piggy bank the size of Floyd of Rosedale.
Kaeding and Sanders . White and black. A thin 6-footer and a 5-foot-8 chunk of concrete. They don’t look at all alike.
“If you took his shirt off and put me next to Bob Sanders , it would be two complete opposites,” Kaeding said. “But we play football.
Their positions require entirely different skills and mindsets. But if they aren’t twin sons of different mothers, they’re at least cousins.
“If you’re going to play football, whether it’s the coach, the water boy, the linebacker, or the kicker,” said Kaeding, “you’ve got to have emotion. If not, you’re going to be exposed.”
Jared Clauss, a hurting Hawkeye defensive tackle who refused to be a spectator at his home-field farewell, finds a comparison between Sanders and Kaeding a natural one.
“They’re willing to do whatever it takes to be the best,” Clauss said. “I think Nate’s the best in the country now, and I wouldn’t want anybody playing strong safety behind me but Bob.
“They do the things it takes to get better. You can tell every day that they have something at the end of the tunnel that they’re looking at.”
In a violent game, Sanders has virtually reinvented the term “impact player.”
“For me, I know when the ball’s run our way to make the hit and get the guy down fast,” said senior Iowa linebacker Grant Steen. “Because if you don’t, I’m going to get a helmet in the back of my head, and I know it’s usually No. 33 (Sanders). He not only takes out the other team, but you’ve got to be looking out for him on your side.”
Asked how he wants to be remembered here, Sanders said, “I just want everyone to know that I’m a tough guy. I do whatever it takes to show I’m tough.”
That was established three seasons ago, when the smallish 19-year-old from Erie, Pa., kept rocketing into opposing special teams players before getting promoted to the defensive starting lineup for keeps.
“It really doesn’t matter how tall or how small you are,” Sanders said. “It’s in your heart.”
Which also relates to Nate.
“Kaeding’s a tough guy,” Sanders said. “He really doesn’t have to be physical, but he’s a tough guy when it boils down to everything. Kaeding ‘s a leader. He’s not afraid to go out and work hard and give all his best to be the best. He’s going to be the best, and right now I think he is the best.”
They are preseason all-Americas who would rather kick or clobber a laurel than rest on it. Sanders said Saturday was one of his best games, but “I could have done a lot more stuff, and got picks, and scored, or whatever.”
Kaeding was fueled by the week before at Purdue, when he missed a 34-yarder. That left him a glowing 15-for-16 on field goals this season. But that one miss was hard for him to flush.
“I was pretty devastated after that game at Purdue,” he said. “Coming into the season, I wanted to be perfect on the year.
“I got a letter from (ex-Hawkeye) Marv Cook. It said, ‘It rains in the desert, but not that often.”‘
Meaning, the miss was an oddity and nothing more. Cook was so right. Kaeding went 4-for-4 against the Gophers, including the 55-yard cannon shot.
He said he had told himself, “I’m a good football player. I’m going to come out here today and prove that.”
Kaeding and Sanders proved it Saturday, to themselves. The rest of us have known it for years.