As WRNL celebrates double digit years of existence, we take a look back at the vaunted and often mysterious past that spawned America’s favorite Iowa State SB Nation Page. From the immaculate inception, to AHF, and all the really weird stuff in between, I asked a few key contributors (and a few WRNL Antagonists) exactly how we got here.
This is the Oral History of Wide Right & Natty Light.
Once upon a time in Ames…
Kevin Fitzpatrick: From what I understand, once upon a time, KnowDan and CanAzn had a very special night and about 9 months after that, WRNL was born.
CanAzn: I think KnowDan can probably explain how he got kicked off CycloneFanatic and formed an alternate board better than I, but sometime in early 2010, I was trying to kill off the boredom of applying for jobs constantly fresh out of college, and I’m pretty sure even my dog was tired of me constantly being home after rarely being at home during college, so I decided to join [Cyclone] Fanatic. As tends to be the case on the internet, there’s no real winners - only the loss of your time arguing with idiots (and I’m sure I was very much one of them). However, I managed to get either a ban or a couple of warnings for being inappropriate, possibly making fun of my own culture, so I guess a war with mods happened and I was invited to the alternate board of degenerates.
ClonesJer: To be honest, WRNL came about because of a period of time where the CycloneFanatic “mods” were being pretty aggressive and banning a lot of people. There were a handful of us that kept getting banned, mostly for snarkiness, rather than actual ban-worthy posts, and we needed a haven to chat Cyclone news in the “pre-Twitter” era. We found a free message board and mostly just used it to shit-talk each other and have CF ban-length dick measuring contests. One day NormanUnderwood told us about an idea he had for a website that embraced the sarcasm, and away we went.
CanAzn: In May of 2010, after talking about how humorless most of the board was, we decided that there was probably a place on the internet for Iowa State fans who don’t take themselves too seriously... except for really shitty photoshops and satire articles, so we decided to launch WRNL, obviously touching on the saddest sports experiences of my college career (not including finishing as the intramural runner up in hockey and once in broomball), the sadness of Larry Eustachy getting fired after drinking Natty Lights with Mizzou coeds and not one, but two wide right kicks to blow the Big 12 North title for Iowa State. You know, because constant reminders of the depression of being a Cyclone fan is what keeps us grounded and not Hawkeyes.
CanAzn: I think I bought the domain one day, somebody else in the group made a couple of mastheads the next, and we were good to go with a WordPress site 3 days later. Shortly after, Bloguin picked us up, and we were well on our way to being internet superstars known by tens of college sports fans... tens! In 2012 the SBNation guys took notice of all our Steele Jantz puns and brought us on as the Iowa State representation.
SB Nation: The decision to bring WRNL under the SB Nation umbrella was made by an individual who is no longer employed by this company.
CanAzn: It was about that time we actually had to recruit some writers, including some of our best (Cyentist, I still miss you). We started putting out articles on a more consistent basis, I started tweeting more from the WideRtNattyLt account, and all of a sudden people were mobbing KnowDan in the streets, asking them to marry their daughters. Clearly, this level of internet fame got to me, so we needed to find a new manager eventually, which leads to our worst hire by far, Kevin Fitzpatrick. Fitz, being a far better writer than I, made things a lot more legit, and added some actual news and recruiting along with the juvenile dick jokes that people had come to love/hate us for. Diversity is the worst, am I right? But really, without Fitz taking over the site never would have gotten to where it is today, so really, you should all thank him for your massive salaries.
Bob Bowlsby: Wait, I thought you said this was a puff piece about Tom Herman’s marriage? No, I won’t go on record about the numerous apology letters.
ClonesJer: WRNL has been lucky to have lots of “eras” of writers. There was a big group early on, then, as early excitement waned, myself, NormanUnderwood and Dan F churned out articles for a while. Later, KnowDan & CanAzn took over the lion’s share of the work and those dudes were responsible for transitioning the site to bigger and better platforms (and ultimately SBN). Then came Fitzy, who mostly got by on good looks, and now the new guys with Levi are taking it to new heights. We’ve had graphic designers, farmers, lawyers, engineers, journalists, former ISU athletes (RIP Hiawatha) and everything in-between write for the site. All told there’s probably been 50+ people involved with making this site what it is today and that’s really cool how the vision can keep evolving, changing and growing.
