The Bard From Glen Ellyn

June 29, 2013

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Matt Bowen spent Monday and Tuesday teaching young football players to become better defensive backs. He easily could have helped them brush up on AP Style, inverted pyramid, and on-air delivery.

Bowen was the second Kirk Ferentz-coached Hawkeye to be drafted when the defensive back was taken by defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft (tight end Austin Wheatley went to New Orleans in the fifth round). Bowen was always more than a football player; he is also a writer and television personality who works for the Chicago Tribune, ESPN, 670 The Score, CSN Chicago, and WGN.

A native of Glyn Ellyn, Ill., Bowen came to the University of Iowa in 1995 as a quarterback who could also play receiver or defensive back. He found a home on the defensive side of the ball, making 222 career tackles (109 as a senior). Bowen was named second team All-Big Ten in 1999, along with Hawkeye running back Ladell Betts.

While he was tackling opponents on college gridirons in Big Ten Conference cities across the Midwest, Bowen was also tackling deadlines as a writer for The Daily Iowan student newspaper. Wherever his professional football career took him — St. Louis, Green Bay, Washington, Buffalo — Bowen would seek out the local newspaper office.

“Every stop in the NFL I went to the editor of the paper and asked if I could write a column for them,” Bowen said. “That led to a lot of opportunities. I got done with my NFL career and went to DePaul University and got a master’s in writing and publishing.”

Bowen earned his first letter at the UI in 1997, seeing action in all 12 games, primarily as a fifth defensive back and a special team’s player. He picked off two passes, returning his first career interception 70 yards for a touchdown during a 62-0 win against Indiana.

As a junior in 1998, Bowen led the Hawkeyes with 92 tackles and was named the team’s defensive MVP against Central Michigan, Iowa State, and Indiana.

He led the team in tackles for a second season as a senior in 1999 and was named captain and co-recipient of the Roy J. Carver Most Valuable Player award.

Bowen arrived in Iowa City in 1995; a year when the Hawkeyes went 8-4 and won the Sun Bowl over Washington, 38-18. During his redshirt freshman season in 1996, Iowa was 9-3 and won the Alamo Bowl over Texas Tech, 27-0. When Bowen was a sophomore, the Hawkeyes won seven games, but fell to Arizona State in the Sun Bowl, 17-7. His final two seasons produced Hawkeye records of 3-8 and 1-10.

“We struggled (in 1999), but I learned so much from that season,” Bowen said. “How to deal with adversity and how to apply that to my life in terms of being a husband, father, family man, and taking care of my sons. You go through ups and downs in life and that’s what football is all about. You take that as a player and you apply it to regular life.”

Despite the 1-10 record in 1999, Bowen knew the Hawkeye program was moving in the right direction under Ferentz.

“The coaching staff was dedicated, and they wanted to teach and instruct,” Bowen said. “I could tell the first time I met coach Ferentz how professional and dedicated he was. He was the right man for the job and a perfect fit for the state of Iowa, to be able to recruit and teach young men and turn them into adults.”

Fourteen years after playing football for the Hawkeyes, Bowen is now explaining the game to fans across the country. Or as he describes:

“Taking plays from Sunday and breaking it down to a level readers can understand. Taking my knowledge of the game, my ability to write, and putting it on a platform for readers to enjoy and dissect.”

If that play involves a former Hawkeye?

“I get real biased toward the ex-Hawks, especially the guys I played with, and the younger guys coming up through the program,” Bowen said. “I try to take care of them a little bit.”

But even the current Hawkeyes in the NFL understand Bowen’s job.

“It’s about what I see on the tape,” Bowen said. “If I see poor technique, that’s going to be put in there.”

Bowen returned to Iowa earlier this week to assist with the fourth LeVar Woods Football Academy in Okoboji. Free time is becoming scarcer for Bowen, who has three sons and a fourth child on its way in six weeks. Still, he tries to get to one Iowa football game a season.

“I’m close to the Iowa program,” Bowen said. “Whenever I cross the Mississippi River I still feel like I’m coming home.”