The day of the Orange Bowl


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Big Willie Style was right — ‘Welcome to Miami.’

After Iowa’s bowl selection two Sundays ago, I did my usual routine when big football announcements occur — I went to the press conference.

So I drove my banged-up champagne Toyota Corolla to the Hawkeye Football Complex, strolled into the lecture-type film room in the basement, and chatted with my fellow sports journalists as we awaited the silver fox of the Midwest, Kirk Ferentz, to arrive.

This time was different, though.

The ambiance was somewhat cheerful. While I experienced a variety of joyful emotions during this historic season, the environment this time was unpredictably loose (unlike any press conference I had experienced before).

The reason? Perhaps it was the conclusion of the overwhelming week-to-week prognoses or perhaps it was the acquisition of national respect in nabbing an at-large bid to the Orange Bowl.

I am betting on both.

“It feels like a weight has been lifted,” sophomore wideout Marvin McNutt said. “Knowing where you’re going and what you’re going to be playing for, so now you can start game planning for the opponent.”

Ferentz and the players were beaming as if “Big Willie Style” himself, Will Smith, had pulled up in his Bentley convertible along with Eva Mendes to say, “Welcome to Miami” (Excuse me; Eva says “Bienvenido a Miami” in the video).

“[That song] actually did come to my mind when I heard Orange Bowl,” McNutt joked, saying he and roommate Adrian Clayborn are looking forward to the Miami that Smith recalled in his verses.

Speaking of Will Smith, I have to commend former DI sportswriter Krisanne Ryther for conceptualizing the world’s best Facebook status regarding the Hawkeyes’ journey to the Orange Bowl. She wrote, “Krisanne Ryther is carpooling to Miami. Will Smith wouldn’t have done it any other way, right? I mean, he did drive in a cab from Philly to Bel Air to live with Uncle Phil.”

I have to give props where props are due … (back to the press conference, though).

Mr. Mama-Said-Knock-You-Out, Clayborn, revealed his softer side at the event. While he didn’t bust out some sensitive poetry or announce he listens to Sade (shame on you if you don’t get this reference), he instead brought his 6-week-old pitbull, Ace, to celebrate.

“You brought your dog?” A.J. Edds quipped mid-question after spotting the pup.

“I couldn’t find anybody to watch him,” Clayborn joked.

If you ever want to see grown men roll on the floor talking baby talk, apparently all you need is a cute puppy (also for the record, Ace almost drizzled a yellow stream of awesome-ness on my leather Pumas).

The atmosphere in the press room was amazingly carefree. After all the injuries Iowa has suffered, the setbacks and what have you, there was a collective appreciation for what this Iowa team has been able to accomplish.

The gratitude that Ferentz and the players exuded that evening has continued. While at the Iowa wrestling meet against Northern Iowa, many Iowa athletes were recognized for academic excellence, Ricky Stanzi being one of them. Stanzi was soon corralled by young fans as he made his way back up the stadium stairs.

He stood patiently, taking his time to sign every hat, poster, cup and T-shirt. Perhaps Iowa’s starting quarterback and his young fans stumbled upon another common ground — a shared loved for “New Moon.” Yes. Stanzi has seen it three times. And Yes. That was the first question asked to him after the bowl announcement.

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