Iowa State sports can be bittersweet for fans
I was about to enter kindergarten in the next few months. It was VEISHEA weekend back before Iowa State University ended the celebration because of privileged white kids rioting over their right to party. I don’t know why I was with my grandfather. I was probably behaving badly, amped up on sugar from the cheapest candy possible tossed at me from the parade and he had volunteered to help me walk off some of the energy.
I remember holding his hand, badge on his chest, and marveling at the big trucks and machines parked around this huge concrete structure. They were building what would later become known as Jack Trice Stadium. When you are a 5-year-old boy from a small town surrounded by cornfields, a nearly complete football stadium overloads every electrical circuit in your brain.
I dashed this way and that. I like to believe that I am the first running back to score a game winning touchdown in that stadium. At least the first touchdown a 60 pound, towheaded running back with an imaginary ball in front of an imaginary crowd against an invisible opponent scored.
It is the same field a few months later that I would go to with my other grandfather, my dad, and my brothers to watch the Cyclones take the field. Well, he watched and probably lamented the money wasted on a ticket for me as I tumbled up and down the nearby grassy hill paying absolutely no attention at all to the game being played a few feet away. I know ISU beat Air Force in a close match up, 17-12, and Earl Bruce was coach, but after that the events of the day are lost in a haze of grass stains and repeatedly asking my grandfather to take me to the restroom after guzzling more pop and popcorn and hot dogs than a human gut can contain. There is no pain greater in a father or grandfather’s life than to be in a concrete restroom waiting on a little boy as the crowd explodes outside and the announcer saying, “What a play! What a play!”
The sea of cardinal and gold, the noise, the electricity in the air. It was overwhelming! It is hard to believe that a bunch of repressed Iowans could scream so loud and be so passionate. These people had actual emotions and feelings! Leaving with my souvenir gold and red program, which I studied repeatedly over the next few months to the point that I began to believe that in order to play football you needed an Afro, pork chop sideburns, and/or a necktie large enough to land a 747 aircraft on, I knew that we would be back. And we repeatedly were.
I tell you this to say that I never stood a chance. Before the rational age of consent, I was an Iowa State Cyclones fan. I had no choice. Cyclones supporters are basically Chicago Cubs fans without the ivy covered walls or poetry. We are a people used to hard winters and even harder victories and losses.
ISU has been the little brother in a Hawkeye State. Nothing stings more than losing a friend or neighbor to the black-and-gold. One of my brothers went to school there swearing as he left that he would never be a Hawkeye. In two or three weeks, we lost him. His favorite Christmas pastime for years was to buy Iowa merchandise to give to one of my young nephews with a fake note from Kirk Ferentz telling the little boy how he could not wait for him to join the Hawks. It never failed. The child’s lip would quiver as faux Ferentz’s words were read to him and then would come the tears. Good times and a laugh had by all, except for the traumatized youngster.
Oh, I have tried to break my Iowa State sports addiction. I know it is not good for my health. There have been so many close football and basketball games over the years that I honestly believe that local medical doctors should be the major sponsors of the university because the coronaries and heart episodes that have happened in the closing minutes of too many tense games to count have more than paid for their vacation homes, luxury vacations and sports cars.
Like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather III,” just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. When I lived overseas, there was not a football or basketball game to be found on the television dial. Free, happy, then I would wear my Iowa State sweatshirt. I would be minding my own business in a city halfway across the world. Cardinal and gold colors are a homing beacon for Iowa tourists. I would pretend not to be able to speak English. Before I knew it I would be an hour into listening to a middle-aged couple talk about the latest game.
I always staggered away thinking, “I hate you Iowa State sports. I hate you for having such likable kids and nice coaches. I hate the fans, win or lose, who are always so cheerful and supportive. I hate the hope, that small light of hope, that is always there going into seasons and even after losses.” Before you know it, you are trying to figure out a way of catching the next game.
Whether it is Iowa, Iowa State, UNI, Drake, there is something about being a fan that excites hope even when that hope can make you grumpy and miserable!