Dec. 29, 2003
The Outback Bowl and the city of Clearwater and a whole bunch of other folks staged the annual Outback Bowl Beach Bash Monday for the enjoyment of the Hawkeyes, the Gators and their friends and fans.
And, unlike Iowa’s all-American placekicker Nate Kaeding, Iowa’s cheerleading squad didn’t have a plan. You see, the cheerleaders — first the women, then the men and then a combination of men and women — lost all three tug-of-war contests with their counterparts from Florida.
Three up, three down.
Three stikes and you’re out.
Yep. They needed a Nate Kaeding.
Those three losses were two more misses than Kaeding had for the entire 2003 season. He will walk into Raymond James Stadium on New Year’s Day a mere 17 of 18 on field goal attempts in this, his senior season. That total includes two kicks from beyond 50 yards, including a personal-best 55-yarder in Iowa’s victory over Minnesota.
So, it’s easy. The cheers needed Nate because, if it’s up to Kaeding to kick a winner against the Gators, he’ll probably split the uprights because he’s proven time and time again that he is as close to automatic as you can be.
And he’s had a plan for his final appearance as a collegian.
“Yeah. You gotta come off the Wisconsin game and set a plan,” said the Hawkeyes’ top scorer in 2003 with 93 points.
“I took a week off and then began to work. I’m ready for the challenge,” he continued. “The most important thing is the game on Thursday. I’ve had a plan to get myself at a peak on game day. We’ll see.”
If history is any indication, “We’ll see” will likely translate into another college football game where Nate Kaeding is near perfect whether that be point after touchdowns, field goals or kickoffs — just don’t count on him to be carrying the ball like he did for a touchdown in Iowa’s game at Ohio State.
“You gotta come off the Wisconsin game and set a plan. I took a week off and then began to work. I’m ready for the challenge. The most important thing is the game on Thursday. I’ve had a plan to get myself at a peak on game day. We’ll see.”
Iowa Senior Nate Kaeding
“You’re not going to see me running any balls, I guarantee that,” Kaeding laughed when told about Florida Coach Ron Zook’s comments about Kaeding and his abilities as a running back.
“They can scout that right corner all they want,” he continued. “The more guys they put there the better.”
Keading’s touchdown run against the Buckeyes was further evidence of just how complete the Coralville native is as a football player. He runs. He kicks. He inspires. He even tackles – remember that touchdown-saving take-down against Arizona State?
“I just do whatever it takes to help us win,” Kaeding said matter-of-factly.
He also appears to be taking in stride his final game in the black-and-gold of his hometown school – although those who saw emotions on Seniors Day in Kinnick Stadium probably know there’s more behind the game face than Kaeding’s letting on.
The runner-up for the 2003 Lou Groza Award said he’s thought a little about the Outback Bowl from the perspective that it’s going to be his last game as an Iowa Hawkeye.
“It’s going to be bittersweet,” he said. “I have some great memories, but the best this is I have no regrets. I helped to bring the program from a two-win season to where we are today, one that has won a Big Ten championship and playing in its second straight January bowl game.”
“But,” he added confidently. “I’m ready to move on.”