"Cy can't fly with Herky in the sky."
It is the weekend before Christmas, and my extended family has gathered from their various locations around Iowa in order to celebrate the holiday together. I am six years old.
I don't understand exactly why the words I'm saying garner the reactions that they do, only that the reactions are satisfying. My father, who taught me the phrase, grins approvingly as I repeat the words again. "Cy can't fly with Herky in the sky." His sister, who is a Cyclone season ticket holder, scowls with disgust. She opens her mouth to retort, but the argument never reaches her lips. Iowa hasn't lost to Iowa State since I was born, and would not lose again until I was a freshman in high school.
"HOLY SHIT! DID YOU SEE THAT?
It is September 2002, and I have returned home for the first time since leaving to start school in Ames. For the first time, my father and I are watching the Cy-Hawk rivalry from different sides of the fence. Seneca Wallace is on making ridiculous plays, throwing across his body and evading defenders with his feet. He is single-handedly willing the Cyclones back from their first half deficit to become the only blemish on Iowa's 2002 regular season.
My dad scowls in his recliner as I dance around the kitchen, giddily celebrating the victory and the symbolic culmination of my betrayal, my defection to Iowa State. In six weeks, Iowa State Football will properly initiate me into the Cyclone fan base, crashing to earth after a 6-1 start to end up 6-7. Iowa will finish 11-1 and play in a BCS bowl.
For better or worse, this is what the Cy-Hawk rivalry means to me. It is simultaneoulsy the desires young man yearning for the approval of his elder, and an immature, adolescent rebellion against the same. It is, if only in my own mind, the rivalry of my past.
"HEY! KEEP IT DOWN OVER THERE!"
It is a crisp fall day in a small town in Eastern Iowa. My future wife and I sit across the table from one another, screaming obscenities as we watch the action unfold on a faded projection screen. It is 11:00 am, and other than the bartender, we are the only people in the building.
The stability of the Big 12 in recent monthss has mirrored the stability of my own life. As Nebraska bolted for the Big 10 and Colorado left their home for some California grass, the economic bubble of the past decade was bursting in the manufacturing sector. I was laid off in January 2009, and in September I got to experience the indignity of moving back in to my parents' basement. With my girlfriend.
We had been together for over a year prior to that, but on this day I saw something change in the woman across the table from me. There was a fire and a passion in her beautiful brown eyes that I had not seen before. She was in a primal state, screaming at the purple and silver clad warriors on the screen to pull off just one more down, one more big stop. And I am falling in love with her all over again.
I refill our glasses from the pitcher in front of us. As bubbles rise through the amber liquid, Iowa State scores a touchdown with a little over a minute left on the gameclock. The extra point will tie the game and likely send it to overtime.
Instead, the kick is blocked, and Kansas State sneaks out of Arrowhead with a one point victory. The wizard has worked his black magic, and weaved in a complimentary love spell to boot.
The woman across from me looks up in triumph. I drown my sorrows in the bottom of my glass.
"I love you. But the Cyclones are going to get crushed by an old man this weekend."
It is 2010. The Kansas State fan and I have moved to a city in the Northeast Pennsylvania, just across the Delaware river from New Jersey. Once this city supplied the steel that built the backbone of this county. Now a very blue collar population tries to adjust to the reality of a future without them or their dying craft, which can be done cheaper overseas.
We moved out to this dying city because after 12 months of rejections, I had found work at one of the few plants that had survived. It was a death trap. They were the subject of a Frontline investigation into dangerous working conditions. Twice.
The K-State fan works with an organization that takes care of troubled youth after being unable to find a job in her field. She works terrible, constantly shifting hours, and has to deal with some seriously crazy bitches.
Football as escapism and ritual became a necessity to maintain our sanity.
Saturday is one of the few days we see each other reliably each week. I'm at the foundry 50-60 hours a week, and she works nights most of the time - it's incredible how two people can share a house and so rarely see each other. But every Saturday, we gather on the couch to watch the Cyclone and Wildcat games, respectively. Today is Farmageddon.
The Cyclones would lose that game by a touchdown. Less than a week later, I would lose my job at the foundry. By Thanksgiving I was working at Target, selling TVs and Wii Games to soccer moms.
"You are not allowed to spill your beer just to make good things happen."
It is 2012. We have since moved on with our lives, both finding work in the exotic swamplands of South Carolina. Our love of our collegiate football teams is a lifeline, a tether to who we are and where we come from. Deep in the heart of SEC country, we retain our identities, even if the powercat and whirlybird logos are not recognizable by Joe Q. Public. It is our 4th Farmageddon together.
I have just commited a party foul, and knocked over my beer. Almost immediately afterwards, Jared Barnett takes the snap, drops back, and evades a 4-man pass rush long enough to connect with a wide open Ernst Brun on the sidelines. Brun tightropes the sideline and dives for the end zone. Touchdown, Cyclones.
I head to the kitchen for some paper towels to clean up this mess. As I walk away, an agitated K-State fan yells from the couch:
"OKAY, NOW YOU'RE REALLY NOT ALLOWED TO SPILL YOUR BEER JUST TO MAKE THE CYCLONES SCORE TOUCHDOWNS!"
Just as the Cy-Hawk series is the rivalry of my past, Farmageddon is the rivalry of my future.
In less than three weeks, we will be traveling back to the state of Iowa. As the Cyclones take the field against Oklahoma, we will be preparing to start the next chapter of our lives together at a little winery about 15 miles southwest of Jack Trice Stadium. And once a year, for the rest of our lives, she will transform into the shit-talking Kansas State fan I first met in that bar in 2009.
And I can't wait.