Dec. 25, 2015
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- Big Ten Network: Free Hawkeye Video
- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
By DARREN MILLER
CARSON, Calif. — Nick Bell received the only Christmas gift he wanted: a trip to the StubHub Center to watch the University of Iowa football team practice.
Bell, a letterwinner at running back for the Hawkeyes from 1988-90, was one of five former players to stop by Friday to see Iowa go through drills for the first time in California in preparation for the 2016 Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual.
“It is my Christmas present,” Bell said. “This is my way of making myself happy.”
The roll call of other former Hawkeyes in attendance included Malcolm Christie, Brett Miller, Ramon Ochoa, and Grant Steen.
Bell led Iowa to the 1991 Rose Bowl Game after the Hawkeyes finished 5-6 the previous season in 1989. Playing in the Granddaddy of them all was predicted years earlier. On Jan. 17, 1986, Bell joined Melvin Foster, Merton Hanks, and Tony Stewart on a recruiting visit to Iowa City.
“That is kind of amazing,” Bell said. “We all signed and we all committed to it.”
Together, the group set a goal of winning both the Big Ten Conference and the Rose Bowl. There was a four-way tie for the Big Ten title in 1990 between Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, and Michigan State with 6-2 league records. The Hawkeyes earned the trip to Pasadena.
“We failed to win (the Rose Bowl), but at the end of that season we didn’t have a record like these guys (in 2015),” Bell said. “These guys are phenomenal. It is impressive.”
Bell led the Hawkeyes in rushing in the 1991 Rose Bowl Game, picking up 64 yards on 11 carries and catching three passes for 85 yards. He scored on runs of 15 and 20 yards but Iowa was defeated by Washington, 46-34.
“The fan base is huge and loyal. Coach (Kirk) Ferentz has a knack for getting teams to perform at their best consistently. His coaching staff has a lot to do with that, but the reality is, as a coach, he is an excellent leader. I like his leadership and the fact he is dedicated to the program and football in general.”
Former UI running back
“It was one of the biggest games of my career,” Bell said.
Iowa went to three bowl games from 1987-90, winning the Holiday Bowl against Wyoming in 1987 and losing to North Carolina State in the 1988 Peach Bowl.
Bell was selected in the second round by the Los Angeles Raiders in the 1991 NFL Draft, Hanks was taken in the fifth round by San Francisco, and Stewart in the 11th round by Seattle.
Bell played three seasons with the Raiders, rushing for 853 yards and scoring seven touchdowns. He caught 21 passes and played in three playoff games. On Dec. 28, 1991, Bell carried the ball 20 times for 107 yards during a 10-6 Wildcard Playoff loss at Kansas City.
Bell still watches as many Iowa football games as he can. Two things stick out to him about the Hawkeye program.
“The fan base is huge and loyal,” Bell said. “Coach (Kirk) Ferentz has a knack for getting teams to perform at their best consistently. His coaching staff has a lot to do with that, but the reality is, as a coach, he is an excellent leader. I like his leadership and the fact he is dedicated to the program and football in general.”
Bell was born in California, but grew up in Las Vegas. In three seasons with the Hawkeyes, he rushed for 1,748 yards and 18 touchdowns. Bell compiled most of those statistics as a senior when he gained 1,009 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground and was named co-Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year by league coaches and the Chicago Tribune.
As a sophomore, he set a school record with 13 pass receptions (for 128 yards) at Indiana. (Kevin Kasper tied the record with 13 catches at Ohio State in 1999).
No. 5 Iowa (12-1) and No. 6 Stanford (11-2) will play in the 2016 Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 1, beginning at 4:10 p.m. (CT).
“This team is special and it has done great things,” said Bell, who lives in Orange County, California. “The one thing I would tell them is to have no regrets when you walk off the field. If you do that, win, lose, or draw, it was a success.”