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. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Lou Gehrig, baseball’s original Iron Horse, once played 2,130 consecutive games, many of them in Yankee Stadium.
Heading into the Dec. 27 New Era Pinstripe Bowl, the Iron Horse of University of Iowa football was defensive back Desmond King with 53 games played from 2013-16. Move over Wally Pipp (research your baseball trivia) and make way for Hawkeye wide receiver Matt VandeBerg.
When VandeBerg started Iowa’s most recent bowl game in Yankee Stadium, it marked his 54th game played as a Hawkeye — a school record. The milestone didn’t happen in the same historic facility where Gehrig played (the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009), but it still makes for an interesting footnote.
“It means I have been here a long time,” said VandeBerg from the media room in Yankee Stadium following Iowa’s 27-20 win over Boston College. “I’m happy I was able to give back to the coaching staff — coach (Kirk) Ferentz and everybody else that gave me the opportunity to come here. Hopefully, the fact I was able to play that many snaps showed I gave back to them the way they gave to me.”
In his final collegiate game, VandeBerg caught one pass for nine yards and returned two punts for a yard. It was the fifth bowl trip for VandeBerg and his first victory after losses in the Outback (2014, 2017), TaxSlayer (2015), and Rose (2016) bowls.
“The feeling is pure elation,” VandeBerg said. “I can’t stop smiling. A lot of hard work was put in for this one game. Obviously you work for every game, but knowing we had waited so long to win a bowl game, it feels good.”
VandeBerg, a native of Brandon, South Dakota, played in 11 games in 2013, catching eight passes for 59 yards. In 12 games as a sophomore in 2014, he caught 14 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. He also returned 12 punts and two kicks.
VandeBerg’s most productive season was as a junior in 2015. He played all 14 games, and as quarterback C.J. Beathard’s primary target, caught 65 passes for 703 yards and four touchdowns. VandeBerg had his first 100-yard receiving game during a 31-17 victory at Iowa State (9-114-1).
His (first) senior season of 2016 opened with a bang. In four games, VandeBerg caught 19 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns. He again torched Iowa State, hauling in seven passes for 129 yards and a 12-yard touchdown against the Cyclones. After the game he proposed in Kinnick Stadium to his now-wife Laura Bulanda.
On Sept. 26, 2016, two days after Iowa’s win at Rutgers, VandeBerg broke a bone in his foot and missed the rest of the season. He received a medical redshirt from the NCAA three months later.
This season the Hawkeyes finished 8-5 overall and VandeBerg was in the starting lineup for all 13 games. He was on the receiving end of 28 Nate Stanley passes for 384 yards and two touchdowns; he also returned 14 punts for 75 yards.
During VandeBerg’s career, he was part of four wins in the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series game against Iowa State, four wins against Minnesota for Floyd of Rosedale, and four wins for the Hy-Vee Heroes Trophy against Nebraska. Iowa also defeated No. 2 Michigan, 14-13, in 2016 and No. 3 Ohio State, 55-24, in 2017.
“There are a lot of good memories I have from this program, but I haven’t stopped to reflect yet,” VandeBerg said. “There were a lot of big moments — obviously the Ohio State game this season, or 2015 getting to swarm over on opposing fields to get trophies, whether it be Wisconsin, Iowa State, or Nebraska.”
In 2015, the Hawkeyes finished the regular season 12-0 before losing on the game’s final play to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game.
VandeBerg finishes his career 10th in Iowa history with 134 receptions and 15th with 1,686 receiving yards. He graduated in May, 2017, and is interested in playing a few seasons in the National Football League.
“I’m going to go train and hopefully I can translate this into the NFL,” said Iowa football’s new Iron Horse.