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Hawks, Huskers: Just like old times
By RANDY PETERSON
Register Staff Writer
Iowa City, Ia. - Kirk Ferentz noticed the coincidence shortly after he interviewed to become Iowa's football coach.
His first season starts the same as his first as a Hawkeye assistant coach in 1981 - against mighty Nebraska.
He took it like a man.
"That's the way he takes everything," Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby said. "When he found out we were starting out against Nebraska, he immediately started talking about how it would be a good way to measure where the team is at."
It might be asking too much for history to repeat itself when a new era of Iowa football opens today against the fifth-rated Cornhuskers. The game starts at 11:05 a.m. and it will be played at Kinnick Stadium - another similarity to Ferentz's first season as a Hawkeye.
"The only difference from when I came here in 1981 was that I was just trying to find my way from the locker room to the sidelines," Ferentz said.
In 1981, Coach Hayden Fry's Hawkeyes defeated Nebraska, 10-7. Ferentz might be an early candidate for national coach of the year if 1981 repeats itself.
"If this game doesn't get our guys' motor running, I don't know what's going to," Ferentz said.
Ferentz was such a rookie in 1981 that the magnitude of Iowa's upset didn't hit him until just before the game ended.
"I was a little bit too dumb," Ferentz said. "But at the end of the game, I figured out it was a pretty good win. Certainly I know better now."
Nebraska was expected to win that game, and that is the case again today. The Cornhuskers are a three-touchdown favorite to ruin Ferentz's coming-out party.
Nebraska's offense is roughly the same. The I-back still is the featured offensive rushing threat. The offensive line is huge. The defense continues to be one of the best in the nation.
"You could probably go back 20 years and hear the same thing," Ferentz said. "The faces may change, but the performance doesn't seem to.
"As a new coach, you'd rather start out maybe with an easier task, but I look at it as a great opportunity," Ferentz said.
Sound familiar? Fry said much same in the days leading up to the 1981 game.
"Our chances are less than normal," he said. "But we're not going to back down from anybody."
Nebraska was ranked seventh and was an 18-point favorite. The Cornhuskers had momentum after drubbing the Hawkeyes, 57-0, in 1980.
But after his team's shocking success, Fry proclaimed:
"Today, this is the greatest victory of my life."
His tenor changed the following week when Iowa lost at Iowa State, 23-12. This season, the Hawkeyes and Cyclones tangle in Ames Sept. 11.
The only other time Ferentz has faced Nebraska was in 1982, when the Cornhuskers won, 42-7, in Lincoln.
Chuck Long was the Hawkeyes' starting quarterback. It was his first start.
"We didn't fare too well," Long said.
Neither did Long. Especially in the third quarter.
"It was about 120 degrees on the field and I didn't prepare very well with the pregame meal," recalled Long, currently Iowa's quarterbacks coach. "You always eat about four hours before a game. I thought I was going to get real hungry during the game, so I ate everything in sight.
"All of a sudden it hit me. I called timeout and when I got to the sidelines, Coach Fry got mad at me because he knew the play he called was going to work.
"Just after he asked me why I called timeout, I lost it all over those white shoes and white pants he used to wear."
Fry chuckles about that now.
"First and only time it's ever happened to me," he said. "That didn't upset me nearly as much, though, as losing the game."