TAMPA — New Year’s morning brought Chamber of Commerce weather, provided it was the Chamber of Commerce for a Papuan rainforest. Afternoon was for lovers of wide-open spaces: Iowa cornfields, Louisiana bayous ... and the upper decks at Raymond James Stadium.
But the 28th annual Outback Bowl prevailed nonetheless. The rain went away, eventually, and LSU defeated Iowa, eventually, 21-14, in what I rate as the eighth-best Outback ever played, maybe seventh best. If you’d like to see my rankings, 1 through 28, seek professional help.
Without a Michigan player or helmet flying backward through the air, as we marked the first birthday of Jadeveon Clowney’s smash hit for the ages and Outback history (Why he was not voted game MVP still escapes me), Tampa’s grand old game bravely battled the elements.
LSU sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, voted Outback MVP, rushed for a career-high 216 yards and two touchdowns and a stout Tigers defense shut down the Hawkeyes.
Oh, and the SEC is better than the Big Ten, again.
For Les Miles and LSU, the win a brought a school-record fourth consecutive 10-win season.
Iowa players, having overcome a lot to gather eight victories and this trip to Florida, joined hands as they walked toward the tunnel. It’s all about huddling for warmth when you head back to Iowa City, where Wednesday’s high was around 12 degrees, with snow.
That’s not the biggest plus of Outback week. It’s about the camaraderie, two teams coming together. It’s about Beach Day, or Busch Gardens Day. And it’s about the rightfully fabled team welcome dinner, where the clubs devoured 750 pounds of sirloin steak, 900 pounds of ribs, 40 gallons of Diablo Sauce, 400 pounds of baked potatoes and, by accident, two Bucs GM candidates in town for interviews.
There was no Clowney Moment, but there were morsels to justify this game’s remaining presence here on Earth. A good thing, too, because according to one Outback news release, this year’s contest was televised in 144 countries, though it might have been 143. I heard they were fighting over the remote in Luxembourg.
It’s small world after all, and, more important, we’re all in this together. Nothing proved it more than a moment in the third quarter. LSU led 4-0 when Tigers freshman Anthony Jennings, making his first college start in place injured Zach Mettenberger, threw a pass that was picked off by Iowa junior safety John Lowdermilk, his first college interception. He returned it 72 yards for a touchdown.
Actually, he returned it like 71˝ yards before casually letting go off the ball in what he thought was the LSU end zone, only it wasn’t, as a replay showed. Lowdermilk’s score was wiped out and the ball was placed at the LSU 1. Lowdermilk, the son of former NFL center Kirk Lowdermilk, sat down on the Iowa bench, the chowderhead crown perched firmly on his head.
Who didn’t feel bad for the kid?
“That’s not Iowa Hawkeye football,” Lowdermilk said. “It was just embarrassing for myself, my family and my team. … It’s not the person or player I am. I really regret it and I apologize.”
Teammates came over and patted him on his shoulder pads — that is, until Iowa failed to score from the 1 on either first-and-goal or second-and-goal. Guys began to back off as if Lowdermilk was radioactive. Then Iowa’s Mark Weisman powered in for a touchdown. Knowing it was now officially safe, everyone returned to Lowdermilk’s sides.
“I was just so happy Mark scored,” Lowdermilk said.
Pass the Diablo Sauce.
P.S. I voted Clowney MVP this year, too.