As fans of Iowa State football, we are not blessed with a treasure trove of memorable moments. We have Oklahoma State in 2011, Nebraska on a few occasions, our annual battle for the bottom with Kansas, and bragging rights over our Hawkeye friends, family and co-workers for 10 out of the last 19 years. That’s about it.
So, when Seneca Wallace took over the quarterback position in 2001, nobody expected much from the Sacramento City College transfer. We had been to, and won, our first bowl game in 22 years the season prior, but Sage Rosenfels was gone to the NFL and sustained success is never expected in Ames. Yet the new quarterback led Iowa State to another seven win season and a contested loss against Alabama (the field goal was good) in the Independence Bowl that year.
The 2002 season furthered our collective excitement for the small, yet effective, leader with another controversial loss (he was in) to Bobby Bowden and his #3 Florida State Seminoles in Arrowhead Stadium. Seneca’s performance in that game (22-33 for 313 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, and 1 rushing TD) catapulted the senior’s name into the Heisman conversation. Cyclone football would also rise to heights never seen before, winning their next six games and earning a #9 ranking in the polls.
But arguably the career-defining moment for #15 came on a chilly mid-October evening inside Jack Trice Stadium as #11 Iowa State faced off against the high-powered offense of Texas Tech, led by quarterback Kliff Kingsbury.
Everyone reading this likely has a memory of the play known simply as “The Run” unless you were 6 years old and living with your parents just south of Oskaloosa. [Ed. Note: I was 9 and lived in Webster City at the time, you ass. -Fitzy] It’s a part of our Cyclone lexicon and every conversation about Iowa State football will eventually lead to a recounting of those fleeting moments that captured our hearts forever. The scramble, the block, the touchdown.
I wanted to commemorate the moment that brought an everlasting excitement into our lives by asking my fellow writers their memories of that day. Here are their answers.
The Young Ones
Fall 2002. ISU Homecoming vs. Texas Tech. I was 12 years old. My family made the trek back to ISU's campus from Davenport, IA. This was my first trip back to campus since I was 4 (I have vague snippets of falling asleep under the bleachers in one of the upper decks and a fun picture of me meeting creepy Cy when I was 2).
We watched my dad practice with the Alumni Band before going to the MU for food and to do some shopping. I got a navy Iowa State hoodie from the ISU Bookstore (which was in the basement and I remember feeling creeped out by). The bird-in-a-blender was still a thing, so I regret nothing about 12-year-old me supporting tertiary blue. We went back to our hotel to relax until game time, where I made a sign on a small-ish piece of poster board that read "SENECA 4 HEISMAN" with a decently drawn blender-Cy on it. I did not understand what my sign meant because I had not yet discovered the joys of football. Oh how that would change in the span of a few short hours.
I remember this being an overcast day that turned into chilly football weather in the evening. We marched into Jack Trice Stadium with the Alumni Band and sat in the bleachers of the south end zone, right in the middle of the uprights. The game was going slowly, so my mom and middle brother left to head back to the car for blankets, his coat (because he was a cool kid that refused to wear coats), and a smoke break (my mom...not my brother). That left my dad, my youngest brother, and myself in the stands for this insane thing that was about to happen.
ISU had put together a drive down into the redzone and was looking to capitalize. The ball is snapped and Seneca rolls out. He starts scrambling and the crowd groans as it looks like he's been tackled behind the line. But no! He escaped! The crowd starts cheering. He's scrambling all over the field trying to find an open man down field. He cuts all the way back across the field and looks like he's about to get tackled when out of nowhere comes a monster block! The crowd is roaring. Seneca has all the room he needs to make it to the endzone. My dad and I and all the alumni band members and fans around us start going crazy! Lots of high fives and screaming. The band is trying to play Fights but it's chaotic and hardly distinguishable.
My favorite part of this whole thing was watching the replay and having the whole stadium go "BOOM!" as Michael Wagner's block gets replayed. I was waving my sign around over my head and yelling. I'm still not sure if I ended up on tv or not. This play would blow the lid off the game and start the snowball of ISU scoring that would end in a victory.
This was the day I went from being the kid of a Cyclone, to actually becoming a Cyclone. Only university I applied to.
