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September 18, 2012

Tuesdays with Torbee

"I only mention it because sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero, 'cause, what's a hero? Sometimes, there's a man. Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude."

--The Big Lebowski

Iowa found their dude, the man for the right place and time, and none too soon either.

While Damon Bullock lay motionless on the Kinnick turf Saturday afternoon - the seemingly billionth or so Hawkeye running back to be knocked out of play - I turned to my seatmate and said "Wouldn't it be so Iowa-like for one of these backups to emerge as an amazing player?"

I had youngsters Greg Garmon or Mike Malloy in mind. But injury and illness (surprise!) erased them from the plan as well.

And Iowa had something even more "Iowa-like" in mind than a freshman running back coming in to save the day. No, it would take a hammer-like fullback walk on, lined up in a jumbo package, to provide the spark and enthusiasm seemingly on the verge of extinction.

Mark Weisman's remarkable path from afterthought to sudden star has been documented well over the past several days. But while his emergence has certainly meant a lot for the team, I'm not sure it doesn't mean even just a little bit more to Iowa fans.

All of last season, and through the first two games and a quarter of the third this season, Iowa fans have been looking for a feel-good story. Too often, it felt like the Hawkeyes were treating games more like business than, well, games. It's not that they weren't working hard. It wasn't that they lacked talent. But often, it just didn't look like they were having FUN.

The Hawkeyes were in desperate need of a spark. Who would play with an edge like Hawkeye greats of the past like Bob Sanders, Matt Roth and Bryan Bulaga?

Enter Weisman.

Watching the nimble-footed fullback juke, jive and then flat plow over anything in his way, an infectious sense of fun spread from the field up into the stands. Incredulous smiles and high fives broke out throughout Kinnick with every blow the Air Force transfer delivered.

As I've written in this space several times this season, people can be patient with a re-building project if the product they are watching is exciting. The excitement meter was hovering near zero after the white-knuckle victory over Northern Illinois and a grinding, gut-punch loss to Iowa State.

There was a palpable sense of anxiety by Iowa fans in and around Kinnick, pretty much until the point Weisman started running over Panthers.

Too often lately, the well-worn phrases "Next Man In" and "Bullies of the Big Ten" felt like relics of a bygone era of Hawkeye football. But Weisman's story fits that script perfectly.

That isn't to say the days of worry are over for Hawkeye fans. Running back attrition continues at an alarming pace, and for the third week in a row it took a full quarter for the young defense to find its legs.

And there's certainly no guarantee Weisman will be able to replicate his feats of strength going forward in Big Ten games. It would be unfair to heap that type of expectation on him.

But for one sunny Saturday when a spark was needed, he was the man, the dude. The right guy at the right time. And that sure was fun.

Follow me on Twitter @ToryBrecht and follow the 12 Saturdays podcast on Twitter @12Saturdays


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