I think now I understand.
Why does Cyclone Nation need
further convincing? Why are so many Cyclone fans like Natalie Wood’s character
in the classic film Miracle on 34th Street, still not
believing in Santa Claus despite the fact she’s having dinner with him that
night? Why do they have to be practically begged to sell 20,000 season tickets
in football, or sellout a game at Jack Trice Stadium against an opponent other
than Nebraska or Iowa?
For over five years now I have
searched for the answer to those questions. Three seasons ago, when we started
this website and magazine, I came up close with this phenomena and heard first
hand from those at the Jacobson Building frustrated by it. How is that a winning
football program with at least 60,000 alumni – not to mention their families,
friends, and fellow fans – within driving distance can’t draw standing-room-only
crowds each week in a 45,000-seat stadium?
I think now I understand.
Having sat through that 209-minute
championship tease that Iowa State called a football game on Saturday, I can now
honestly say I feel your pain. As a lifelong Michigan fan I didn’t think I could
experience a feeling of emptiness like losing Bo Schembechler’s last game on a
terrible officiating call in the 1990 Rose Bowl, Chris Webber’s infamous timeout
in the 1993 Final Four, or the gut-wrenching Hail Mary pass Kordell Stewart
threw to Brian Westbrook in 1994.
But this hurt more.
I didn’t go to school at Iowa
State, nor am I intimately related to anyone else who did. My entire genealogy
consists of Hawkeyes and Wolverines. I wasn’t converted to the cardinal-and-gold
via Johnny Orr as a child. Heck, I’m not even what most of you would consider to
be an ISU fan.
Nevertheless, I can’t ever recall
leaving a sporting event with the nagging sense of longing I left Ames with
following Missouri’s beyond-description 17-14 overtime win. When A.J. Kincade
intercepted Bret Meyer in the endzone to clinch it, it took me several moments
to take a breath, let alone get up out of my seat. I sat motionless in the press
box long after all of my media contemporaries departed for the post-game
presser. I was in shock and awe.
The only thing I remember until
making it to my car was Steve Waters, former publisher of Cyclone
Illustrated, putting his arm around me and saying something to console me. I
never picked up on what he said.
I was simply as devastated as any
of you fans could possibly be. The level of my anguish surprised even me. At our
homestead, we’re all Maize-and-Blue, all the time. That hasn’t changed, and
never will. Most of my friends thought I would go Clone once I started
Cyclone Nation, and now say they are impressed that it hasn’t happened to
the degree they previously thought. In all candor, that’s probably hurt our
sales to some extent.
Yet this was different, and I think
it’s because it was personal.
I don’t have a personal
relationship with anybody in Ann Arbor. I don’t do a radio show in Michigan. My
church, family, friends are all here, as is my means of commerce. In short, I’ve
become what I thought I never would when I moved here in 1995—a real,
I felt so much empathy for Dan McCarney, Chris Ash, Tony Alford, Terry Allen, Barney Cotton, John Skladany,
Mike Grant, DeMontie Cross, Jack Whitver, Jordan Carstens, Bob Montgomery, Ben
Bruns, Eric Heft, John Walters, Tom Kroeschell, Mike Green, Betty (the lady who
answers the phone at Mac’s office whose last name I don’t know), Bruce Van De
Velde, Wayne Morgan, Bill Fennelly, and anybody else involved with the athletic
department I know.
I felt so much empathy for good
friends of mine like Dave Sanderson, Chad Winterboer, Kurt Cole, and Brian
Patterson. Lifelong Cyclone fans who had waited through years of 50-point
blowouts for a moment like this. I felt so much empathy for boosters like Mike
Lacey, Tom Broderick, and Mark Hill, who believe so much in this program that
they devote their time and resources to support it.
I felt so much empathy for so many
of you I have conversed with via message board, open phone time on the radio, or
face-to-face at Greater Des Moines Cyclone Club events.
I would imagine most of those folks
are just now getting over this loss. Even my good buddy who came to the game
with me, who is a die-hard Hawkeye, was crushed following the defeat.
How did this happen? How did a
money kicker blow a field goal from the six-yard line with a minute left? Were
the laces out? How did they not score in overtime with a first-and-goal from the
I wish I knew. I wish I could tell
you that it was because I sensed a lack of fire on the Iowa State sideline from
the start, which I did. Not that ISU wasn’t intense, but it almost seemed as if
it were trying not to get too high for the game instead of playing loosely.