When I was 15, Iowa State tailgating wasn't really a thing as far as I knew. I had been to plenty of games, but we always arrived for the game and left shortly after. But with Iowa State's strong start to the season, this was the first game that had noticeable hype outside of an Iowa or Nebraska matchup. We had just thumped the Cornhuskers a couple of weeks before, and Cyclone fans were ready to explode. I rode from Des Moines to Ames on a decked-out party bus full of older, well-lubricated Iowa State fans. Upon our arrival, it was clear the parking lots had a little more juice than normal. I was too young to partake in all of the festivities, but the um, enthusiasm, of the fans and students was palpable.
As the weather turned cooler, my friends and I walked into the stadium. My friend's parents had the nice seats in the middle of the field, while the youngsters were relegated to the end zone seats. No big deal, at least we were in the stadium. It soon got uncomfortably cold, which could've played a factor in the 3-3 halftime score. I remember it being sluggish, almost boring after the wins against Iowa and Nebraska.
I don't remember understanding the play as it unfolded. I think that's a testament to how used we were to seeing Wallace pull off these types of plays. I do distinctly remember the growing roar of the crowd that climaxed when Michael Wagner baptized an unsuspecting Red Raider. As the stadium watched the replay, every fan in the house let out a "BOOM" when they put Wagner's block in slow motion.
It was a special night, and even though we know it all went to hell the next week, it was unbelievable to see Iowa State have a top ten ranking and a Heisman front-runner. These were the wins and atmospheres that inspired the current following that we see around Jack Trice every fall. Hopefully we can recapture some of that in-stadium magic, so we can ensure a great college football atmosphere for future fans.
I was 17, and a senior in HS. I went to HS in Minnesota (though I lived in Iowa) and the Twins were in the ALCS against the Angels. None of my buddies gave a fuck about ISU, and wanted to watch the Twins instead.
I was at a buddy's house to watch the Twins, and kept sneaking into the computer room to listen to the game via online audio steam of Pete and Hefty. I heard The Call (as good as The Run) live and started screaming like a maniac. Everyone else thought I was an idiot.
2002 was my freshman year in Ames and like most starry-eyed freshman I was all about taking in as much of the scenery on a Saturday as I could and doing things that some would deem as "irresponsible" or "working it out of my system". The day started simply enough with meeting some high school friends in Larch and drinking there while watching Miami fend off Florida State on another missed field goal by the Seminoles. This one going down was Wide Left, as opposed to the Wide Right that the rivalry (and Iowa State) became famous for.
After that it was off to the lots in what Weather Underground tells me was a 50-degree day. In the middle of the afternoon this doesn't seem like a bad idea, plus I'm 18, invincible, and my 145-pound frame is well insulated, so I thought. We polish off whatever beer we had in our back packs and head in to the stadium shortly after the gates opened because we were out of beer. As luck would have it we ended up in the 3rd row and patiently waited for the kick of a game we had no idea about. We knew Tech threw a lot and we had seen with our own eyes the devastation that Seneca Wallace could unleash on opposing defenses.
Once the sun set and the alcohol wore off we were in for the most unpleasant of treats: frigid cold. It only got to 39 that night but it felt colder in a t-shirt and jeans and by the time the 3rd quarter rolled around we were so damn cold a few of us had brought our arms into our shirts thinking it would warm us up. As Iowa State mounted a drive in what was a surprisingly close game we got to a point where the Cyclones were knocking on the door of the end zone. I distinctly remember Seneca dropping back on that 2nd down play, looking for Jamaal Montgomery (who had slipped coming out of his break), and then being pressured quickly by Texas Tech.
When Seneca began to scramble it was like any other time he did so and you knew he was buying time until he could find something that worked. If anyone had seen the Nebraska game in 2001 they'd know that Seneca was a master of reversing field and when he began his cut up the right sideline I had the immediate thought he could break it if he cut back. I distinctly remember yelling out something similar to "holy shit he could do this!" as he tip-toed up the right sideline. The nice thing about being so low at the game, even with the play on the opposite side of the field, is you can see holes develop and there was a lot of green immediately to Seneca's left.
He cut left, ran laterally, and Michael Wagner delivered the block that everyone in the stadium except Ricky Sailor saw coming. A simple Seneca strut later and the Cyclones are up 10-3 and never looked back.
I remember going back to a fine young lady's dorm after the game and ignoring her while desperately hoping to see highlights of The Run on ESPN, but to no avail. As luck would have it, I ended up spending the night on her couch, but Seneca was the only one who had my (and everyone's) attention that night.
