' ' Cinema Romantico: My Favorite College Football Games: Game 6

Saturday, October 05, 2019

My Favorite College Football Games: Game 6

October 19, 1985: Iowa - 12  Michigan - 10

In the 1980s, my native state of Iowa was mired in the Farm Crisis. That’s why in the eighth game of their 1985 season, the Iowa Hawkeye football team slapped decals on their helmets bearing the acronym ANF (America Needs Farmers), demonstrating that they haven’t been sticking to sports since the mid-80s, right there on their helmet. But if Iowa was suffering, it was also rejoicing, as for 5 glorious weeks that autumn the ’85 Hawkeyes ascended to #1 in the polls. There might have been better football teams to come out of the state before or after, I don’t know, after all, this team, despite winning the Big 10, lost twice, including the infamous Rose Bowl debacle. But there has never been a cooler football team from the state of Iowa than the ’85 Hawkeyes. And their rock star air, understand, ultimately rendered those losses meaningless. (True to rock star form, they were also breaking rules, with both running back Ronnie Harmon, who we’ll get to, and defensive back Devon Mitchell taking money from agents. I note this with love.)

It wasn’t simply that Iowa ran a pass-heavy offense in a conference long defined by former Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes’s grim Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust mantra, but that Iowa’s overall aesthetic ran counter to the Big 10’s stodgy values, illuminated in how Coach Hayden Fry had his team dance the Hokey Pokey in the locker room after wins (I imagine Hayes viewed dancing as a mortal sin), never mind the bright white pants Fry wore on the sideline and the black leather pants Harmon wore off it. Ah Harmon, whose angular, stop-start, fast-in-slow-motion running style was so captivating I mimicked it in my front yard, while the way he held the ball, out away from his body, became a virtual extension of his leather pants and wraparound sunglasses to boot; if it flouted football fundamentals, it just ineffably, manifestly, undeniably looked RAD. All-American Quarterback Chuck Long, meanwhile, had a perm and a one-million-dollar insurance policy on his body in case of injury, the latter annoying the reigning dinosaur of the 80s Big 10, Bo Shembechler, and his ostensible tough guy values so much that he groused about it out loud. Incidentally, it was Schembechler’s Wolverines who played the Hawkeyes in the sport’s biggest game of 1985, #1 (Iowa) v #2 (Michigan), so big that Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, in an era when there were few night games because so few were nationally televised, trucked in portable lights to accomodate CBS’s primo mid-day kickoff.

The weather, an overcast Iowa autumn afternoon, the kind that restores my spirit the way a blue-skied summer afternoon restores everyone else’s, yielded a defensive struggle where points were precious even as Iowa maintained most of the ball possession simply through Harmon hunting and pecking the Wolverine D to death. (Seriously, in rewatching large swaths of this game recently, I was enthralled in just watching Harmon run. Grainy footage be damned, his style still translates.) And if the Hawkeyes were robbed, as any Hawkeye fan advise, of a touchdown in the 2nd quarter on a missed call, that was mere cosmic intervention to allow Rob Houghtlin to kick the field goal as time expired to win 12-10 to send the entire state into stratospheric jubilation, the crowd storming the field, semi-illuminated by the eerie glow of those makeshift stadium lights. And if from one perspective it looked kind of like a theatre stage with a few bulbs burned out, I remember thinking my native state had never shined so bright.

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