The ballad of Ricky Stanzi

This was written on November 2, 2009

Former president Harry Truman left office with the lowest recorded approval rating of all-time. He’s now considered to be among the greatest leaders this country’s ever seen. Vincent van Gogh was not recognized nor appreciated until years after his death.

All across time in different frames of life, people have been looked down upon at one point only to be recognized for their greatness later. The more this football season plays out, the more I wonder if this is how we’ll see Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi in the future.

Let’s be honest right now. Stanzi is not great, not even good. He’s been serviceable at best, and at many points, a thorn in the side of the Hawkeyes and coach Kirk Ferentz. He’s thrown 25 picks in his career; most, as Iowa fans know, at inopportune times. And many people shudder at his inability to hit an open receiver on a simple out route.

The Indiana game this past Saturday was a perfect example. Stanzi had unarguably the worst quarter of his career. Indiana intercepted more passes (four) than his receivers caught (three) in the third quarter. The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes were watching their national championship hopes literally be thrown away. Kinnick was raining in boos, just begging Coach Ferentz to pull the chain on his quarterback.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a quarterback struggle or have that much adversity,” said Ferentz after the game. “I thought maybe we dug a little too deep of a hole today.”

But if you thought the same thing, you were forgetting something. This Iowa team was riding a 12-game winning streak. Stanzi entered 16-3 as a starter. The previous week, He completed just 39% of his passes in the first 58 minutes. He then led his team 70 yards in 97 seconds on the road, throwing the game-winning touchdown as time expired. Despite his inadequacies, he just continues to win football games.

So naturally, Stanzi’s first two passes of the 4th quarter were beautiful touchdown passes. On the first, Stanzi rolled out to his right and while on the move, found Marvin McNutt on a crossing route in the middle of the field. He put some beautiful touch on the ball, hitting McNutt right in the hands. McNutt did the rest. On the second, Stanzi stepped up in the pocket, showing no fear, and saw DJK wide open on a corner route, hitting him in stride. DJK outraced the Indiana defenders, and Iowa took a 28-24 lead, their first of the game.

“To hit two big plays like that, on two consecutive drives,” said Stanzi “… was a great momentum swing. It got the crowd back into it, and the defense was obviously playing tremendous.”

Once again, it was as if Stanzi didn’t even know there was a football game being played for 45 minutes. And once again, he gave just enough in the 4th quarter to lead the Hawks back to victory. It’s simply clockwork.

“No matter what, (Stanzi) just keeps on playing,” said Ferentz. “Keeps his focus forward. You know, today it was whatever. Like three or four straight series where we turned it over in the third quarter. But he just kept playing, kept leading our football team.”

“He made mistakes. He knows he made mistakes,” said star offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga. “But he did a great job leading us. He always does. You know, he threw a couple picks, and then came back and threw two touchdowns. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s resilient.”

That’s just it. Iowa fans may shake their heads when they talk about Stanzi. They’ve seen the worst of him. But his resiliency is something that can’t be taught. Iowa has now outscored its opponents 107-41 in the 4th quarter this season. That’s Stanzi stepping up when it counts.

When great Iowa quarterbacks are brought up, Chuck Long is the one that is mentioned, and rightfully so. He led the Hawkeyes to two Rose Bowls and compiled a 35-13-1 record as a starter. He holds all the Hawkeye passing records and was an All-American.

It’s far too early to compare Stanzi to Long, but let’s look at the facts. Stanzi is 17-3 and has Iowa off to its best start in school history. His team is in line for a Rose Bowl, and if things play out right, possibly a national championship birth. And yes, he’s coming back next season.

Stanzi may not be putting up the pretty numbers. He may not have as golden an arm. But he’s winning football games. And, when his days are up in Iowa City, who knows? That jersey with a twelve on it? It might never be worn again.

About aarongernes

Well, I like TV and movies and I love sports. So expect a lot about that.
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