Following the 2002 football season I attended the AFCA Convention. I can't remember where it was at, but I do remember visiting with one of the vedors on the showroom floor who approached me to sell me on his product. He looked at my name tag which included the school I represented and asked how the Iowa football season went.
I gave him a humorous look while in a sense of disbelief. The 2002 football team was one for the ages. It went undefeated in the Big Ten while having numorous All-Americans. Heisman runner-up Brad Banks, John Mackey winner Dallas Clark, as well as Lou Groza award winner Nate Kaeding were among Iowa's elite. The Hawkeyes went on to finish the season ranked #5 while taking on USC who was third at the time, as what could amount to be the greatest team ever in Iowa football history.
My response to him that day wasn't as expansive as this one, but I just smiled, briefly explained how we did and politely began my walk away from his booth.
In 2010 the story was different. The Hawkeyes once again entered bowl play with double-digit victories, and won on a stage that proved to be difficult in 2003. The '09 team didn't have the all-americans and award winners the '02 team had, but gave their fans lasting memories that arguably top those of 2002.
Upon entering the convention after this season, adorned in my Hawkeye-issued clothing the responses were overwhelming. Coaches from different schools representing the different levels of play consistently approached me to congratulate me on a great season. On a 30 second elevator ride, three different coaches from as many schools each wished me the very best on the performance of the Iowa football team.
In display booths, any company that has any association with the Hawkeye program boasted of their connection to the #7 team in the land. Display boards congratulated the team on their Orange Bowl victory. Someone else who has conducted little business with Iowa had the Hawkeye football helmet prominently displayed with other BCS qualifying teams.
It was a display of appreciation and an attempt to make contact with a staff member of the Fed Ex Orange Bowl champions. It went beyond that. This Iowa Football team gave the nation a reason to watch college football. Every week fans tuned in to see a different story unfold. They wondered how could the defense continue to stop teams? How will the Iowa offense fare if they have to come from behind? Is this Iowa football team worthy of their top 10 status? Game after game the outcome would become the same, but the path was very much the different.
This Hawkeye football team didn't have the stars, and had fewer blowouts, but it was a storyline that all living across the country followed. And perhaps it gave that vendor from 2003 a reason to follow, too.