CanAzn: Then he gave the site to some guy named Levi, who I hear takes baths in his massive pile of gold coins, Scrooge McDuck style.
Levi Stevenson: *comes up for air and brushes coins out of hair* Hey what are you guys talking about?
NormanUnderwood: The first time I realized that the site had any real kind of reach was when I went down to Austin for the Texas game, the fall of our inaugural year. You know - THE Texas game. I was wearing a WRNL shirt (the OG version) at the “official” local Cyclone club tailgate and I was just getting mobbed by folks asking if I wrote for the site. We were maybe 6 months in at this point, and it was obvious that it had caught the eye of Cyclone nation.
ClonesJer: Pretty much anyone that was associated with WRNL (until recently) can tell you I have a problem with site stats. I love them, I love them so much, like they are my children. Admittedly, as addictions go it’s pretty lame, it’s no heroin or crippling gambling debt, but it’s my cross to bear. Anyway, because of that I’ve been celebrating articles since we thought a 1,000 pageviews was a really big deal (it’s not btw).
NormanUnderwood: The first time the full reach of the site dawned on me was when I put Aggy on blast as they left for the SEC. I wouldn’t call it my best work. It was more spiteful than funny, but holy shit did it really hit a note. Not just with the wildly offended Texas A&M fans, but with pretty much everyone following that second round of conference realignment in the early 10’s. I think it set early records for site traffic (back when ClonesJer couldn’t go more than an hour without updating Google analytics), and had some of the most contentious comment sections. It was linked to every message board in the Big 12 and SEC, and flying around Twitter.
Randy Peterson: WRNL really became THE go-to source for all things Iowa State media as they grew. From the specifics of recruiting, to the gameday analytics, they can do it all. I would quit the Register and work for them, but I’m still waiting to hear back about the application I submitted in 2014.
WRNL HR: Technically, the official stance is Randy’s application was lost in the mail, but in all honestly I just don’t feel that he’s qualified. Would you excuse me? The group chat just mentioned starting an off Broadway musical starring Gary Barta called: Title IX 2: Electric Boogaloo and I need to shut this down.
ClonesJer: I think personally I realized it might be a big deal when coworkers at my day-job started mentioning articles that WRNL had up. The first one I remember was “The Big 12 as Beer”, a very popular early story. Later on during the Hoiberg era we created the “Dreamy” t-shirts and those would always get a few “we love WRNL” whenever you wore it, that was a cool connection to the “non-internet” world.
KnowDan: *Does best Ed Podolak impression and emerges from pile of empty Yuengling cans*
KnowDan: Long before the site had any reach and it was just on the WordPress platform - alongside your Grandmother’s blog about homemade biscuits - we wrote an article referencing Ed Podolak’s accident in Arizona. This wasn’t just any article about Ed though. Oh no, we went full on GIF mania with this and decided to turn it into a reference to the classic video game Frogger. Sadly the GIF appears to have been wiped from the annals of the internet, but needless to say Podolak got oh so close to the well-bosomed Iowa girl holding two glasses of beer on the other side of the road.
The article had just enough reach for his daughter to catch wind of it and she left us a nice comment about how depraved and awful we were. Boy, did we think we hit the big time.
Then a few years later this happened.
That article was published on a Thursday. Iowa State’s spring game was that Saturday. In the span of less than 24 hours the goddamn craziest, most creative writer to bless the site - I Am A Cyentist - had turned that article into a letter from a certain defensive line coach to his players instructing them to not to participate in the next day’s game.
Within an hour of posting we had a request from the ISU football sports information director at the time (not Mike Green) to take down the article. The email was short, terse, and to the point. We declined but put up a disclaimer. He still wasn’t satisfied. CanAzn and I discussed it, acted like mature adults and decided to take it down. Then our football guy let us in on what was going on.
