Fans lament Olive Court

August 30, 2008

The 100,000 beer-can mosh pit also known as Olive Court didn’t host a Hawkeye tailgate Saturday morning for the first time since World War II. For some fans, it was the end of an era.

Four Iowa fans in their mid-20s drank a few Miller Lites (and the second-tier choice of Bud Light) outside Kinnick Stadium. Brad Swift, 25, reminisced about his teen years with his family on Olive Court.

“Olive Court, that’s like where I grew up,” said Swift, the son of a former UI player and cheerleader. “I always remember rolling in Olive Court, playing catch with my dad and brothers.”

Swift’s friends: Aaron Fangman, 24; Brian Scott, 24, Dane Kriks, 24 — like Swift, all live in Chicago — didn’t have a problem passing their time outside the stadium. But the times are a changing.

One other thought. The whole smoke-free thing on UI’s campus is a joke. Eleven spots outside the stadium’s west side stood two men smoking a pair of cigars you could smell 50 feet away. It didn’t bother me anyway, but I’m wondering where were the smoking Gestapo.


Ferentz talks Friday morning

August 29, 2008

IOWA CITY – If this morning’s Johnson County I-Club breakfast is any indication, there’s no shine off Kirk Ferentz’s star, at least to these Iowa fans.

About 400 people showed up before 6:30 a.m. at Iowa City’s Sheraton Hotel for the weekly breakfast. Anyway, here’s “real news” (sort of) from da coach, who entered the stage to the “Superman” theme. I didn’t see the “S” anywhere and I’m sure Ferentz internally shared some self-deprecating humor with himself as he sat down.

He said a few of the positions remain undecided. That’s not news. Those positions likely will be undecided for another week or two. But, Ferentz said, “all of us feel like we’re a better football team at basically every position.”

Ferentz talked about former Andre Tippett’s induction speech into the Hall of Fame, of which all of the players watched during training camp. He also spoke fondly of his days in Maine as head coach in the early 1990s.

Before his remarks, Ferentz introduced his freshmen players to the fans. Several mothers were in attendance, including James Ferentz’s. That introduction drew laughter when Ferentz said, “I think his mother is here somewhere in the back.” The fans gave them all a standing ovation after the introduction.

Athletics Director Gary Barta introduced Ferentz and talked about the summer challenges the program faced over the summer. Those included natural disasters and off-the-field problems.

“We don’t want to overstate what it’s going to be like to walk into Kinnick and forget about everything else … but I can’t wait until tomorrow,” Barta said.

“I feel good about the group we have here and the commitment that we’ve made.”

Former Iowa “Ironman” Red Frye was on hand. Iowa’s band, cheerleaders, the Golden Girl and Herky also were in attendance. The Iowa Fight Song, of course, was a big hit for the Hawkeye Kool-Aid (well, coffee) drinkers who arrived in Eastern Iowa before the sun. We’ll see if they’re drinking the same punch Saturday morning somewhere other than Olive Court.


“Our long national nightmare is over”

August 28, 2008

In Watergate’s wake, President Gerald Ford once said in the somber moments following former President Richard Nixon’s resignation: “Our long national nightmare is over.”

I echoed those same words moments after the official press release popped up in my inbox. After more than a year of asking Mediacom, BTN and Iowa officials (plus a few fans, bar owners and satellite operators) the same questions about their impasse, the companies reached an agreement. Iowa’s BTN games finally will appear on Mediacom. Fans will watch them. Move on, as the liberals say.

Whew! No more questions about negotiations. The aggravation and wrath (or joy and ecstasy) of Iowa fans now will be saved for televisions in family rooms, not e-mails directed at sports reporters. In a few days, when everybody knows to which channel the Big Ten Network will appear on their cable lineup, I won’t hear a peep. Like our federal government, I’m the wrong person to dispense advice on how to spend people’s money. When it comes to TV choices in print, I’d like to stick to that statement.

