For six or seven weekends each fall there’s that familiar feeling one gets when descending on to the campus of their alma mater. Despite where you grew up, or what you did for the 18 years prior to going to college, you almost always consider the place you spent four (or five, six, or seven) years to be your de facto home.
This is emboldened on those fall weekends when you retreat to the familiar bounds of a tailgate. The food, the beer, the friends. It’s all the same. Although the cars might be nicer, the grill gets upgraded every few years, the planning finally gets “figured out”, and kids slowly invade; it’s as if time slows down each time you get together with that familiar group. No matter how much changes - and a lot has changed in Ames this past decade - the people you’re with always allow you to slip into that comfortable hug of nostalgia.
It wasn’t always this way though. Most of us spent the latter part of our college days throwing around the word “Lames” as if we were some rebellious group of middle schoolers who knew the special word that always irked the adults. As we moved on from college (and got real furniture) we lost touch with the place that was so formative to our adulthood. Careers took off, moves happened, and before you knew it you hadn’t visited Ames for half a decade.
Then it happens. You go back for a tailgate, maybe on Labor Day weekend or for Homecoming, and maybe to reunite with some of those you grew so close with in college but drifted apart after graduation. Something feels different. Not off per say, but different. It’s almost as if you stumbled back in to your childhood home but it was better. Different enough to be noticed, but familiar enough to feel like your home.
You’re hit with a sudden realization that “Lames” was a figment of your imagination. A far flung thought from someone who doesn’t exist anymore. In reality Ames has always been, and will always be, home. A paradise of opportunity and bonds that will never be broken.
Every single time I take the exit from Highway 30 to Elwood Drive before a home game I roll down the windows and blast Guns N Roses’s Paradise City. Aside from the memorable opening riff there’s the opening set of lyrics that just feel right when cruising through the gateway to the greatest university in Iowa:
Take me down to the paradise city
Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty
Take me home (oh won't you please take me home)
As we have too often done in our history we have welcomed a new coach in to our proverbial paradise. Matt Campbell and his staff have so far done and said all of the right things, but the hay will be made on the field each Saturday from now until December.
A new coach brings a renewed sense of hope and opportunity in a land that has been long on both but short on the success that’s supposed to come after. I don’t know where Campbell will end up in the list of Cyclone head coaches, but I do know that as he enjoys his own slice of paradise I’ll be there with him. Beer in hand, relishing every opportunity to spend a Saturday in Ames.