The OC Who Wasn’t Tom Herman loved it. The defensive staff thought it was hilarious. The AD was not only aware of WRNL but an avid reader of the site. The article made its way through the Jacobson Building at rapid speed and ended up on the desk of said defensive line coach. He was freaked out. Didn’t like seeing his name associated with something like this, and others told us later that it hit maybe a little too close to home.
So there it is. We’re on the radar of the people we coveted since day one and it was through a controversy that we honestly didn’t see coming. The story doesn’t end there though.
The next night is Cy’s House of Trivia and everyone is blowing off steam. As luck would have it the table with the coaches’ wives is a few feet away from us and at intermission a chunk of the coaching staff gathers at their table. Including said defensive line coach. I legitimately feel bad after hearing he was freaked out about the article so I go up to apologize.
You could tell after my introduction that he was caught somewhere between addressing me like an adult or pounding my four eyes into the Hilton Coliseum floor. As I told him why we do what we do he lightened up and told me that stuff like that can end up in the hands of recruits, or worse yet their parents. After mentioning parents you could tell he started to move more towards a physical confrontation and that’s when my wife came in to save the day. Talked him off the ledge, called me an idiot a few times, told him it’s all in genuine fun. He lightened up, we shook hands, toasted a beer, and went on our merry ways.
Fortunately for all of us, she never brought up the time the defensive line coach’s father pulled a Podolak and checked out her bosom at an event the year prior.
WRNL continued to carve out a niche as one of the few (eventual) SB Nation blogs that could get away with both serious AND ridiculous articles.
Levi: America Needs Another Lawyer will always be a favorite of mine, but that came before my time with the site. Since I joined about three years ago, I’ve been proud of too many articles to count, but the Red Wedding collaboration between KnowDan, Matthias, and myself will always be one of my favorites.
NormanUnderwood: One of my early favorites was my conclusion piece to the infamous “Know Your Enemy” series, where I previewed the ISU football schedule with various pieces mocking the stadiums, mascots, and traditions of the opposing schools. Even in those super early days, almost all of them found their way to the enemy message board, and drew their fans out of the woodwork. I graded each fanbase’s response on a scale of 1-10 Hinrichs, based on how douchey they were. Yes, I used Kirk Hinrich as the barometer of being a douche. I would maintain it’s still quite accurate.
ClonesJer: I was never the best writer (I’m actually terrible), and I don’t have the knowledge base to break down games, or give decent betting advice, so I had to lean on my sense of humor. I lucked into WRNL where we embraced all things sarcastic and/or crazy, and we didn’t have enough journalism sense to tell decent writing or garbage anyway - so a lot of my garbage went up!
Kevin: While the true “breakthroughs” were probably in the rear view mirror when I took the reins in 2015, I do recall a few things that I look back on fondly while I was managing editor. One was when CloneTeach broke some algorithm and got his “CJ Beathard Suspended After Refusing to Stand for ‘In Heaven There Is No Beer’” satire article to appear on the front page of Yahoo! for a day. I’m pretty sure that article ended up being the most-viewed in site history just because of all the referral traffic we got. Naturally, the same thing happened a few days later with “Ricky Stanzi Leaves USA, Says He Hates It” and after that we officially got a full slap on the wrist from our SB Nation overlords about properly labeling satire articles.
Colin Kaepernick: CJ Beathard is MY hero.
Note: Kaepernick mistakenly thought the article was real
ClonesJer: “Rename Ames, IA to Hoiberg, USA” with an actual government petition attached was fun and one of the most viewed articles of it’s time. Unfortunately, later that year it would all come crashing down with an early NCAA exit and Fred leaving ... but at the time it was awesome!
Fran McCaffery: I invited a few of the WRNL guys to shadow me for a day. and the resulting “A Day in the Life of Fran McCaffery” piece really felt like they accurately captured what makes me, ME. After a grueling day of screaming at small children and preaching about recruiting the “right” way, I like to kick back with a vodka red bull and re-read that masterpiece. Thanks again, guys!
