2002 Iowa football team returns to Iowa City for 20-year reunion

The squad was the first head coach Kirk Ferentz led to a Big Ten Championship.


Iowa’s Brad Banks gets caught up by Minnesota defender Ben West. Iowa beat Minnesota, 45-21, on November 16, 2002.(Curtis Lehmkuhl/The Daily Iowan)

Chloe Peterson, Sports Editor

Former Iowa quarterback Brad Banks remembers the 2002 Hawkeye football season like it was yesterday.

The 2002 runner-up for the Heisman Trophy led the Hawkeyes to an 11-2 record and a Big Ten Championship. Ferentz has only won two conference titles during his 24-year tenure at Iowa.

Now, the 2002 team is back in Iowa City for a 20-year reunion. The team will be honored during Iowa’s game against Michigan on Saturday.

“It’s super, super special that it’s a 20-year reunion,” Banks said. “And it feels like it was yesterday. You know, a lot of guys are in town, and it’s 120 with families, so it’s gonna be an exciting weekend.”

Banks will also serve as the Hawkeyes’ honorary captain against Michigan, walking out to the coin toss with current captains Riley Moss, Jack Campbell, Sam LaPorta, and Kaevon Merriweather.

The 2002 Iowa football team started its season in a similar fashion to the 2022 squad. The Hawkeyes won their first two games against Akron and Miami (OH), but dropped the annual Cy-Hawk game to Iowa State, 36-31.

But that loss didn’t discourage the Hawkeyes.

“Anytime you deal with a setback, you look for ways to better yourself and not let it happen again,” Banks said. “I know for me personally, it was, ‘Hey, let’s fix those mistakes.’”

The 2002 Hawkeyes didn’t drop another regular season game after their loss to the Cyclones.

Iowa flew through its eight-game Big Ten schedule undefeated. The then-No. 13 Hawkeyes even took down the then-No. 8 Michigan Wolverines, 34-9, at “The Big House” in Ann Arbor.

“We were young kids at the time, and all you hear is about ‘The Big House’ and how loud it is and how big it is and how good they are,” former Iowa offensive lineman Robert Gallery said. “And to go in there and do it the way we did, it was obviously a huge moment for all of us. Kind of, I’d say a statement win against a big time program to show, ‘Hey, we’re here too, we’re pretty good.”

Iowa went 1-10 in Gallery’s first year with Hawkeyes in 1999 — which was also Ferentz’s first year as head coach. Iowa had its first winning season under Ferentz in 2001, when the Hawkeyes went 7-5. For Gallery, capping his college career with an 11-2 record and Big Ten Championship was a satisfying moment.

But he didn’t realize how special his final season was until fellow Iowa students starting asking for autographs.

“As the season got later, we thought, ‘Oh wait, we are pretty good. Oh, there’s people hanging out at the dining hall to get autographs.’ Like, there was this whole kind of dynamic change,” Gallery said. 

The 2002 Hawkeyes were crowned conference champions based on their undefeated regular season record — the league didn’t introduce the Big Ten Championship Game until 2011. 

Following the regular season, Iowa was picked to head to the Orange Bowl in Miami — the second-most prestigious bowl the Hawkeyes have played in during Ferentz’s tenure.

Iowa went up against Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Carson Palmer and USC in the 2003 Orange Bowl. The Hawkeyes fell to the Trojans, 38-17, to cap off the season.

While every player from the 2002 Hawkeye football team left Iowa City, Ferentz has stuck around.

“You think of other programs, and the turnover of coaches and the types of coaches that have been in there,” Gallery said. “For me, it’s [to be able to] come back, you know, to be able to sit down with him, spend 45 minutes. It’s so genuine, it’s not a coach just checking a box that X player is back, it’s a genuine friendship. 

Ferentz’s coaching scheme has also been consistent in his 24 years with the Hawkeyes.

Matt Leinart was Palmer’s backup in the 2003 Orange Bowl game. Following his time with the Trojans and in the NFL, Leinart made a career out of watching college football. He travels around the country as a co-host of FOX’s weekly college football pregame show “Big Noon Kickoff.”

“He’s legendary,” Leinart said of Ferentz. “He’s a Hall of Famer. He sticks to his style and it wins, you know, and that’s the thing that I love about him, I respect about him. They’re physical, they can run the ball, they’ll play action, you know, they’ll do enough on offense.”

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