This post was originally meant to be an entry to SB Nation's Fanthropology contest, but between preparing to get butt trounced by Tulsa and the holidays, the article slipped through the cracks.
Why am I a Cyclone fan? Because I was in the band.
I attended Iowa State from fall 94 to spring 99. During that time I was in the band. Not just the marching band (the ISUCF"V"MB) but the Men’s and Women’s Basketball pep bands, and the Hockey pep band, and the VEISHEA parade, and whatever fundraiser/pep rally the athletic department wanted us to play at. We were whores for hire, and I put out (or showed up) with the best of ‘em. It was a magical experience. Think of it as a co-ed fraternity. All the traditions and shenanigans of the greek system, without many of the rules and scrutiny. Frankly it’s amazing I graduated given how much time I spent with other band members at various athletic events or just getting into trouble.
Sure our football team was awful those years; 0-10-1 in 94, a total of 9 wins over the 5 seasons I was present, but we were at every home game and 1-2 away games each year. Sometimes we were some of the only people in the stands. We showed up hours before the game and stayed until hours after. We cheered every good play, and if there weren’t enough of those (and there rarely were) we had cheers for bad plays too. Plus I learned the cheer "That’s OK, never fear, basketball will soon be here." Because those were the days of great Men’s Basketball; Coaches Tim Floyd and Larry (the Godfather), Players like Marcus Fizer, Calvin Cato. Fred Hoiberg (as a player), Big 8 and Big 12 tournaments, and of course NCAA tournaments, Sweet 16s and Elite 8s . That’s even when the Women’s team started to become something. Where else do Women’s basketball games get 10,000+ attendance regularly? At hockey games, band members over 21 years old would buy beer for those under 21.
Since then I have moved to the west coast. Following the Cyclones from out here is difficult, but that only makes it more fun. When you find a fellow Cyclone its like you are part of a secret club. Recently television packages have made it easier, to watch but there are few of us so we usually get together and make it a group event. I’ve road tripped for a bowl game in Tempe AZ. I’ve been to Las Vegas to watch the football team and I’m going again in a few weeks to watch the basketball team.
I wear my allegiance on my sleeve, and I accept the beatings just like I accept the recent successes. It’s part of who I am. I couldn’t imagine anything else.
Jim agreed to a Google Chat (the finest communication medium this side of two cans attached by string) with me about his evolution of being a Cyclone fan, from band member who had to attend every game, to one that can barely get Iowa State on TV every week.
CanAzn: Tell me about your time in the band. You saw a period where we went from completely awful to our first bowl game and win over Iowa in like.. 20 years.
Jim: The win over Iowa was the best football related thing while I was there. It was in IC and it was totally unexpected. By the end of the game there were only a few hundred Cyclone fans in the stadium and they stormed the field. It was a crazy mash of fans, band members and the football team all on the field. Then someone started the fight song and it went nuts. Band members and football players crowd surfing. Mass hysteria.
CanAzn: Rushing the field at Kinnick.. I have to imagine Hawkeye fans did their best McKayla Maroney unimpressed impression. I'm actually a little surprised you weren't clotheslined by an Iowa player,
Jim: There weren't many of them left by that point. It wasn't even that close a game: 27-9. Hawkeye fans have always been dismissive of our program... if only they knew the rest of the country is dismissive of theirs.
CanAzn: Hey, any elite program can lose to Indiana and Purdue in the same year.
Jim: Getting back to your original question, yes I saw the beginning of the rise from the ashes. Dan McCarney was like a God when I was there because he won a couple of games. I can't imagine it now.
CanAzn: Oh, I can assure you, Paul Rhoads has demi-god status in Ames right now, and we'll get to Fred Hoiberg later...
Jim: Hoiberg was a god when I was there. He'll go from Mayor to Governor soon.
CanAzn: It's been really interesting watching two revivals in the last 3 years. It must be even sweeter for you having been at ISU for one football revival and now seeing the Rhoads/Hoiberg regime.
