July 28, 2006
A funny thing happened Friday afternoon in Coralville when RAGBRAI and its 10,000 participants came rolling in.
The man who casts one of the longest shadows in the state of Iowa these days — University of Iowa Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz — was overshadowed by the meeting of two native Texans: UI quarterback Drew Tate and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
Ferentz and Tate presented Armstrong with a replica black and gold Hawkeye football jersey with the number seven and “Armstrong” printed on the back – an athletic icon that Armstrong can add to the seven yellow jerseys already in his wardrobe.
RAGBRAI director T.J. Juskiewicz introduced Ferentz to the riders and onlookers, many who wore free yellow and black bandanas distributed by volunteers at Morrison Park.
“Considering the odds he has overcome…it’s just absolutely unbelievable,” Ferentz said to the crowd. “I think we all agree that Lance has been a great inspiration.”
After the thunderous applause Ferentz received, he prepared the multitude for another.
“I know you didn’t come to see me,” Ferentz said, and he led the cheering as Armstrong took the podium clad in a white t-shirt and black Iowa hat.
After joking about buying a house in Iowa, Armstrong said, “It’s hard to rival this type of hospitality.”
“I’m going to start next year with my back tire on the West side (of the state) and end with my front tire on the East side,” Armstrong vowed.
Tate said after the presentation that he got to chat with Armstrong for a little while beforehand, but their discussion wasn’t about cycling, Iowa or Texas.
“We talked about football,” Tate said. “He knew who I was and he knew who Coach Ferentz was. I think he’s just a college football fan in general.”
Tate wasn’t sure if he swayed Armstrong, a long-time University of Texas football fan, towards the Hawkeyes, but the pair – who could pass for cousins with their similar height, build and square jaw – got some one-on-one time that most college athletes aren’t afforded.
The only thing that Tate, Ferentz and Armstrong’s shadows didn’t cover was the sun. The sweaty and sunburned crowd packed the park and baked in the heat to watch the presentation, which also included Iowa cheerleaders, dance team members and Herky.
The cheerleaders replaced the `Let’s go Hawks” chant with a “Let’s go Lance” and when Coraville mayor Jim Fausett asked the crowd if they were having fun, he followed it with, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Still, the most attention was focused on Armstrong. He encouraged the crowd to influence the direction of cancer research and Fausett presented him with a key to city – which Armstrong said he would use to get out of jail or into the bank.
He implored the crowd to “join the army and ask hard questions” before remarking that his reception in Iowa was much better than his reception last week in France.
“It’s been amazing,” Armstrong said.
By Gregg Found UI Sports Marketing