Levi: Selfishly, I am also proud of “Brian Ferentz Overflows Toilets in Newly Renovated North Endzone After Late Night Chipotle Run” and my actual serious article about the Big 12 Tournament from a couple years ago. CloneTeach also did “Bill Snyder Reflects on the First Thanksgiving, an Oral History,” which I greatly enjoyed.
Brian Ferentz: That was told to Levi in confidence.
ClonesJer: “Animals that remind us of Big 12 Coaches” was probably my all time best work. The entire article had 38 words (mostly coaches names) and I still managed a typoe ... which was one of my calling cards.
ClonesJer: We have always done a really good job of winning Hate Week too. Pretty much anything any WRNL member has written during Hate Week has been comedy gold and I stand behind it 120%. Love it - f those guys.
WRNL does ‘ANAL’
Few stories from WRNL have garnered attention quite like the ‘America Needs Another Lawyer’ article did during the Fall of 2015. Aimed at the ‘America Needs Farmers’ slogan, which began in 1985 to support the state of Iowa’s struggling Agriculture community during the Farm Crisis, “ANAL” generated palpable buzz and led to the emergence of AHF (Actually Helping Famers), stirring up some controversy as it became one of the site’s most notorious articles.
Kevin: The most memorable story, by far, has to be “’America Needs Another Lawyer’ Program Introduced at the University of Iowa.”
NormanUnderwood: ANAL is probably a high water mark for the site, IMO. It was so perfect, and a true collaboration. It’s one of the last pieces I participated in (it might be THE last), and I’m damn proud of all of it.
Kevin: I believe the idea for that article was KnowDan’s initially, our entire staff contributed jokes for it in our Google Hangout, and I had the esteemed duty of organizing those jokes into an actual satire article. That was such a fun project to do and we even got a lot of laughs out of Hawkeye fans on that one.
Levi: In my opinion, AHF is and will always be the defining legacy of WRNL.
ClonesJer: I grew up farming. I farm today. It’s something I take a lot of pride in, and it always pissed me off to see Iowa fans decked out in ANF (America Needs Farmers) gear, and then turn around and crack jokes about Moo U and Lames. The sheer brazen hypocrisy of it was stunning to me. I’ve always had a strong reaction to that kind of hypocrisy (it’s a struggle just to keep my sanity in the current era we live in), and I didn’t have an outlet.
Kevin: By the time I’d joined the site as a writer in 2014, KnowDan and CanAzn (and the rest of the OGs) had already done the heavy lifting as far as carving out a niche in the Cyclone sports coverage market. Actually Helping Farmers was undoubtedly at the center of that.
ClonesJer: One day, I saw a guy on CycloneFanatic who had a yellow shield with the red AHF as his avatar. I realized that we were the perfect guys to take it mainstream. I hit the guy up with a PM asking if we could use it, that we would credit him, and give him a cut of any sales. He never responded, so we took it and ran with it.
Kevin: WRNL was primarily known to ISU fans as the site that made the famed AHF shirts and also to other fan bases around the blogosphere as an outrageously funny group of people who weren’t afraid to dabble in satire and debauchery. The humor side of things made WRNL different from other websites and media outlets associated with Iowa State and the comic relief was precisely what many Cyclone fans needed during the rise and very, very steep fall of the Paul Rhoads era.
ClonesJer: It’s one of the greatest things to come from WRNL, IMHO. The original shirts were brilliant, and protected parody. I was a practicing attorney at the time, and wanted to fight the U of I on their cease-and-desist, but we had already sold out (moved to SB Nation) and those corporate pussies nixed it. I get it, why would they waste resources fighting over a t-shirt that might sell 1,000 units at best? But it still irritated me.
Levi: Regarding the cease and desist, I’ve learned through my adventures with trademarking law with Bad Kick Drinking Shirts that if literally any half competent trademarking lawyer wanted to donate a few hours of time to us, we would have easily been able to overturn that C&D on the grounds of parody, which is explicitly covered in U.S. trademark law.
Gary Barta: I was advised multiple times by legal counsel that going after the AHF merchandise would’ve been an easy win, but I settled on leaving it alone. Frankly, I was impressed by the professionalism of the all-male writing staff.