That’s not uncommon for a young team, which is used to being the underdog,
trying to take the next step
I wish I could tell you it was
because they couldn’t run the football, but they’ve won several games this
season they struggled to run the football in. I wish I could blame it on
conservative play calling, but just about every coach in America would’ve played
it safe on the final drive of regulation just like the Cyclones did. Even Ed
Cunningham said so on ABC. You run down the clock, make the other team use their
timeouts, and then bury the chip shot to win the game. ISU did everything right,
until the ball left Bret Culbertson’s foot. The play that blew up the drive in
overtime was the option, which ISU had blown up Missouri’s defense with more
than once that afternoon, so you can’t blame ISU for calling it again.
I wish I could tell you it was
because the fans didn’t do their job. However, considering how cold and wet the
conditions were, and the fact the students were away, I actually think 40,000 is
a pretty good crowd.
Yet none of these things are why
ISU lost on history’s doorstep—again. And that’s why I am beginning to
understand. Steve Paris’ thrilling fumble recovery, James Wright’s big catch
over the middle, and the defense holding the Tigers to just a field goal in
overtime; all of these big plays down the stretch ultimately produced nothing.
It was almost as if the cruel hand of fate swooped down on the Skunk River and
said here, but no further.
The Big 12 Championship game? Come
on, Iowa State doesn’t get that far. Beating Florida State on national
television? Come on, Iowa State doesn’t get to do that, so Seneca Wallace is
tackled – perhaps – at the goal-line. Beating tradition-rich Alabama in a bowl
game? Nah, Iowa State can’t do that so how about four missed field goals to rip
your heart out? The Final Four? Nope, instead you can play Michigan State
essentially on the road and get introduced to a new call known as the blarge
just when momentum is going your way.
For every Insight.com Bowl there is
a Hampton. For every exhilarating win over Iowa there is a blowout loss to
Oklahoma. Beat Marquette, which was in the Final Four the previous year, and
then lose to the State University of New Jersey in front of the nation at
Madison Square Garden. Tim Floyd defied Cyclone karma for a while by winning the
last Big 8 Tournament title in 1996, until he was rewarded with the worst
winning percentage by a head coach in NBA history.
Every time the Cyclones are poised
to reach the pinnacle they get punished, and usually in a cruel and unusual
It was almost eerie when I got home
and watched the television replay because ABC used the occasion to discuss all
the times since 1912 Iowa State fell short just when it was about to win a
conference crown in football. Were they prescient? How could they know all of
those montages were building towards another chilling chapter in that dubious
They knew because they were at Iowa
State. It always happens to Iowa State.
And that’s what makes those damned
Cyclones so endearing to so many of you, while turning so many cynical others
away in exasperation. It’s why 35,000 of you will spends lots of money to go to
Phoenix for a bowl game, but then the athletic department has to worry about
televising the season-opener against Northern Iowa for fear of negatively
impacting their gate.
Rooting for Iowa State is like
waiting on the Lord. It’s a study in patience and requires enduring faith. To do
both asks the believer to trust in the things not yet seen, but you just know
the payoff will be magnificent. You only hope you’re still right side up when it
finally does happen.
The McCarney Way
Your team just blew a once in a
lifetime opportunity in its own stadium on network television. The raw emotion
of the moment is still prevalent. You’re standing in the locker room talking to
the Cyclone Radio Network about it before you’ve had a chance to wind down with
a shower and a reassuring hug from your family.
How do you respond?
Well, I can tell you what I might
say, and chances are it wouldn’t be suitable for family viewing and require me
to make a burnt offering afterwards for atonement. Thank Heaven the head
football coach at Iowa State is a more composed man than I am.
I marveled at how Mac was able to
keep perspective, despite the disappointment, when discussing the game. He was
hurt, and hurting for his players and coaches, yet he still maintained a
big-picture outlook. It’s not easy at that time to remember that five weeks ago
you and your program were left for dead by so many know-it-alls like me, and now
five weeks later you’re headed to your fourth bowl game in five years. It’s not
easy at that time to remember that three-fourths of this team will return next
season and it arrived a year ahead of schedule when it was picked for the
cellar. It’s not easy to be thankful at a time that you feel like sulking.
