Iowa Hawkeyes spend day aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt ahead of Holiday Bowl appearance

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz presents a jersey to honorary captain Vincent O'Brien of Bell Plaine during a tour of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Tuesday, December 24, 2019 at the Naval Base Coronado.


By MARC MOREHOUSE | The Gazette | Published: December 25, 2019

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — It really would’ve been a bummer if the Hawkeyes didn’t pick Vincent O’Brien as their honorary captain for Friday’s Holiday Bowl.

The Hawkeyes visited the USS Theodore Roosevelt on Tuesday during this Holiday Bowl week. There was a ceremony for the teams to pick honorary captains from the roster of active service members on the ship. USC, Iowa’s opponent on Friday, was the first to pick its captain. Yes, the Trojans picked a Los Angeles native.

Good thing Vincent O’Brien was on the Roosevelt. The Belle Plaine native is the only Iowan among the crew of 5,000. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz called his name during the presentation. O’Brien didn’t know he was going to be picked, but he is the only Iowan on the ship.

“I graduated from Coe (business degree) and then I wanted an opportunity to travel,” O’Brien said. “I was looking to settling down and starting a family, but before I did, I wanted to do a little traveling.”

The Roosevelt is the fourth Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the United States Navy. O’Brien serves as a nuclear machinist mate (rank is second class petty officer). O’Brien is part of the team of mechanics who run the steam-driven equipment on the ship, including the piece of the deck that lifted the Iowa traveling party (with room to spare) from the open ceremony area to the flight deck where it all happens.

Much like football, everything has its place on a ship. Everyone has a specific duty. Everyone is pulling for the same stuff.

“Everybody is the same, everybody has the same goal,” O’Brien said, basically echoing every football coach ever.

The Roosevelt needs 5,000 sailors. It’s nicknamed “The Big Stick,” after the famous Teddy Roosevelt saying “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” The ship is as long as the Eiffel Tower. It weighs 100,000 tons, which is 50,000 Ford F-150s.

The flight deck is 4 1/2 acres. Airplanes going 150 mph grab what they call “resting wires” and come to a stop in less than 300 feet. They also launch planes from the deck using steam catapults. They go from zero to 160 mph in two seconds.

So yes, this is where Navy happens.

From the flight deck, you can see everything that makes San Diego San Diego, from the ocean to the hillsides and myriad buildings downtown.

Also, during the ceremony, trophies were awarded to one member of each traveling party. The award was given to those who acted in a selfless matter to help the team achieve its goals, which is a huge Navy/military theme. Iowa defensive back Devonte Young was Iowa’s honoree. He has family in the military, so he has insight into what crew members are going through.

Young had a job for the football team this season, lots and lots of special teams work. His job was to do his job, something you’ll like hear on the Roosevelt on a daily basis.

“I never really thought about it like that,” Young said. “I was brought up like that. You put in a lot of effort for your teammates. You can’t worry about accolades.”

Quarterback Nate Stanley chatted for a long time with a Navy officer and his son. Defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon put on a POV camera helmet and walked around joking with teammates and taking literally everything in.

Walk-on running back Keontae Luckett was the Hawkeye picked to try on the fire suit that allows firefighters aboard the ship to stand in flames for 11 minutes.

“This boat is home to 5,000 sailors, it’s a floating city,” Captain Brett Crozier, the Roosevelt’s commanding officer, said. “We have a medical department, dental department, IT department, we have security and police force. We have an airport and do up to 100 takeoffs and landings daily. We’re our own floating city.”

The “TR” is 33-years-old and that makes it older than most of the sailors, including O'Brien.

O’Brien’s wife teaches in Clear Creek-Amana system. He lives in San Diego, but said he gets home quite a bit.

And now he gets to be the Hawkeyes honorary captain in the Holiday Bowl.

“Like football, carrier is a team sport,” Crozier said. “Every sailor, every job on the carrier is essential to what we do. It’s dangerous work. There is no win or lose in this business, you’ve got to win every time because it is a dangerous thing.”

©2019 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
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Members of the Iowa Hawkeyes football team take a tour of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Tuesday, December 24, 2019 at the Naval Base Coronado.

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