My memories of this game are foggy — in truth, a large part of my college experience is foggy but I apologize for nothing. If this were a typical tailgate, we would have been pre-gaming in the student lot from the time it opened and if I actually made it into the stadium to watch the game then nothing had gone too horrible wrong.
I’m not saying this is HOW it happened, just how it SHOULD have happened based on my average gameday experience while in school.
One memory that is clear is watching that last block on the big screen TV they had in the stadium at the time, although that seems the wrong thing to call it now compared to the new scoreboards.
About this time, I was living in a shitty rental house on Stanton Ave, I'm not sure if this was the night, but it’s a good story and it would have been that season sometime. So, four of us started walking home after the game and somehow ended up by the HyVee east of the stadium — we'd drunkenly stumbled like a mile in the wrong direction! Needless-to-say, that sobered us up quickly as we made the death march back towards campus. Thankfully our roommates had started a party and we were welcomed by red cups when we got home, so everything ended well.
I graduated from Iowa State and moved to Las Vegas in the summer of 2000, so I was not around while Seneca was working his magic in Ames. I was still a rabid fan of Cyclone football, however, and followed the program intently as Iowa State made back to back to back bowl appearances for the first time in school history.
College football was more accessible than it had been before with Fox Sports launching numerous cable stations around this time, and my distance did not separate me from watching my team play. This has been both a blessing and a curse over the years, but the run of success Iowa State had from 2000-2005 (four bowl games in five years) were happy times in my life.
Since I was young, single, and not yet a father to two wonderful children (that drive me crazy every single day), I spent a lot of my time on Saturday afternoons watching football at the local bar. I knew the bartenders well and never had to ask which game I wanted on the television directly in front of my spot.
Ah, those were the days.
I’m sure I was a curious spectacle to those few other locals who were more concerned about hitting four deuces on the in-bar slot machines than any college action going on above their bowed heads when Seneca made The Run. Frankly, I can’t recall exactly how my celebratory cheers were received but I wasn’t asked to leave, so I can assume it was somewhat tempered. Life was great and I was on a football high I haven’t reached since because Oklahoma mucks shit up for everyone.
Screw you, Oklahoma.
How many times has ISU been ranked inside of the top 10? Only once in my memory. And this ISU Alum was C-O-C-K-Y about it. In 2002 I lived and worked in Dallas and had since leaving ISU in 1994. I had stayed marginally close to the program, and as always watched with interest. Most of my Saturdays were spent discussing the games with friends back in Iowa. Most of my Mondays were spent trying to wedge in Iowa State talk amongst all the OU, Texas, Tech, and A&M alums who I worked with.
ISU's rise, the beating put on the Hoks, and Senaca's magic had me flying high. While I don't remember where I was (probably on a beaten down couch in my beaten down house) specifically, I do remember the game in general and in particular the win. You see, now, I could talk trash.
No. 9 in the country, whipped a Texas team and all signs pointed to being able to whip OU and Texas in the next two weeks and I rushed to secure tickets to the Texas game. Unfortunately, OU put a beat down on us, but at least ISU was the topic of conversation come Monday.
So, I went to DKR full of confidence, I mean, Seneca is surely going to do it again. I was positive Oklahoma was an aberration. My tickets were in the Texas student section. I went with other Texas alums.
I have a big mouth when drinking whiskey and with Seneca as my QB I talked crap the whole pregame until those around me were thoroughly pissed as kickoff ensued. The game was tight, but ISU ultimately fell 21-10 and Texas was able to contain Seneca.
I avoided fisticuffs thanks to my Texas friends, but it was tense in our section. Not that I cared, but I took a verbal beating as the game closed and all the way back to the parking lot.
The Run fueled my unbridled optimism and lost me some friends in that 3 week stretch. It fueled fan rivalry with Tech and Texas. But it was a fun period in my fandom and I am all to happy to jump right back in the next time we have a Seneca and a national ranking. Go Clones and thank you Mr. Wallace.
Kliff Kingbury returns this weekend as the head coach of his Alma Mater. Their offense remains pretty much the same as it did back then, but nobody will argue whoever is taking snaps for Iowa State on Saturday possesses the same level of excitement #15 possessed each time the ball was in his hands. We have a runner and we have a thrower, but even collectively, they are not Seneca.
I feel confident in our current leaders, both on the sidelines and in the huddle. I know we’re moving in the right direction and we will becoming a winning program someday soon. I trust the process. But it is hard for me to believe we will ever be entertained by a play like The Run again.
And I’m kind of okay with that.