IOWA CITY — Iowa does little along the lines of “moto,” the endearing and sometimes pejorative term for motivational tools in the Marine Corps.
It’s not unheard of, but it is rare for coach Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa to go overtly motivational poster. Then again, these are rare times for the Hawkeyes (1-0), who have to be careful where they walk in their own lockerroom.
The empty trophy case or cases built to hold four traveling trophies take up a ton of space.
“It gets crowded in there and people have to dodge it,” senior cornerback Micah Hyde said. “It’s actually like right in the way.”
The Hawkeyes have a chance to win one back against Iowa State (1-0) this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. The trophy game has become a bit of a sore spot in Iowa City, as in all the trophies are currently on the road.
Going back to the 2010 Wisconsin game (the Heartland), Iowa is 0-4 in its traditional trophy matchups, including a pair of losses to Minnesota (Floyd of Rosedale) and Iowa State (Cy-Hawk) last season. Throw in the Heroes Game with Nebraska — the trophy is 1-year-old since Nebraska joined the Big Ten — and the Hawkeyes are zero for their last five with a rivalry trophy on the line.
The Hawkeyes have lost the four games with their most established rivals (Iowa State, Wisconsin and Minnesota) by a total of eight points. Close doesn’t fill the trophy case, though.
“That’s one thing we’re using as fuel right now,” senior wide receiver Keenan Davis said. “We haven’t done anything. We’re trying to get ourselves back on the map and in position to win a few of these trophies.”
Hyde said the trophy cases were moved to the players’ lockerroom in the Hayden Fry Football complex somewhat recently, a motivational ploy from strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
It’s gotten their attention.
“It definitely hurts to see all the empty trophy cases that we have,” Davis said.
On Tuesday in the complex, a collage of pictures from last season’s Iowa State celebration hung on the glass door Iowa players take to the practice field. Lots of cardinal and gold and the replacement Cy-Hawk are shown dancing around Jack Trice Stadium after the Cyclones’ 44-41 triple-overtime victory.
The Iowa State season poster was taped up to the right of it. There’s a picture of the fans rushing the field after the Cyclones bumped Oklahoma State from the national title game. The headline above it says “There’s only one Cyclone Nation.”
Iowa did the poster thing last year before the ISU game, but that also was when its losing streak in trophy games was just two.
“We have four empty trophy cases right now,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “We talk about that a lot and this is just another way to raise awareness.”
Still, this is a little bit beyond the usual bulletin board stuff that Iowa, and every FBS football team in America, does. The game within the game is the search for the hot-button issue that provides the emotional kick for the week. In Ames on Monday, it was ISU students wearing Iowa gear around the ISU campus. For the Hawkeyes, it was last season’s triple-overtime gut-wrencher in full color right where they all take off their cleats and hang their shoulder pads.
“It’s a big game for us,” senior center James Ferentz said. “It’s very important. It’s one we’ve been looking forward to all summer.
“If you want to be respected in your conference, you have to be respected in your state. Right now, we’re not the best team in the state, so Saturday, we’re eager to go out and try to change that.”
Kirk Ferentz was asked about emotion and how ISU coach Paul Rhoads uses that before and after games. The comparison here was Rhoads’ fire to the poker face that Ferentz portrays. (Ferentz’s emotions literally choke out in the form of tears in the aftermath — check Pittsburgh and Michigan from last season for two examples — so, we’re not exactly talking about a mannequin here.)
“I think no matter what your profession is, you probably ought to do it within the framework of your personality,” Ferentz said. “If I was giving advice, which I’m not, but I think that’s what most effective people that I’ve witnessed in any profession do, so that’s what you do.”
Kirk Ferentz’s quote on pep talks not lasting long and not blocking or tackling certainly stands. It pervades Iowa’s ethos.
“During every game, no matter who you play, no matter how old you are, there are low points and high points,” senior quarterback James Vandenberg said. “I think coach Ferentz does a really good job of staying in the middle. It’s never as good as you think it is, and it’s never as bad as you think it is. I think that’s something he portrays that we all buy into.”
In the meantime, the Hawkeyes put their cleats on Tuesday afternoon with an empty trophy case in the middle of their lockerroom.
“Every day of actually walking past it and sometimes even bumping into it — because it’s right there in the way — you kind of get the message and get more motivation to go out there and play,” Hyde said.
More moto, that’s the point.
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