Today kicks off the 5th annual "Heroes Game". Loyal OTE readers will know that we've already covered exactly why every single thing about this game is stupid corporate nonsense except for the actual football playing that takes place, so I'm not going to spend too much time talking about that. Iowa and Nebraska had minimal history between them before Nebraska joined the league in 2011, but that doesn't mean this game is meaningless.
For many Iowa and Nebraska fans (such as myself), there are only 2 games in this series that we can remember from before 2011: A home-and-home in the 1999 and 2000 seasons. Both games were blowout wins by Nebraska while Ferentz was still trying to rebuild the program. I was too young to recall much from either of these games; just a bunch of the adults drinking and using adult words to describe their disgust in the game while they complained about Bob Bowlsby not offering Bob Stoops enough money and raved about this new basketball coach named Steve Alford.
Fast-forward to 2011, and Hy-Vee is throwing around the world's most generic football trophy and telling everyone how great the rivalry is going to be. From day one, football fans across Iowa and Nebraska have raised an eyebrow to this game. Yes, there are many people that consider this to be a good rivalry, but let's be honest; Iowa-Iowa State is not up for debate as a rivalry, Iowa-Minnesota is not up for debate, but Iowa-Nebraska is very much up for debate.
I'll say this though: the foundation for a good rivalry is there. Football aside, the people of Iowa and Nebraska hate each other. I don't know why; as an Iowa native I'm telling you that Iowa and Nebraska are the exact same state. They're both flat and heavily agricultural, and a significant portion of their populaitons live in rural areas.
The differences are there, but they're subtle: Nebraska has the school with the worst ranked academics in the Big Ten while Iowa does not. Iowa City has good restaurants like Hamburg Inn, Pagliai's Pizza and IRP, while Lincoln has that Runza by the interstate that smells less like pig farts than the one across town. Iowa is home to many modern companies like HON Industries, Rockwell Collins and Principal Financial, while Nebraska is basically just one big telemarketing call center.
Apart from these small differences, and the fact that infants in Nebraska are fed ranch dressing instead of baby food, both states are pretty much the same thing. When you really think about it, it's hard to understand why we don't have a real rivalry. What Hy-Vee is trying to sell us isn't so farfetched. An annual border war between conference rivals fighting over a trophy in the last game of the regular season is an awesome idea, and we know this because the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry was both awesome and historically played this weekend.
That's what is missing though: history. The architects of The Heroes Game thought they could just build a stupid trophy, and people would get so excited to watch the game that advertisers would pay for their airtime with dumptrucks full of cash. Why not? It worked for the Civil Conflict Trophy.
The mistake made here is that the powers-that-be assumed making teams fight over a physical object was the secret to making people care. This is like saying that the best part about Iowa winning the Orange Bowl was that they got to take home a trophy shaped like a bowl of oranges.
Real rivalries develop over years, or even decades. Real trophies are made from historical or unique events and not thin air. Don't get me wrong, I want this game to be a rivalry, but until now it has never been played for more than bowl positioning.
For the first time in the short history of the Heroes Game, however, each side is playing for something. With the Hawkeyes looking for their first 12-0 season and the Cornhuskers looking to become bowl-eligible, there is finally more at stake than, you know...a stupid trophy that everyone hates (that should really go to the loser instead of the winner)
Does this mean that on Saturday morning we'll all wake up in a new era of Iowa-Nebraska football? Maybe. Probably not, but maybe. At least it's nice to have the hype match the stakes. For once, Nebraskans are going to take a break from sewing new patches on the knees of their good pair of overalls to crowd around the lot's only working television and watch a Heroes Game where both teams are playing with their season on the line.
This game doesn't feel different because some corporation tells us it should, it feels different because there is so much at stake. Maybe in 10 years, this game will be a real rivalry and we can all look back at 2015 as the point where we started to care. Today though, when Iowa takes the field at Memorial Stadium, the last thing on everybody's mind is going to be taking home the Heroes Trophy.
Every Iowa fan is looking to witness C.J. Beathard and company make history and take momentum into the Big Ten Championship game. Every child in Nebraska will be hoping and praying by the rattail on the back of their head that their beloved Cornhuskers will somehow go to a middling bowl game against the Sun Belt runner-up this year, and that they can stay up playing their brand new Sega Dreamcast while their parents will go out to the fanciest restaurant in the county (Olive Garden) to celebrate. Rivalry or no, the Heroes Game finally means something.
So buckle in, my dear readers. To everyone on both sides going to the game, have fun. Drink a beer for me (presumably Bud Heavy for those of you wearing red) and have a hell of a time. For everyone like myself who can't be there, I hope you find somewhere cool to watch the game. This is going to be a hell of a ride. Go Hawks.