Hate is a strong word. At least that's what my mom used to tell me when I was younger. That doesn't stop members of the sporting world from using the four-letter word. Yankees fans will tell you that they hate the Red Sox. Until recently, Cleveland hated LeBron James. And Pat Fitzgerald hates Iowa. Or so we've been told.
In 2010, Northwestern running back Adonis Smith said on camera that Fitz "hates them. I know that for a fact. He hates Iowa." Fitzgerald will never admit it, but he does have good reason to hate the Hawkeyes.
In 1995, Fitzgerald broke his leg against Iowa and was unable to play in NU's Rose Bowl appearance. After the game an Iowa fan allegedly sent Fitzgerald a stuffed monkey to signify that the Hawkeyes were the monkey on his back.
Back when Fitzgerald was a freshman at Northwestern, head football coach Gary Barnett decided to create a rather one-sided rivalry with Iowa. Every season he placed a huge emphasis on beating the Hawkeyes. And it worked. Before Fitzgerald's freshman season, NU had dropped 19 straight to Iowa. Since then, the Cats have won the majority of their meetings with Iowa.
Fitzgerald himself owns a 5-3 record over the Hawkeyes as head coach of the Wildcats. And he takes pride in continuing the rivalry his old coach started.
"We weren't competitive against Iowa for a long time," he said on Monday. "We became competitive since 1995. Before that the games were irrelevant. Now this has become a pretty darn good rivalry."
Iowa fans probably don't agree. They refuse to consider Northwestern a rival. But they have no problem returning any hate. However, the hatred between these programs has diminished a bit since both teams started struggling. The contempt heading into this week doesn't seem nearly as intense as it was in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, and as both programs have become less relevant, the "rivalry" factor has cooled off.
Part of that might be because Fitz is trying to cool things down externally after Smith's comments. Since then, little has been uttered about the rancor that still clearly exists internally between Northwestern and Iowa. In fact, Fitz had only great things to say about Iowa and its fan base on Monday.
"They have great fans," he said. "I'm incredibly supportive of the Hawkeyes."
But no matter how hard Fitz tries to hide it, the hate between these two programs is still palpable. That much will become apparent again on Saturday.
In the words of our generation's greatest recording artist ...
Players gonna play, play, play, play, play and the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.