I became a Cyclone Football fan on October 25, 1980. That day, Barry Switzer brought his Sooners to Ames. Iowa State drove the length the field on their first possession mostly rushing on Dwayne Crutchfield's tree trunk thighs. Undergrads hurled oranges onto the end zone after Crutchfield’s march.
The mystery of possibility hung in the air. Donnie Duncan, previously an assistant coach at Oklahoma, was in his second year as Iowa State’s head coach. The Cyclones were 5-1, and one of those victories came at the expense of Iowa and their second year coach, Hayden Fry.
Oklahoma quickly followed up with a tying touchdown as the two teams battled to a half-time stalemate. In the second half, after the wind picked up and the temperature dropped like it often does on late fall afternoons in Ames, Oklahoma piled on five more touchdowns. Iowa State did not cross Oklahoma’s goal line again.
Iowa State followed that loss with three more losses: Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska. We finished the season 6-5, sixth place in the Big Eight. Oklahoma earned their third straight appearance in the Orange Bowl and beat #2 Florida State. The Sooners finished the season 10-2 and #3 in the AP.
ISU disappointed me that day. But the rowdy spirit of Cyclone fans during Crutchfield’s incredible drive pulled me into Cyclone Nation and it has never let go.
The last four decades haven’t been kind to Cyclone Football.
Duncan left ISU after the 1982 season to work in investments and real estate. In 1986, he took the AD job at Oklahoma and continued in that role until 1996. He retired in 2016 after another ten years as the Big 12 Director of Football Operations in Texas.
Fry took Iowa to the Rose Bowl in 1981 and again in 1985. Jim Criner was a year away from being fired as Iowa State’s coach before the end of his fourth season in 1985.
Fry’s bowl bonanza at UI carried on for nearly twenty years: the Peach Bowl (twice), the Gator Bowl, the Freedom Bowl, and the Holiday Bowl (thrice), the Rose Bowl (a third time), the Alamo Bowl (twice), and the Sun Bowl (twice). Only six seasons did Fry’s Hawks not earn a bowl berth.
And then, Kirk Ferentz took over and improbably topped Fry in tenure, bowl appearances and many other records that seemed unreachable when Fry retired.
Jim Walden followed Criner and accumulated an even worse winning percentage (0.335) than Criner’s (0.405) and over a longer time. Walden resigned but kept coaching with three games remaining in his eighth season.
Dan McCarney, Walden’s replacement, took ISU to five bowls in twelve seasons and even tied for a share of the Big 12 North Division. But McCarney’s win percentage (0.397) was higher than Walden but less than Criner.
Gene Chizik was ISU Football’s nadir: 0.208 over two seasons. And then, he left for Auburn and won a national championship.
Paul Rhoads (0.368) righted the ship after Chizik for a about three years, but he was fired after seven seasons.
Only with the arrival of Matt Campbell (0.554) has ISU exceeded the heights of Earl Bruce (0.529) before Bruce left Ames for Ohio State.
Through four decades of a few highs and too many lows, I’ve stood by my Cyclones. I’ve cheered for them on Cy-Hawk Day from the sidelines, the stands, on the couch looking into TVs of ever improving technology, and when I was out of broadcasting’s reach, I’ve followed game casts on computers.
I relish the prospect of turning the tables on UI now that ISU has a rising coach and UI is approaching a transition to another era that should lead to a lag, but I believe it’s time to ice the annual Cy-Hawk game. Here’s why:
—College football has changed from a glorified extracurricular activity into a multi-billion dollar industry, a business based on engagement and TV rights. Iowa State draws fans from a tiny pool. We need as many Iowans tuning in for ISU football games as possible.
Iowa is rightfully called the Hawkeye State because more Iowans support UI than ISU. That does not mean Hawkeye fans can’t watch ISU play when the Hawkeyes aren’t playing.
I believe the feeling of bitter rivalry between fanbases is caused more by Cyclone resentment than anything else. The caustic nature of the Cy-Hawk game often leaves Hawkeye fans reluctant to embrace ISU Football once conference play begins and continues into the postseason.
—All Iowans would cheer for ISU in a rekindled rivalry against Minnesota or Missouri or Nebraska if it took the place of the yearly Cy-Hawk game. I think. I hope.
The ISU-Minnesota rivalry was a big thing until Jack Trice died in 1923 from injuries after a game at Minnesota. ISU played Missouri every year from 1908 until 2011. ISU played Nebraska every year from 1896 until 2010. Unfortunately, ISU kept a dismal win-loss rate against all three teams, but a restart would create a new era.
—Based on statistics from 1977 through 2021, ISU is about as likely to beat UI as UNI is to beat ISU. (ISU should end its rivalry with UNI, too, but for different reasons.) ISU has won about one in three games against UI since 1977.
—We can always revive the ISU-UI rivalry if fans miss it. A break would reset the sense of competition. We’ll be 0-0 again with the Fry-Ferentz domination faded in the rearview.
—Iowa State was #9 and Iowa was #10 in the AP for the 2021 game, and with ESPN Game Day broadcasting outside Jack Trice Stadium for the second time in three years. This may be the pinnacle of the rivalry. And, we can safely assume the flagship college football discussion will not return for a third Cy-Hawk match.
We can only go higher if ISU plays UI in the playoffs. And that can only happen if one Iowa team doesn’t knock off the other Iowa team in an early season Cy-Hawk game.
—One Iowa team has to lose an early game every season to the other Iowa team. This lowers the probability of one team earning a bowl bid. More than once since 1977, the losing team had its final standing affected by an early loss to the other Iowa team.
—Since 1977 the average score of 44 games over 45 years is UI 27-ISU 17. The final score of the 2021 match was UI 27-ISU 17. An interesting coincidence.
Tectonic shifts are coming to college football. Let’s not cling to rivalries that have rarely satisfied Iowans on either side.