Yet that’s what makes Mac the Mac
we all know and love. He may not reinvent the wheel every fall Saturday, or come
up with a scheme of tactical brilliance. However, he is a natural born leader
blessed with the sunniest disposition I’ve ever been around for someone in such
a high-pressure job.
Those are the two qualities, along
with his work ethic, that have made him successful at a school previously known
as a coaching graveyard. And those attributes are what led him towards a season
that should end with his peers naming him Big 12 Coach of the Year.
All-Big 12 Team
Now that the regular season has
been completed it’s time to select the best of the best in 2004.
QUARTERBACK—Jason White (Oklahoma,
RUNNING BACK—Cedric Benson (Texas,
RUNNING BACK—Adrian Peterson
WIDE RECEIVER—Todd Blythe (Iowa
WIDE RECEIVER—Jarrett Hicks (Texas Tech, So.)
WIDE RECEIVER—Mark Clayton
OFFENSIVE LINE—Vince Carter
OFFENSIVE LINE—Jammal Brown
OFFENSIVE LINE—Sam Mayes (Oklahoma State, Sr.)
OFFENSIVE LINE—Justin Blalock
OFFENSIVE LINE—Daniel Loper (Texas
DEFENSIVE LINE—Jonathan Jackson
DEFENSIVE LINE—David McMillan
DEFENSIVE LINE—Dan Cody (Oklahoma,
DEFENSIVE LINE—Mike Montgomery
(Texas A&M, Sr.)
LINEBACKER—Derrick Johnson (Texas,
LINEBACKER—Barrett Ruud (Nebraska,
LINEBACKER—Justin Crooks (Baylor,
DEFENSIVE BACK—Ellis Hobbs (Iowa
DEFENSIVE BACK—Brodney Pool
DEFENSIVE BACK—Charles Gordon
DEFENSIVE BACK—Jamie Thompson
(Oklahoma State, Jr.)
PUNTER—Dan Sepulveda (Baylor,
KICKER—Mason Crosby (Colorado, So.)
RETURNER—Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma,
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR—Cedric
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE
YEAR—Derrick Johnson, Texas
COACH OF THE YEAR—Dan McCarney,
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR—Adrian
My Top 25
Here is my ballot this week.
1. Southern California
week—1…This week—beat Notre Dame, 41-10…Next week—at UCLA
2. Oklahoma (11-0)…Last week—2…This
week—idle…Next week—Colorado (7-4) in Big 12 Championship game.
3. Auburn (11-0)…Last week—3…This
week—idle…Next week—#9 Tennessee (9-2) in the SEC Championship game.
4. Utah (11-0)…Last week—4…This
week—idle…Next week—season over.
week—5…This week—idle…Next week—at Southern Mississippi (6-4).
6. Texas (10-1)…Last week—6…This week—beat
Texas A&M, 26-13…Next week—season over.
7. Virginia Tech
week—7…This week—beat Virginia, 24-10…Next week—at # 11 Miami,
week—9…This week—beat Cincinnati, 70-7…Next week—at Tulane
9. Tennessee (9-2)…Last week—11…This week—beat
Kentucky, 37-31…Next week—#3 Auburn in the SEC Championship game.
10. Georgia (9-2)…Last week—12…This week—beat
Georgia Tech, 19-13…Next week—season over.
11. Miami, Fla.
week—8…This week—idle…Next week—#7 Virginia Tech (9-2).
12. Michigan (9-2)…Last week—10…This
week—idle…Next week—season over.
13. Boise State
week—13…This week—beat Nevada, 58-21…Next week—season over.
14. Iowa (9-2)…Last week—14…This
week—idle…Next week—season over.
15. LSU (9-2)…Last week—17…This week—beat
Arkansas, 43-14…Next week—season over.
week—19…This week—idle…Next week—season over.
17. Florida State
week—20…This week—idle…Next week—season over.
week—NR…This week—beat West Virginia, 16-13…next week—at South Florida (4-6).
19. Arizona State
week—15…This week—lost to Arizona, 34-27…Next week—season
20. Boston College
week—16…This week—lost to Syracuse (43-17)…Next week—season
21. Virginia (8-3)…Last week—18…This week—lost to
Virginia Tech, 24-10…Next week—season over.
22. Florida (7-4)…Last week—NR…This
week—idle…Next week—season over.