Jim: But the struggles were part of the allure. Each win was extra special. It was like an unexpected burst of happiness. It's been great because it's been like one long revival for me. I started at 0-10-1 and now were knocking off #2 teams and expecting a bowl game. As for basketball. I feel we went from the heights of success to the depths of hell and back again. We Cyclones collect battle wounds like grandmothers collect beanie babies.
CanAzn: It's so true. Here's to Hoiberg and Rhoads becoming our Kryzewski and Snyder.
Jim: We can only hope.
CanAzn: I've always been told that the band can out drink and out party just about anyone, True or false?
Jim: You have no idea. A typical fall Friday night consisted of finishing class and heading over to Cy's Roost. After a pitcher or two, going to band rehearsal, then back to Cy's for burgers and more beer. Then it was to our usual house party which involved drinking special drinks and singing ridiculous songs and then passing out for a few hours before we would be back at the Saturday morning rehearsal, often around 7 am. Then it was on to the game and a celebratory (or more often sorrow drowning) party that night. How did I graduate?
CanAzn: A little alcohol calms the nerves on tests, though I'm not sure about alcohol poisoning.
Jim: Even the game involved the occasional adult beverage. It gets damn cold in Jack Trice as you know. A spiked hot coco can help things out. If its really cold, our valves and such would freeze up, so we would take Everclear to lubricate things. If a little extra made in into our blood stream, so be it.
CanAzn: This actually makes me feel better about sneaking beer into games. It's almost like it's officially sanctioned now.
Jim: Yes, we occasionally had some people go too far. The older members were usually good about reminding us that we still had to preform at a high level.
CanAzn: Well, I've never seen the middle of the 'I' in I-State fall over drunk, so there's that.
Jim: The nice thing about being in uniform is that nobody questions you.
CanAzn: You almost make me wish I played an instrument. You know, except for the fact I was terrible at it.
Jim: There's always the skin flute. (Editor's note: I think every male reader is well versed on that particular instrument)
Jim: The trips were the best. We took trips to Norman, Iowa City, Lawrence, Columbia, Minneapolis, and Kansas City while I was there. We would split the 6-7 buses up between those who wanted to party and those that needed to study/sleep. The former were rolling bars and the latter were libraries. You need both in life, but I found myself on the former more than the latter. It was a task occasionally to balance school and fun, but that's what you do later in life, right? Too much fun and you're a homeless wreck, too little and you're Bill Gates. Hmm... maybe that's not so bad.
CanAzn: I'm thinking Bill Gates is the best case scenario for the study nerds. More realistic, is being the guy on your dorm floor that still pees himself when a girl says hi.
CanAzn: Gotta enjoy college while you can. So obviously it's true that you guys can drink. Here's one thing I always wondered though. how was your relationship with the players? Are you and Sage totally BFFs?
Jim: The football team barely knew we existed. True Story Time. My sophomore year I was driving by the Maple Willow Larch parking lot too fast for my own good. Some short black guy in all black comes out and I'm six inches from running him over. It was Troy Davis. I almost ended the career of the greatest running back to never win the Heisman.
CanAzn: There was always that rumor he was illiterate. If so, he probably didn't understand the crosswalk. That does seem strange though, you're their biggest cheerleaders and together at Jack Trice all the time together. You'd figure your paths would cross more often.
Jim: The other sports knew us and sometimes interacted with us. We had a member dating Julius Michalik and I partied with the hockey players on a regular basis. The football team is just so isolated/sequestered. Troy was not the sharpest crayon in the box, but the boy could run. Imagine if I'd have taken out his knee that night. I might still be in hiding.
CanAzn: OH NO WE WOULD HAVE HAD ONE WIN INSTEAD OF TWO! (Seriously though, you'd probably be dead). If band members are drinking all the time, is the best explanation for the OU band that they're constantly blacked out? I mean, it makes sense given the lack of memory capacity for multiple songs while drunk.
Jim: They are tools. Band members at the bigger football schools are often just there for the bowl trips. I've met a few that were cool, but also more than a few that were complete jackholes.
CanAzn: You constantly had band battle royales, didn't you?
