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Eternal Optimism of the Cyclone Faithful

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Football has never given Iowa State fans much to celebrate, but yet we continue to believe in, and faithfully support, a program without a history. Why?

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Cyclone Nation is an extremely loyal group. We know this. ESPN and Fox Sports broadcasters know this. It isn't new information. However, there is, I believe, an unspoken phenomenon that occurs each year as fall approaches and the Iowa air begins to thicken with humidity and hype. This condition doesn't last long, sometimes it dissipates shortly after week 1, but it is real. I have seen it in myself.

A medical professional may define it as a collective form of Dissociative Reality Disorder, where we, as Cyclone fans clearly marked by various traumatic events in our fandom past, gloss over the disappointments we have suffered over the years and believe that this is the year fate smiles down from above and our patience and unwavering loyalty is finally rewarded. Chicago Cubs fans suffer the same affliction and it is of little surprise there is crossover appeal for those of us who are even casual MLB supporters.

It has been over eight months since we last experienced the hurt -- many of us having numbed to the feeling long before the season ended, making the duration of pain-free fandom even longer -- and over that time we've learned to ignore the late-game letdowns in favor of the few highlights Coach Rhoads' final season provided us.

The 24-0 blanking of past National Champion, Texas. The not letting Texas score on us. That one time, when we beat Texas.

All of those memories form a blockade of happiness that shields us from remembering the Iowa game; the Toledo letdown; the Texas Tech beat-down; the TCU embarrassment; Baylor; Oklahoma; the touchdown that wasn't against Oklahoma State; K-fucking-State, and West Virginia.

I've become so adept at this process, I had to go back and look at the individual scores from each of those games, forgetting if last year was the year Oklahoma narrowly beat us by 36, or was that the year before?

It was last year. We lost to Oklahoma by 45 in 2014.

Paul Rhoads won 32 games over his seven years in Ames. That's an average of 4.6 games per season and the majority of those wins (75% of them, to be exact) came in his first four years. That left us with three seasons of true Iowa State shit-sicles.

And, yet, we sold out our home opener against an FCS team last year. 61,500 seats sold to watch a team that had seemingly no option at running back (freshman running back Mike Warren's breakout game would be two weeks later at Toledo), a talented yet ill-fated quarterback in Sam Richardson whose W/L record wasn't a full indicator of just how high his ceiling could be, and an offensive coordinator whose outdated system needed to be tweaked and improved for his second year back on the sidelines. The recently-expanded stadium was filled to the brim with people and expectations, establishing a new attendance record.

It could have been disastrous for the somewhat polarizing Athletic Director, Jamie Pollard, to unveil the cornerstone of his vast achievements to his constituents to a poorly attended event. It could have easily happened, too. The fan base was fractured around the fact Paul Rhoads was still the coach after winning just five games over the previous two seasons and showed little promise for a program in decline.

But even those of us who shook hands with pessimism showed up in hopes Rhoads had at least a little magic left in that hardhat of his. After all, we hadn't lost a game yet. Anything was possible.


How does this happen? How does a collection of intelligent, well-educated engineers, veterinarians, agronomists, chemists, educators --€” people who make the world better for all to live in --€” fall for the same shtick year after year? And when did it begin?

One thing is clear, it started before Paul coached his first game. I mean, Gene Chizik got people to buy tickets for a program that went 5-19 during the two years he reluctantly spent in Ames. That alone is worthy of a head-scratch.

So, did it start in 2002, following Seneca Wallace's run towards the Heisman? A season, like so many, that began with low expectations from the nation at large before the Cyclone-legend-to-be almost (did) scored the winning touchdown in a game that propelled Iowa State into the national spotlight and rankings never seen before?

Or was it in 2000, when Ragin' Sage Rosenfels' senior campaign led Iowa State to nine wins, their first bowl appearance in 22 years and the first bowl win in school history?

Did Darren Davis' 1998's victory in Iowa City, a win that broke a 15-year losing streak to the hated Eastern Iowa foe, finally break us? Or does it stretch all the way back to 1992 and Marv Seiler's stunning upset of #5 Nebraska that inspired us to believe anything could be accomplished if you just run hard enough?

Maybe it was all of these examples. Maybe it was none of them and it started much earlier and for something completely different for you.

Maybe it's just marketing. Who knows.

But, here we are, as training camp begins, being gullible again. Sucked in by yet another season filled with promise. Each of those years, with the exception of the Insight Bowl win in 2000, ended with at least a moderate level of disappointment.

Is this year truly going to be different?

We have a new coaching staff filled with young, energetic, hip and hardworking individuals excited for an opportunity to make Iowa State football something it has never been. Their recruiting philosophy of promoting Iowa State as an up-and-comer and the Midwest's Big 12 option seems to be paying off so far, although they have yet to coach a single meaningful snap in Ames.

We now have the facilities to attract the recruits. We have the stadium to attract the fans.

We have a talented trio on offense and an extremely well-respected offensive line coach whose mission it is to give them the time and space to operate. We were successful on the recruiting trail for the class of 2016 (at least on paper), providing some instant help for this year and some key pieces for the future, and we appear to be in line for perhaps our best class ever in 2017.

In a world seemingly dictated by pessimism, hope abounds in and around Ames, Iowa, when the calendar welcomes the warm embrace of August. Our today looks good... Our tomorrow looks better.

Ah, screw it.

Ignore what the past has taught you. This is our year -- I can feel it.

Who's with me?