23. West Virginia
week—21…This week—lost to Pittsburgh, 19-16…This week—season
24. Texas Tech
week—NR…This week—beat Oklahoma State, 31-15…Next week—season
25. Toledo (8-3)…Last week—NR…This week—beat
Bowling Green, 49-41…Next week—Miami, Ohio (8-3) in the MAC Championship
Dropped out: #22 Texas A&M (7-4), #23 Oklahoma State
(7-4), #24 Bowling Green (8-3), #25 UTEP (8-3).
#26 Miami, Ohio (8-3),
#27 Texas A&M (7-4), #28 Oklahoma State (7-4), #29 Navy (8-2), #30 Colorado
With so many candidates even, why
not give it to the underdog?
1. Alex Smith
(QB-Utah)…His team is
undefeated, and he doesn’t have nearly the talent at his disposal than the below
signal-callers do. Besides, the below signal-callers get to play for the
national title, so think of this as a consolation prize for the Utes’ program.
2. Matt Leinart
performance (400 yards/five touchdowns) against the Irish in primetime moves him
up, but will it be enough to win it like it was for predecessor Carson Palmer
two years ago?
3. Cedric Benson
holding that Sooner loss against him. He’s had a fantastic career and season.
His numbers are better than a certain freshman from a rival school, and defenses
key on him more.
4. Jason White
hurt him because Leinart got center stage all to himself and performed well. Now
gets a primetime spotlight against the Buffaloes. Can he redeem himself in
Waiting List: Adrian Peterson (RB-Oklahoma), Braylon Edwards (WR-Michigan), Stefon Lefors (QB-Louisville).
Will beating Tennessee a second
time be enough to cause a shakeup at the top of the BCS? I doubt it, but we’ll
find out in a week. By the way, the MAC is going to cash in this holiday season
with as many as six bowl bids!
Orange (BCS #1 vs. BCS
#2)…Oklahoma vs. USC
Rose (Big Ten #1 vs.
Sugar (SEC #1 vs. ACC
#1)…Auburn vs. Miami, Fla.
Fiesta (BCS vs. Big East
#1)…Utah vs. Pittsburgh
Capitol One (Big Ten #2 vs. SEC
#2)…LSU vs. Iowa
Cotton (Big 12 #2 vs. SEC
#3)…Texas vs. Georgia
Gator (ACC #2 vs. Big East
#2)…Florida State vs. West
Outback (SEC #4 vs. Big Ten
#3)…Tennessee vs. Wisconsin
#Liberty (C-USA #1 vs. MWC
#1)…Louisville vs. Boise
^@Music City (Big Ten #6 vs.
Peach (ACC #3 vs. SEC
#5)…Virginia Tech vs.
Sun (Big Ten #5 vs. Pac-10
#3)…Purdue vs. Oregon State
Continental Tire (Big East #4 vs.
ACC #4)…Syracuse vs. North Carolina
*Emerald (At-large vs. MWC
#3)…Wyoming vs. Navy
Holiday (Big 12 #3 vs. Pac-10
#2)…Texas A&M vs.
@Houston (Big 12 vs.
SEC)…UTEP vs. Iowa State
Alamo (Big Ten #4 vs. Big 12
#4)…Ohio State vs. Texas
*Silicon Valley (WAC #2 vs.
At-Large)…Fresno State vs.
Independence (Big 12 #5 vs.
SEC)…Oklahoma State vs.
Insight (Big East #3 vs. Pac-10
#4)…Boston College vs. UCLA
Motor City (MAC #2 vs. Big Ten
#7)…Minnesota vs. Miami,
$MPC Computers (WAC #1 vs. ACC
#6)…Georgia Tech vs. Akron
Hawaii (C-USA vs.
+Fort Worth (Big 12 vs.
C-USA)…UAB vs. Troy
*%Las Vegas (MWC #2 vs.
At-large)…New Mexico vs.
GMAC (MAC #1/2 vs. C-USA
#2)…Toledo vs. Memphis
Tangerine (ACC #5 vs. Big
12)…Virginia vs. Colorado
New Orleans (Sun Belt #1 vs. C-USA
#4)…North Texas vs.
*—No bowl-eligible Pac-10 team
$—No bowl-eligible WAC team
#—Liberty Bowl gets first pick for losing Utah
^—No bowl-eligible Big Ten team
@—No bowl-eligible SEC team
+—No bowl-eligible Big 12 team
%—No bowl-eligible ACC team
(Steve Deace can be heard on the
radio each weekday in Iowa from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the
Cyclone Radio Network.)