Jim: We (the band) have alternate lyrics for each Big 12 fight song. They are (often) not fit for public consumption. OU only has the one song, so we call it "The only song we know".
CanAzn: Awesome. I'd be interested to hear the lyrics. (hint: this is the time to harass him for it in the comments)
Jim: I'll see what I can do for you some other time. Besides, the way alignment is going, we'll need a new set of songs every year these days. And the Texas A&M band was our least favorite. Our band did a different drill for each home game. They have one drill and its not much different from every other year and it's in this militaristic style that I'm sure someone likes but we all thought was a little too gestapo.
CanAzn: OK, so we've covered your band glory. You live out in California now. Describe the transition from your life being being dominated by Iowa State to being a distance fan. This.... in no way shocks meOK, so we've covered your band glory. You live out in California now. Describe the transition from your life being being dominated by Iowa State to being a distance fan.
Jim: Well I moved to California in 1999. It used to be almost impossible to get Iowa State news, but that's much less of a problem now. Shortly after I moved, we played UNLV, then went to the Insight Bowl in Phoenix. I made it to both games. It was like a dream. ISU in a bowl beating (Paul Rhoads coached) Pittsburgh. Oh my. There is also a local ISU alumni club and they get together for the ISU-Iowa game each year. The game keeps kicking off at 11 AM Central so we are always trying to get a bar to open at 8 or 9 am to let us watch the game.
CanAzn: How inconvenient. It's all Jim Delany's fault. How many games have you made it back to Ames for?
Jim: Yes, 11 am sucks donkey balls, but the NFL isn't much better. Games start at 10 AM out West. I've watched more than a few Cyclone games in my jammies with a Bloody Mary.
CanAzn: You make that sound like a bad thing.
Jim: I made it back to each homecoming game for a few years and I made it to the ISU-Iowa game that was on Thanksgiving in 2001. Then I started my own business, got married, had a kid, and got divorced, so it's been more challenging the last few years. I am going to the basketball game in Vegas vs. UNLV/Oregon this weekend.
CanAzn: I'm jealous, though I'll be eating fried turkey and tailgating for WVU.
WARNING: Skip this section to avoid the overwhelming hindsight sadness.
Jim: Riot Bowl! Lets get to 7 wins. and then pray for the Holiday Bowl.
CanAzn: I'm hoping so as well. I imagine you would make the trip to San Diego? Beers on you?
Jim: If we go Holiday, I will get to Qualcomm Stadium early and set up the WRNL tailgate.
CanAzn: I will assist. San Diego is the one location where I'm 100% in for. 95% on Tempe.
CanAzn: How often do people in California ask where the hell Iowa is or what I-State stands for in California?
Jim: Oh we are regularly confused with the Trojans these days due to our colors, uniforms. We used to get confused with the Hawks, but not as much these days. Iowa State is starting to make a name for itself.
CanAzn: Thank God. If I hear one more announcer call us the Iowa State Hawkeyes...
Jim: The Fox Sports announcers are turrible. Plus they need a higher caliber of advertiser. I once watched a ISU-CU game that was sponsored by the shake weight. It was closer to male porn.
One great thing about being a fan out west is the "secret club" thing that happens. I was traveling with my daughter one fall weekend and I got her dressed in Cardinal and Gold. Then on the plane some guy sits down next to us in a Cyclone t-shirt. We strike up a conversation and turns out he doesn't live to far from me. Next thing you know we are friends and I'm going over to his house to watch games on a semi-regular basis. This type of thing happens all the time to me. I meet fellow Cyclones in the most unusual places. It drives my girlfriend crazy.
CanAzn: I have to say, having lived in a variety of places, there really is something to being "Iowa Nice"
Jim: The Iowa friendliness is legendary, and I'm exceptionally outgoing. It makes for a dangerous combination. Like when I befriend 80 year old men on harbor cruises while his wife/my girlfriend look at each other like WTF?
CanAzn: Well, if you need to befriend more strangers, show up to a tailgate when you're back in Ames for a game sometime. Alcohol on me.