Predictably, Iowa officials are thrilled. They caught the most junk from fans last year. I’m convinced the impasse hurt Todd Lickliter’s first year as basketball coach. Most of the games started at 8 p.m., so out-of-Corridor families didn’t come. Fans couldn’t watch them on TV because they had Mediacom and not the Big Ten Network. Fans didn’t build any familiarity with Lickliter or the players. They struggled on the court so there was apathy. People quit caring. Not exactly the best combination for a first-year coach.

“The plan for the Big Ten Network from its inception was to offer more access to more fans,” Lickliter said in a statement. “The agreement with Mediacom helps that vision become a reality for Hawkeye fans.”

Athletics Director Gary Barta shared in joy, saying, “This is a great day for the Hawkeyes.”

Iowa will make more money from this deal and the others the network signed this week. But right now, it’s like a new lease on life.

For Iowa and, in some ways, for me.


Ferentz live round 1 on radio

August 28, 2008

Kirk Ferentz took some surprising questions at his weekly “Hawk Talk” radio show at Carlos O’Kelly’s in Iowa City.

The first question dealt with losing top recruits and failing to “seal the deal.”

“In all seriousness,” Ferentz said, “there’s a multitude of factors” including “individual preference.”

He was asked about the team’s health — “tight end was affected the most” by injuries. He also was asked about offensive line Reese Morgan — “I think he’s one of the best offensive line coaches in the country.”

He now enters his 10th season as coach. “Some days are better than others, it goes with the territory.”

On Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett: “The thing that jumped out was the determination of the entire football team, and Andre was a part of that.” He touted Tippett’s success as a strongside linebacker in the NFL and said Tippett was one of the two best linebackers (Lawrence Taylor the other) during the era. Iowa hopes to bring Tippett back to honor him at a game this year, possibly against Northwestern.

On new wide receivers coach Erik Campbell, who joined the team from Michigan: “Erik has been a great addition. … Erik Campbell really rose to the top. We feel fortunate to get him.” Ferentz said Campbell has a “breadth of knowledge” as the wide receivers coach.

On any scheme changes with Campbell as coach: “I don’t know how dramatic it would be. I don’t think anybody is going to see a wholesale change.”

“For instance, the first couple of years it was difficult to block, so thank goodness Ladell Betts was as tough as he was. I’m still trying to figure how he got as many yards as he did.”


BTN is still coming to your city

August 27, 2008

All right, I know Mediacom subscribers/Iowa fans have started freaking out that a deal is falling through between the Big Ten Network and Mediacom. The companies have two minor hang-ups they’re trying to resolve dealing with digital on-demand technology and location. All of Mediacom’s Iowa franchises will have the BTN on its family tier, while the companies are discussing Mediacom’s out-of-Iowa franchises.

Lawyers for both companies still are vetting the details. It could be Thursday when the deal gets finalized, and Mediacom will show Iowa’s game this Saturday against Maine. With the BTN finalizing deals with Time-Warner and Charter (plus rumors that Cox isn’t too far behind) already this week, this one won’t linger much longer.


Mediacom’s Iowa fans finally win

August 23, 2008

For those of you who held out hope that Mediacom would pick up the Big Ten Network, your faith has been rewarded. Mediacom will pick up the Big Ten Network next week just in time for Iowa’s opener against Maine. A specific date for implementation is not determined.

There was no way either business (yes, it’s a business transaction) was going to let another season of Iowa football go down without the majority of Hawkeye fans watching the games. Neither Mediacom nor the Big Ten Network liked angering fans in the Hawkeye state but both had to stand firm with their demands. I don’t think many Iowa fans were in the mood for another year of point-counterpoint after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse wreaked havoc on the state in May and June.

When Comcast agreed to terms with the BTN in June, the wheels were in motion for Mediacom to pick it up. There are still a few matters to be addressed, such as will Mediacom’s non-Iowa franchises carry the network, will Mediacom’s digital customers receive more than just one game, etc. But the deal means Mediacom’s 400,000 Iowa cable customers won’t miss Iowa football and basketball games this year. It also fulfills the Big Ten’s purpose for bringing the network on board.

Leading up to Iowa’s opener against Maine, the BTN will broadcast a few preseason football specials. At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the network will re-air a 90-minute practice. At 2:30 p.m. Wednesday it shows Iowa’s 30-minute season preview. At noon Friday (Aug. 29) it broadcasts the one-hour debut of “Iowa Football with Kirk Ferentz.” KCRG will re-air it at 9 p.m. Friday.

