I grew up in Central Iowa during the 80's and 90's of last century. Although many similarities exist between the two eras, times were drastically different for Iowa State football back then. The product was bad and few people cared.
I cannot recall how I became a Cyclone fan. Neither of my parents attended the university and my grandparents were die hard Hawkeye fans. So how my older brother and I gravitated toward ISU's scary birdlike mascot remains a mystery to this day, but every picture I have of my childhood is Kodachrome proof that I have always been a fan of Iowa State athletics.
I remember one game I attended as a junior in high school. It was a crisp and windy October afternoon. Oklahoma State, and their winless conference record, were in town for a game nobody wanted to watch. My father had purchased the pair of tickets the day before as a birthday present for me, and we were one of a few dozen fans who inhabited the upper balcony section that day. The Cyclones would eventually win this one, their second of the year, 20-17, but the most vivid memory I have of the game was something not entirely related to football at all, but rather my enjoyment of following the 10 minute journey of a rogue plastic bag swirling around the open air of Jack Trice Stadium. Eventually, this bag found its way into the facemask of a Cowboy defender just as the ball was being snapped. He urgently removed this piece of floating garbage as the play passed him by and tossed it to the ground after allowing another Cyclone first down.
That little piece of trash laid there for the remainder of the game and was the perfect summary of two decades of Iowa State football. This was 1993.
Troy Davis came to Iowa State in the fall of 1994, the same year I enrolled as a freshman at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Missouri. The Miami native ended up at our small town university after larger programs closer to home passed on the 5-foot-8, 198 pound running back due to his size, speed and troubles passing academic standards. But Troy, recruited by then head coach, Jim Walden, somehow made it to Ames where he was promised to be the focal point of the offense.
However, that promise failed to materialize during his freshman year. Surrounded by corn fields and Protestants instead of the beaches and palm trees of Dade County, a homesick Davis nearly gave up his scholarship, but after an 0-10-1 season, Walden was fired and Troy's fortune would change forever.
In 1995, Iowa State hired a young defensive coordinator from Wisconsin who had played football at the University of Iowa and coached under the tutelage of the great Hayden Fry - a coaching tree still bearing fruit today - named Dan McCarney. Davis returned for his sophomore season and the two launched Iowa State Football into the national spotlight.
Back in the mid 90's - a history lesson for you young pups who have never known the world before the Internet - news and information travelled at a much slower speed. One could not log onto Twitter or a website such as this one to gain information concerning their team, and instead had to use actual newspapers and box scores to find how their team did in the game they played the day before.
Sports on television were not as prevalent as they are today, either. If you were lucky, you were able to watch one, possibly two Cyclone football games each year. The annual matchup with Iowa was broadcast on ABC within the Des Moines market, but where I was attending school at the time, 145 miles southwest of there, there was no guarantee I would ever see my beloved team play. And forget about seeing highlights on the only ESPN channel that existed back then (the horror!). Their focus, as it remains largely today, was on winning programs and national brands. Things Iowa State certainly were not.
Slowly, word began to get out about a little running back from Iowa State who was putting up some mystifying rushing numbers in each and every game he played. I wish I could give you a game by game breakdown of his quest to get 2,000 that first year (apparently even Google has its limits), but the sophomore back finished with 2,010 yards that season and was fifth in the Heisman ballots.
In 1996, Troy became the only running back to rush for 2,000 or more yards in back to back seasons and earned the title of Big 12 Conference Player of the Year. He would finish second to Danny Wuerffel in Heisman voting, winning every voting region except the South.
Playing essentially only two years, this Iowa State Hall of Fame member still holds numerous records to this day.
Troy Davis Rushing Records:
Rushing Attempts in a Game: 53 - Northern Iowa, 1996
Rushing Attempts in a Season: 402 - 1996
Net Rushing Yards in a Game: 378 - Missouri 1996
Net Rushing Yards in a Season: 2,185 - 1996
Career Rushing Yards: 4,382 (2 seasons)
Most Rushing TDs in a Game: 5 - UNLV, 1995 and Northern Iowa, 1996
Most Rushing TDs in a Season: 21 - 1996
Career Rushing TDS: 36
Most 100 YD Rushing Games in a Season: 11 - 1996
Most 100 YD Rushing Games in a Career: 21
Most 200 YD Rushing Games in a Season: 5 - 1996
Most 200 YD Rushing Games in a Career: 9
Most Consecutive 100 YD Rushing Games: 17
Most All-Purpose yards in a Game: 374 - Missouri, 1996
Most All-Purpose Yards in a Season: 2,466 - 1995
Most All-Purpose Yards in a Career: 5,177
Troy Davis wasn't the first back to rush for 2,000 yards in one season (that man is in the Hall of Fame), but he was the first to do it twice. That's why his selection for the College Football Hall of Fame is well-deserved.
He didn't create a culture of winning, but he was probably more responsible for the string of bowl appearances we all got to enjoy in the early 00's than many think to give him credit for after he brought national attention to Iowa State football for the first time during his career in Ames.
I was never fortunate enough to see Troy Davis in person, but I did save his stats cut from The Big Peach every Sunday for awhile until a fire destroyed them sometime around 1998. He is arguably the most important Iowa State football player who ever laced up his cleats inside Jack Trice Stadium. That may not mean much to the rest of the country, but it means a lot to this central Iowa native.
Congratulations, Hall of Famer.