As our blog buddies at Roar Lions Roar reminded me, today is June the 4th. It's the fourth day of the sixth month of the year, which you could write out as 6/4. Or perhaps 6-4. Of course, for Iowa fans -- and Penn State fans -- those numbers, in that particular sequence, have greater significance. 6-4 represents one of the weirdest and most memorable games in the history of the Iowa-Penn State series.
There have been far better games between Iowa and Penn State over the years. There have been games with more memorable plays, like Tim Dwight turning on his personal afterburners and torching Penn State on a punt return in 1996, or Adrian Clayborn blocking a punt and running it back for a touchdown in the rain in 2009. There have been games with far more on the line, like the 2008 thriller when Daniel Murray's game-winning field goal ended Penn State's undefeated season and crushed PSU's hope of playing for the national championship. (
In hindsight, they probably wouldn't have played for a title anyway that year, since they were ranked #3 and the teams ranked #1 and #2 -- USC and Texas -- remained undefeated until the national championship game, where they produced one of the greatest football games of all time. Derp derp derp: that was in 2005, not 2008.)
But 6-4 still remains a uniquely memorable affair. In part, that's because of the #WeirdFootball aspect of it. 6-4 is a very strange final score for a football game. The "four" alone is weird -- the only way to score just four points in a football game is via two safeties -- and then add in that the winning team (Iowa) only scored six and it just gets even weirder. It's even odder in the context of modern football. Ten combined points is a very small total for a game today. It's the lowest-scoring game of the Kirk Ferentz Era at Iowa. (It would not, however, have been the lowest-scoring game of the Hayden Fry Era; while we (rightly) revere Hayden's teams for their scoring prowess, it took a bit for him to get the offense humming in Iowa City. Iowa lost a game 5-3 to Arizona in 1980.) It's one of only two games in the KF Era where neither team managed to score at least 10 points. (The other -- sigh -- is Iowa State 2012, when Iowa lost 9-6.) Interesting factoid: it is not the only 6-4 game in the history of Iowa football -- Iowa lost to mighty Grinnell by a score of 6-4 way back in their sixth-ever football game, in 1891. So like Penn State, Iowa has been on both sides of the 6-4 coin.
It featured two field goals and two safeties. Iowa and Penn State combined for 16 first downs -- and 15 punts. The game featured a grand total of 315 yards of offense... combined. At 128 combined plays, that works out to 2.5 yards per play. There were four fumbles (two lost) and five interceptions in the game. That's not to say that it didn't feature opportunities for more points, though. Iowa had the ball at or inside the PSU 10-yard line twice -- but had to settle for a pair of Kyle Schlicher field goals. Worse, Penn State had the ball at or inside Iowa's 10-yard line twice -- and had to settle for no points, thanks to a Robbie Gould missed 25-yard field goal and an Antwan Allen interception.
The game also featured the ever-delightful Eff You Safety. It is still wild to remember that that happened with eight minutes left in the game. That's a lot of time! I wrote about the Eff You Safety -- and this whole game -- a few years ago and what I said then still rings true today:
In truth, this play is a wonderful mix of tactical savvy and tremendous balls. Iowa's already had a bad snap lead to a safety and had another punt blocked (setting up Penn State inside the Iowa 10-yard line) earlier in the game; punting was very much not winning in this game for Iowa. Given the location of this punting situation, the odds of catastrophe were alarmingly high. And the absolute best case scenario probably had Penn State pinned back no further than midfield. A safety concedes two points, but gives Iowa much more breathing room on the ensuing kick, enabling them to pin Penn State's offense further back. Considering how miserable that offense had looked for much of the day, making them travel as far as possible to snatch the potential game-winning points seems like a very prudent decision. On the other hand... it takes some serious cojones to give up two points when you only have a 6-2 lead and give the other team the ball knowing that any offensive score will beat you.
The play makes perfect sense -- and yet is also still pretty batshit insane. I could not possibly love it more.
6-4 is also memorable because of context beyond the weirdness of the game itself, though. It was a part of Iowa's wild, wonderful 2004 season, which still remains one of my favorite Iowa seasons ever. That season featured a seven-game winning streak to end the regular season. It featured the Capital One Bowl (and "The Catch"), Iowa's last-ever win over Ohio State, the ascendance of Drew Tate (Drew Tate's windmilling arms dot gif), and one of the meanest and toughest defenses Iowa has ever fielded, starring unforgettable players like Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux, Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge, Sean Considine, and Jovon Johnson. It also featured Iowa's last-ever Big Ten Championship in football (shared with Michigan). That Iowa did all that with a running game that consisted of Sam Brownlee and Marques Simmons for much of the year is still mindblowing. 2004 will forever hold a special place in my heart.
And, finally, 6-4 is memorable for what it meant for Kirk Ferentz and the entire Ferentz family. Ferentz has never been afraid to show his emotions and there have been more than a few times when he's teared up after an Iowa game during his tenure, but I don't know that we've ever seen the raw display of emotion that we saw from him (and Brian) after this game. 6-4 came the week that his father died and the game itself was a day after the funeral. That the game also happened to be against Penn State, in Ferentz's home state of Pennsylvania, only added to the pathos.
We've written a lot about this game before -- most memorably here and here -- and we'll probably continue to do so as long as we keep blogging about Iowa football. Because 6-4 was that weird and that memorable. 6-4 is the punchline to a joke about Big Ten football -- and maybe even Kirk Ferentz football in particular -- which I also get. It was, objectively speaking, not a good football game. And yet it is and always will be so much more than that for me.
Happy 6-4 Day, folks.