Let’s home for Mediacom subscribers the substance was worth the wait.


Ex-Hawk to serve as BTN analyst

August 21, 2008

Former Iowa player Anthony Herron will serve as a game analyst for the Big Ten Network starting this fall.

Herron played defensive end for Iowa under Coach Kirk Ferentz before leaving after the 2001 season. He then played for the Detroit Lions and in arena football before moving into broadcasting. Herron worked as a sideline analyst for the BTN during Iowa’s spring scrimmage, calling it a tryout.

The BTN’s lead TV crew is announcer Thom Brennaman and analyst Charles Davis, who also works for the NFL Network. Brennaman and Davis also call the BCS championship game for Fox. 

Other announcers include Wayne Larrivee, Mark Neely and Matt Devlin. Among the analysts include former Minnesota Coach Glen Mason, Chris Martin, Ian Allen, Tony McGee and Kenny Jackson.


NBC disses UI in Shawn Johnson reporting

August 18, 2008

Most Iowans, including this one, have stayed up a little too
late to watch homegrown hero Shawn Johnson compete
at the Beijing Olympics. I call it a warm-up for October postseason baseball with Fox airing 4-hour baseball games, but I digress.

Multiple times NBC has shown Johnson coming out of a performance and hugging coach Liang Chow, who spent seven years assisting Tom Dunn with Iowa’s men’s gymnastics team. Instead, NBC repeatedly has referred to him as a former “Iowa State” coach. Granted, at national and international levels the difference is hardly noticeable. More than 99 percent of the people in Iowa don’t know — or care — about the differences between Alabama and Auburn gymnastics. But for Iowans, the difference between Iowa and Iowa State is significant. And with the focus of the entire state on the precocious, 16-year-old Johnson, that mistake is magnified.


Big Ten hoops to start earlier?

August 16, 2008

We should find out sometime next week about Iowa’s Big Ten basketball schedule. It was supposed to be released Aug. 10, but the networks and Big Ten schools are checking and re-checking it over and over.

A couple of “unofficial” items to note. Because of the massive complaints for Big Ten schools — including Iowa — over the 8 p.m. starts, it seems the BTN will start its late games at 7:30 p.m. Central. That also means there will be several early games beginning at 5:30 p.m. Central. That might be just as tough for out-of-Corridor Iowa fans as the late starts.

Also, it appears Iowa will open Big Ten play at Ohio State on New Year’s Eve sometime in the middle of the day. That way the time probably won’t interfere with the Insight Bowl, a Big Ten tier bowl starting at 6:30 p.m. Central.  Just a coincidence.


Favre story supercedes “Hail Mary” for NFL Network

August 13, 2008

NFL Network will re-air the 1975 “Hail Mary Game” at an undetermined time after bumping it four times to accommodate breaking news about former Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre.

The network had scheduled the “Hail Mary Game” to air Aug. 4, but bumped it to broadcast Green Bay’s “Family Fun Night” at Lambeau Field. The network then rescheduled the “Hail Mary Game” for Aug. 6, but chose to air two hours of speculation on Brett Favre. The network then planned to air the game twice on Aug. 7, but it was dumped in favor of live press conferences after Favre was traded from Green Bay to the New York Jets.

The “Hail Mary Game” featured the Dallas Cowboys upsetting the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC divisional playoff game. Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach hit wide receiver Drew Pearson on a 50-yard pass with only seconds remaining to earn a 17-14 victory. Vikings fans have maintained Pearson shoved Vikings cornerback Nate Wright before catching the ball and a pass interference penalty wasn’t called. 

“NFL Network provides fans with breaking news whenever it happens,” NFL Network spokesman Dennis Johnson said. “And the major story during this offseason was Brett Favre deciding to come back to play and which team he would end up playing for.”

The NFL Network has chosen to air 54 preseason games this year. It will air Favre’s Jets’ debut live at 6 p.m. Saturday against the Washington Redskins. It will air the Vikings’ preseason game at Baltimore at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.


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