Iowa's loss to Michigan State at this past weekend's Big 10 Championship brought truth to the old cliché: Football is, in fact, a game of inches.
As the Spartans fought their way through an impressive goal line stand into the end zone to take the lead with less than a minute left in the game, Iowa's dream season and perfect record came to a halt.
Following the loss, Andy Garman, Sports Director at KCCI-TV in Des Moines, shared this video on Twitter, as the packed stands erupted in noise and rose to their feet in a standing ovation of support for the Hawks, who fittingly stood unified hand-in-hand facing the fans.
His sentiment was shared amongst Hawkeye nation, as fans took to social media to show their support for Iowa's storybook season and feelings of pride quickly overrode those of disappointment.
Despite a loss that took Iowa out of playoff contention, the team showed up as they have all season, with a "whatever it takes to get the job done" mentality.
The Hawkeyes' hard-fought performance and indefatigable display of work ethic highlighted the primary reason we care so deeply about college athletics.
ESPN features a daily segment entitled, "Why We Love Sports Today," detailing stories of inspiration, overcoming adversity and demonstrating the power of a sports platform when used for the greater good.
This year's Iowa Hawkeyes are why I love sports today.
They're why I love sports every day.
The persistence, grit and heart they've played with throughout the season represents that how you show up in life matters, both on and off the field.
It wasn't due to a five-star recruiting class or historical dominance. The Hawkeyes didn't storm into the discussion with a string of blowout wins or a Heisman hopeful.
Rather, they carved away, bit by bit, starting the regular season unranked and now heading into the bowl season as the 5th ranked team in the nation.
The Hawkeyes have risen from under the radar, garnering attention in recent weeks as they clinched the Big 10 West, while Kirk Ferentz was named Big 10 Coach of the Year, and Desmond King was named the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year in the Conference.
And yet, their nose to the grindstone approach remains the same.
While the Hawkeyes walked off the field without hardware on Saturday night, their performance on the field is what merited their spot in "the granddaddy of 'em all" on New Year's Day.
The Rose Bowl is a fitting sweet note to cap off what can only be described as a Cinderella season.
Perhaps Ashton Kutcher said it best prior to kickoff on Saturday, when he shared the following message on his Facebook page:
I'd like to send a little message to Hawkeye nation. This year's football team to me represents what it is to be an Iowan, to be a Hawkeye. We may not have the top recruits in the country, but we have a team believes and hard work and supporting one another we can do the impossible. We have a next man up attitude. It's a team that realizes that ones true potential will only be met when we fight on each other's behalf. A team that plays by the rules and wins. If we win tonight I will be happy but regardless of the outcome I will be PROUD!
Aren't we all? See you in Pasadena.