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Penn State v Iowa

Midweek Musings - What Makes a Rivalry?


Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Penn State is #unrivaled.

Or are they?

PSU would love to be considered rivals for either Michigan or Ohio State, but those two have The Makeout Session The Game, and the Lions will forever be a third wheel for those two.

Maryland and Rutgers would love it if Penn State considered them as rivals, but until some success happens on the field, I don’t see it happening.

Michigan State has sort of been the “sure, why not?” answer, as they, too, are third wheeling to UM-OSU. And while I love the Land Grant Trophy, I’ve also never felt a real kinship with the Spartans. I want Penn State to beat them, of course, but I don’t know that I get up any more for the MSU game than any other game.

But you know who really gets me worked up?


I was a quasi-college football fan in the 90s, having just moved to Pennsylvania when I was a kid, and reading about the Nittany Lions in the paper. I didn’t even attend a football game at Beaver Stadium until I was a freshman in 2004, at which point I became enamored with the sport.

So for me, 2004 is my benchmark for games against the Hawkeyes, and the lens through which I view any rivalry.

You wanna know what Penn State-Iowa game was in 2004?


Six to freaking four.

I stood in the rain for several hours, yelling until I was too hoarse to speak, only to watch the Lions’ ineffective offense fail to gain enough yards to even try a game winning field goal.

I’d like to think that day set the basis for my vitriol towards the Hawkeyes.

Then came 2008.

The Lions were rolling, statistically the best team that Penn State has had since I was a fan, and the best since 1994. All they had to do was beat Iowa, but for a whole slew of reasons - no heaters on the sidelines, Darryl Clark being banged up, absurd defensive pass interference penalty - they didn’t.

2009? A 21-10 loss.

2010? A 24-3 loss, which included chants of “We own Penn State” from the Hawkeye faithful.

Then things cooled off. The Lions won a few games, took a few year hiatus, then won some more, including the 2016 41-14 shellacking and the 2017 come-from-behind, fourth quarter, fourth and goal from the four as the number four team in the country classic. The tide had turned, it seemed, and the earlier games had begun to fade from memory.

Then the COVID season happened, and the Hawkeyes capped Penn State’s historic 0-5 start to the season with a 41-21 defeat at Beaver Stadium. This rekindled some things in me, but 2021 was the year that finally did it.

The Lions went up 17-3 early in the second quarter, and were looking to run away with the game when Sean Clifford went down with an injury. And PJ Mustipher went down with an injury. And Iowa fans, coaches, and players all mocked the Lions’ injured players. And still, with a backup quarterback that couldn’t figure out how to snap the ball without a penalty, and with the Lions committing four turnovers, it took Iowa until late in the fourth quarter to finally pull ahead, and then storm the field.

So, yes, for me, Iowa has become - and frankly always was - a natural rival. A team that I never relish playing, as I have too many memories of games going poorly against them, but a team that I always get up for. That, when we do play, I want to defeat so soundly they consider shuttering their program.

Unrivaled? Not for me.

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