With each lowering of his shoulder, the unlikely legend of Mark Weisman gained steam.
Legend may seem dramatic, but it’s the product of a unique cocktail; the embodiment of the region’s blue-collar values in a likable football underdog, and an accompanying tidal wave of social media diffusion from a semi-desperate fan base over the course of an otherwise unremarkable afternoon.
The first part is all Weisman.
There are two endangered species that have been known to flourish at Iowa in the Ferentz era: walk-ons and fullbacks. Weisman is a running back by pure circumstance, a fullback by trade.
And not the kind of fullback who longs for the day he’ll magically morph into the shifty running back whose spotlight he helps create with blocking schemes he is destined to feel in his joints as the years pass along with his place in fans’ consciousness.
"I love contact. I choose not to juke, whether it's because I don't have the juke moves or not - I like contact," Weisman said (via The Republic).
Suburban Chicago upbringing be damned, he is rural Iowa in football cleats.
The fans role is more complicated.
Iowa fans have the classic flyover-state chip on their shoulder. For a fan base that has experienced arguably the most successful ten year stretch in their program’s history—three consecutive top-eight finishes, two Big Ten titles and a BCS victory in the 2010 Orange Bowl—there is seemingly perpetual unrest.
It appears to be a fan base constantly at odds with its place in the national, let alone Big Ten, hierarchy. On one hand, there is the ever-present belief Iowa can reach the heights of perennial national players like Michigan and Ohio State, which results in online chatter and bar stool conjecture about the heat of Kirk Ferentz’s seat.
On the other hand, the same people calling for the job of a coach they feared would jettison them for the NFL on numerous occasions, are prone to overrating players who would never see the field for the programs they fancy their equals.
There is nothing wrong with that. And with the otherworldly misfortune at the running back position it is especially justified in the case of Weisman.
So it was on Saturday, a proud Big Ten program hosting an in-state rival, in the loosest sense of the word rival, and a walk-on fullback igniting a social media fire through the act of trucking the defensive backfield of a FCS school.
The reaction to Weisman’s proficiency and bruising style was initially tongue-in-cheek overstatement.
Weisman for Heisman!!!
As the game wore on and Weisman continued to punish the UNI defense, the reaction turned into completely serious overstatement.
He’s a young Mike Alstott!
Even Hawkeye legend and radio commentator Ed Podolak was making comparisons to Shonn Greene before the game was over.
What was it about Weisman’s 113-yard performance against a physically overmatched FCS team that elevated the narrative from face-value enjoyment to genuine comparison of a walk-on fullback to the running back that owns perhaps the greatest single season in Iowa Football history?
It is likely the reality of lowered expectations at a position we’ve seen decimated for the better part of a decade.