Cover story: A legacy defined

BY J.T. BUGOS | NOVEMBER 19, 2010 7:20 AM

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A legacy is hard to define.

Programs can have legacies of winning, losing, or even mediocrity. Players can leave behind legacies of being tough, clutch, or dynamic.

For a group of players, defining a legacy becomes even more difficult.

Is Iowa's senior class defined by its Orange Bowl win last year? Is it defined by the miraculous comebacks of a year ago? Is it defined by this year's unrealized preseason hype and new-found inability to make clutch plays at game's end?

Or is it defined by something simpler, and often taken for granted: winning.

Winning has been expected of these Hawkeyes for the past three seasons. But the rate at which the victories have come might be lost in the shuffle of game-winning drives at Michigan State, pin-ball interceptions against Indiana, and dominating wins against highly ranked Penn State teams.

This senior class is on the verge of winning 30 games in the past three seasons — and none of the losses during that time have come by more than seven points.

"When I think of this class, I think that they are the embodiment of what Kirk Ferentz coaches," ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel said. "They're not flashy. They're fundamentally sound. They play hard.

"And they win."

Attitude is everything

The greatest reason for success has been attitude, offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz has built the program not on electrifying five-star recruits but on the toughness of two- and three-star recruits who put in the work to become better than anyone expected.

That hard work is what made Ricky Stanzi — a player Ferentz said he thought "had a chance" to develop into a good quarterback when he was recruited — into the third-ranked passer in the country.

"One of the biggest enemies of success, I think, is attrition," Ferentz said. "Sometimes attrition is a good thing, but these guys have really stayed the course and done a great job. And they haven't been here just showing up every day. They've been invested, not just getting checked off on the attendance list. They come in, and they've really given an awful lot.

"That's why we've had great success, and they have a chance to leave here with a pretty good résumé."

Vandervelde hopes that mentality stays after he leaves. It's why he still works hard, even though Iowa's preseason goal — a Big Ten championship — is all but gone.

He wants the younger players to continue working for that next Big Ten title. Perhaps more importantly, Vandervelde wants to not set the example of a senior class that "loses its heart when it seems like everything has been taken off the table."

"It's been a legacy of great success and hard-nosed toughness," the offensive lineman said about the senior class. "Last year was one of the greatest runs Iowa has ever had.

"We hope that we're leaving behind a mentality and an attitude of the way that Iowa plays football that future generations will be able to look at and say, 'See, it doesn't matter who you lose to or when you lose to them. You come back the next week and you put your work in and you try and beat whoever it is you have to beat.'"

A legacy tarnished?

When Ferentz was asked what the lasting memories of this senior class would be, he answered, "You can go right down the list — there have been a lot of great things."

In 2008, there was the last-second upset of then No. 3 Penn State and the dismantling of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

In 2009, the list grows rapidly. Two blocked field goals to preserve the victory against Northern Iowa. Another upset of Penn State, ranked fifth at the time. A touchdown pass with time expiring to beat Michigan State in East Lansing.

And to top it off, a dominating performance in the Orange Bowl against No. 9 Georgia Tech.

The 2010 season has had a different vibe, though.

Starting the season at No. 9, the Hawkeyes' third game of the year ended with a a failed comeback attempt at Arizona. A game-winning drive — after giving up a six-point fourth-quarter lead — didn't come to fruition against Wisconsin. A 10-point lead evaporated at Northwestern, and again, a potential game-winning two-minute drill failed.

Does any of that tarnish the legacy established in 2008 and 2009? Vandervelde and senior punter Ryan Donahue don't think so.

"I think the lasting memory of this group is going to be the Orange Bowl last year," Donahue said. "But I think just the resiliency of our team, people are going to look back and see these teams that came out with wins — sometimes came out with losses — but it was always an exciting game to watch."

Vandervelde noted that the 2004 Hawkeyes aren't remembered for the shellacking they received at Arizona State or subsequent loss in their first Big Ten game. Instead, they're remembered by their thrilling last-second Capital One Bowl win against LSU.

"Hopefully, what we can leave as a legacy behind from this team is not of lofty expectations that went unmet," he said. "But a team that faced some challenges, but at the end of the day stuck together, pulled around their leaders, and went out and played football the way it's supposed to be played."

Maisel said these seniors will be defined by their Orange Bowl win but that Iowa players will still wake up thinking about the Northwestern loss 20 years from now. He said this season will leave a bruise.

But bruises fade, and maybe this team isn't so different from the heart-stoppers of 2009.

"We're the same team that we're always going to be," Donahue said.

Unfinished business

The seniors' story isn't finished. As Ferentz said, "The final transcript will get written here after the last game."

But this senior class can call themselves winners, something previous teams weren't able to do.

After the 2004 season, which ended on an eight-game winning streak, including that miraculous Capital One Bowl win, victories became harder to find. The 2005 squad still won seven games, but the next two years the Hawkeyes couldn't break .500.

Then Stanzi stepped behind center, Adrian Clayborn emerged, and Brett Greenwood quietly began his assault on opposing quarterbacks. And Iowa's push back into the mainstream of college football began.

"I think a legacy is a bigger picture," Maisel said. "The legacy that this class leaves is not only sustained success but sustained success after the program had taken a step back. There were three or four years there where Iowa was just another team and beset by off-field problems.

"And these guys brought Iowa back."

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