Levi: It’s grown I think beyond even what most people expected. I know the Agronomy club has been using their own AHF logo on their club shirts the last couple of years, and when I was talking with ISU Trademarking about doing some licensed apparel through WRNL, the woman in charge says people call all the time asking to use the AHF logo before they have to tell them it’s not theirs.
ClonesJer: That said, watching Iowa fans absolutely lose their mind over the entire concept for nearly a decade has been awesome. It absolutely works, and it hits them in a spot where they are severely insecure. My hate for Iowa has waned over the years, but watching them get indignant over AHF>ANF is the one thing that can percolate it.
Levi: Just recently, Matthias shared a picture of one of the AHF wood carvings hanging in his company’s office that he didn’t even put there. Now with starting the AHF golf outing last year, we’re turning it into real and significant contributions to the agriculture community. It’s really taken on a life of its own.
Kevin: Another more serious accomplishment regarding reach was I remember that in 2015, WRNL’s Facebook page had about 4,000 likes and by the time I left in 2017, it had grown to over 14,000. That’s a testament to the quality of content all of our writers produced day in and day out that caught the attention of the masses.
Levi: From just a raw “reach” perspective, I haven’t done any official tally, but after checking out the Twitter follower counts for most of SB Nation’s biggest college sites, I think WRNL might be in the top ten or better, despite being associated with one of the smallest brands in the Power Five conferences. We also punch WAY above our weight class in Facebook engagement, as well as overall site numbers, though I don’t think all of those numbers define WRNL.
Jamie Pollard: The Iowa State Athletic Department’s official statement on WRNL is that it does not exist. If, and I mean IF the site was real... I would say that it has drastically increased our brand reach and recognition.
ClonesJer: Maybe someday my kid can write something really inappropriate and have it on WRNL ... a guy’s gotta dream.
Wide Right & Natty Lite continues to make headlines all across various social media platforms. Even high ranking government officials such as [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] have praised the site for its ability to pivot from poop jokes to analytical long-form pieces. Even from the start, WRNL has created an unmistakable brand that (hopefully) most Iowa State fans have grown to know and love.
Levi: As the times have changed, so has WRNL. And as the times continue to change, so too will WRNL. Sports journalism (hahahahaha just kidding we don’t have enough followers to be journalists), social media, and (like it or not) social norms have changed dramatically since the early days of the site, and will likely continue to evolve as we go forward.
What was just a simple WordPress site and a snarky Twitter account, is a now a slightly more polished site, a snarky Twitter account, an active Facebook following, a YouTube channel, an actual real life football media pass, multiple weekly podcasts, video game streams and online leagues, and probably a bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting.
What we write about has also evolved, and WRNL has had to evolve with it. When the site first started, Iowa State was bad at, well, pretty much everything, and we made hay on self-deprecating articles and being able to laugh at ourselves.
However, a golden age in basketball changed at least a part of that (though Courtney Messingham still did his best to help football stay on-brand, so kudos for that....I guess).
Then, suddenly, football stopped sucking. As funny as those self-deprecating pieces were (and still are), it’s a lot harder to make fun of yourself when your teams actually aren’t terrible. (Save for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad list we made of things that have gone wrong for Iowa State).
And, for better or for worse, the collective tolerance for some of the more...off-color...jokes has changed, and we’ve had to evolve with that as well. Fortunately, we’ve had the incredible fortune of having a bunch of really talented writers that have been able to work with those changes, and continue to make this site fun, even if we do still sideswipe the mothership’s guardrails on occasion.
It’s difficult to project what this entire sports journalism/blogosphere/nonsensical idiot parade will look like in ten, five, or even two years, but we’re going to do our best to make sure that we continue to bring all of the Cyclone content you never asked for as often as we can.
So, from myself and the WRNL staff, both present and past, we thank you for reading, commenting, and engaging with our site, and making it an incredibly fun community to be a part of. We’re excited to carry on our weird, loud, and extremely blogger-in-their-parents’-basement tradition into the the future, and hope you have as much fun with it as we do.
Go Cyclones. #AHF.