October 10. 2008 9:16PM
Talking fans in off the ledge
(Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Bob Bruce introduces his talk show, ‘The Bob Bruce Experience,’ Wednesday at WMT-AM (600) in Cedar Rapids. Bruce also hosts an Iowa football postgame show, taking calls these days from frustrated fans.
Larry from Bondurant was really mad at the Hawkeyes.
It was last season after the Iowa State game, and he dialed into “Sound Off,” the Iowa postgame call-in show on WHO-AM of Des Moines. Larry from Bondurant wanted to know why the Hawkeyes didn’t blitz.
When informed that Iowa did indeed blitz, Larry from Bondurant wanted to know why Iowa didn’t blitz more aggressively.
Larry from Bondurant wanted his pound of radio flesh. “Sound Off” co-host Jon Miller wasn’t about to give it to him.
“Finally, I said, ‘Oh, so you want them to call for the double-secret extra-aggressive blitz then?'” Miller said. “He didn’t like that so well.”
Iowa’s postgame radio shows are the front lines for Hawkeyes angst.
Miller and longtime Iowa sports voice Jim Zable run the show for “Sound Off,” which goes for more than three hours after the end of Iowa football broadcasts. In Cedar Rapids, WMT-AM talk show host Bob Bruce mans the “Golden Harvest Hawkeye Huddle,” with former Hawkeye defensive back Eric Thigpen and WMT’s Andy Petersen co-hosting.
They take calls from the Larry from Bondurants of the state. They listen to Cyclone Billy (a Hawkeye fan posing as an Iowa State fan, a common theme) and Tommy from Des Moines.
They feel your pain. They feel your joy. But they’re not afraid to use the dump button if you decide to go blue on them.
“I want it to be a reasonably intelligent discussion of what happened on the football field an hour and a half before,” Bruce said. “For the most part it is, but the world we live in means that whenever somebody loses there has to be a reason, there has to be finger-pointing.
“So what it has been for the last three weeks is a finger-pointing show.”
Oh, yeah, the last three weeks.
The Hawkeyes (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten) go into Indiana (2-3, 0-2) today looking to snap a three-game losing streak. You’ve seen the games and you might have called into “Sound Off” and “The Golden Harvest.” Iowa has lost the three games by a grand total of nine points.
You’ve seen games. You’re frustrated. The call-in shows are there for you to vent. Or celebrate, that’s a possibility, too, you know.
“We typically let the callers drive the show,” said Miller, who’s in his fifth year on “Sound Off,” “but that being said, we don’t always agree. I’m going to quit saying we, I don’t always agree and I’m not afraid to tell them that.”
Last week, one of the last callers to “Sound Off,” right about 7 p.m., targeted Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker. The caller ranted. Iowa’s bend-don’t-break defense had to go. Parker had to go.
Miller brought the facts.
Out of Michigan State’s 11 possessions, Miller asked the caller, how many three-and-outs he would you want out of Iowa’s defense. The caller said three. Iowa had five.
“Thanks for calling,” Miller said.
These guys don’t always have the Hawkeyes’ backs, though.
After the Pittsburgh game, Miller, a lifelong fan who owns and publishes “Hawkeye Nation” magazine and Web site, sounded off on “Sound Off.”
“I felt at the time that maybe there was some coaching was involved in that loss and I don’t know that I felt that before,” Miller said. “But I always try to temper myself with the realization that I’m not a football coach, so how could I know that for sure?”
Bruce is also a fervent Hawkeye fan. He sports a Tiger Hawk tattoo on his left shoulder. He also understands it’s easy to tear apart a Hawkeyes performance from the comfort of one’s own living room.
“Coaches saw (quarterbacks) Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi in practice every day last year and this year, I didn’t,” Bruce said. “For me to come on the air and say one should be playing over the other, what do I base that on?
“Instead of defending the program, what I do is say, ‘These are highly paid coaches and clearly somebody believes they know what they’re doing, so let’s just let this play out.’ And that’s not the answer 95 percent of the people want to hear.”
“Sound Off” has Zabel, an optimist’s optimist when it comes to the Hawkeyes. He’s covered Iowa sports for more than 50 years. He did radio play-by-play for the 19 non-winning years Iowa endured before Hayden Fry revived the program. Zabel knows the bad days. By comparison, these are light years from the bad days.
“Jim describes himself as a terminal optimist,” Miller said. “When the calls get negative, I try to take a timeout and ask Jim to tell me about the bad old days. He has lived it and is more optimistic.
“He sees the good in everything and everyone. We could all probably take a few cues from him on that.”
Thigpen, a Hawkeyes defensive back from 1994 through 1998, rides shotgun with Bruce on “The Golden Harvest.” He’s open about his love for Iowa football, but he’s also a fan just like the show’s callers.
He wants callers to understand players are unpaid student-athletes. But he doesn’t sugarcoat things, either.
“It’s talk radio. No one wants to hear the company line,” Thigpen said. “Do I want the Hawkeyes to win every game? Yes, I do. Am I still a part of the Hawkeye program? I will always be a part of the Hawkeye program.
“But being a former Hawkeye and now being a fan, I feel the same way listeners and fans feel like sometimes.”
Thigpen also brings up a very important point.
Larry from Bondurant, you listening?
“Have fun!” he said. “Have fun! Even in an Iowa loss, you still want to boost peoples’ spirits and have fun. I enjoy it and I have a great time. I hope everyone does. It’s supposed to be fun.”
Larry from Bondurant, have fun. You listening?