While quarterback Brock Purdy and his unlikely exploits dominated the headlines surrounding the San Francisco 49ers during that playoff run, tight end George Kittle’s consistency cannot be overlooked.
A fifth-round pick by Iowa in 2017, Kittle made minimal fanfare when he joined the 49ers. But he’s turned that insecurity into an NFL star as one of the league’s most dominant tight ends.
A big reason Kittle’s rise seemed so emphatic is, well, his college career hasn’t had much of the same high points as you see on Sundays. While Kittle was instrumental in establishing Iowa’s respected reputation as a tight end, his draft stocks bore little resemblance to recent picks like TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant.
However, there are a few Kittle Iowa moments that stand out — most notably from the 2015 season, in which the Hawkeyes reached the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl.
More:Brock Purdy and George Kittle led the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship game
As Kittle and the 49ers prepare for Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, here are five notable moments from his Iowa career (listed in chronological order).
Nov. 21, 2015: George Kittle sparks Iowa’s division win over Purdue
Despite only having 20 receptions on the season, Kittle led the 2015 roster with six touchdown catches and a Sports Illustrated cover appearance. His 35-yard scoring grab in the third quarter led to the cover picture and gave Iowa a 27-13 lead in its eventual 40-20 win over Purdue. Interestingly, Kittle’s cousin Henry Krieger-Coble got Iowa’s next score midway through the fourth to seal the win.
More:What they say about former Iowa soccer star George Kittle’s exploits in Sunday’s playoff win
November 27, 2015: With Iowa in the national heat, George Kittle ignites the Hawkeyes’ narrow win in Nebraska.
While Iowa held on to college football playoff hopes 11-0, the Hawkeyes entered the 2015 regular season finals in Nebraska and had to deal with a lot of outside criticism regarding their weak schedule. Notably, Colin Cowherd had called Iowa “college football’s fake ID.” Kittle and the Hawkeyes didn’t care. The Iowa tight end snagged a 10-yard TD catch early in the second quarter, resulting in that iconic Iowa photo and a 28-20 victory for the Hawkeyes.
September 17, 2016: George Kittle’s best game comes on a day Iowa would like to erase.
Ironically, Kittle’s best statistical game of college came on a day all Hawkeyes fans want to forget.
Kittle’s only 100-yard game came in Iowa’s 23–21 loss to North Dakota State. He clinched five catches for 110 yards, including a 51-yard grab and a 37-yard catch from backup Nate Stanley.
More:Super Bowl: Insights into George Kittle’s transformation from solid Iowa player to 49ers superstar
September 24, 2016: Another memorable game in Iowa where George Kittle shines.
Kittle, regularly cited as one of the dullest football games in Iowa, found a moment to blossom in the Hawkeyes’ 14-7 win at Rutgers. Kittle finished for 56 yards on just two catches, including a 36-yard TD grab late in the second quarter. Those were Iowa’s only points until the final nine minutes of the game.
More:After a successful season with the San Francisco 49ers, former Iowa Hawkeyes TE George Kittle still finds joy in blocking
Nov. 25, 2016: George Kittle returns with two goals from injury and is preparing for much of the Nebraska roast going forward.
Simply put, Kittle doesn’t like Nebraska. That’s true of most Iowa fans, but especially Kittle. After sustaining an injury at Purdue in 2016 that put the remainder of his season in jeopardy, Kittle made it his mission to come back and make a difference against Nebraska.
He did that by scoring two touchdowns as a weapon on the goal line en route to Iowa’s 40-10 win over the Cornhuskers. That was Kittle’s last game against Nebraska, but not the last time he spoke about Nebraska — as shown here in this 2019 clip with Scott Van Pelt.
Dargan Southard is a sports trends reporter, covering athletics in Iowa for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Dargan_Southard.