Outside the men’s room: Hard work

By Kirk Haaland, Contributor

My childhood was largely surrounded by not just sports but Iowa State Cyclones sports.  On more than one occasion watching games there were such frustrating moments on the field or court that I thought my dad was going to hurl just about anything he could get his hands on at the TV.  A glass, the lamp, the coffee table, our dog, or even me, all bets were off.  Come to think of it, ISU athletics may have explained at least 74 percent of his high blood pressure issue.

Somehow, in this environment I grew up as a hopeless optimist.  Maybe it was my mom’s doing or maybe it was my tiny way of rebelling against my father.  Either way, here I am.  Always searching for the silver lining and always believing in the impossible.  My optimistic ways are probably best summed up by Dan McCarney’s quote at his outgoing press conference:

“Some People see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not? When I took this job I said why not Iowa State? Why not winning? Why not bowl games? Why not sell outs? Why not national respect? Why not us? Why not here? Why not the Cyclone family?”

To me, that one paragraph—one quote—sums up the inner spirit of what drives the core of the Cyclone fan base.  While the rest of the country and state thumb their nose at our lack of success and tradition we still believe.  That is largely due to the accomplishments of coaches like Johnny Majors, Earle Bruce, Dan McCarney, Harold Nichols, Johnny Orr, Louis Menze, Bill Fennelly, and Christy Johnson-Lynch.  They all have found ways to capture success against all odds with Cyclone resources.

But no matter the amount of hope each of us carries around as a currency to rationalize our fandom, it is hard work to be a Cyclone fan.  The tribulations for Cyclone fans have been well-documented. In fact, I would argue they have been too well-documented but that’s another topic for another sub-par blog.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve been wandering in public with a Cyclone shirt on and struck up conversation with a stranger about the perils of being an ISU fan.  After a few exchanges, it usually amounts to my new friend looking at me like I’m a lost puppy with dirty matted fur, an empty stomach and a gimp hind leg from the collision with the Toyota Prius.  Typically they end up saying something to me along the lines of, “Cyclones are having a rough year”.  To which I always, always, ALWAYS respond, “no one said it was easy to be a Cyclone”.

Now, I don’t think that we are all pre-programmed sadists that thoroughly enjoy pulling for the lovable loser (that would be the Chicago Cubs fans).  I believe that Iowa State University attracts the certain individual that tends to be loyal to a fault, unassuming, hard working, and…hopefully optimistic.  Cyclone sports can torture and agonize all of us, but it is a labor of love…our labor of love.

After the Texas Tech game, when we were amidst a state of subdued euphoria, we believed that the team was improving by leaps and we were all set to make up for that Kansas State loss.  We thought the team was primed to knock off the Utes.  I know that was my vantage point.  Instead, we get 68-27 against #10 and 52-0 to #6.  Ouch.

However, those same types of people that I mentioned before—the unassuming, loyal, hardworking fans—are also prevalent in the ISU Athletic Department and more importantly for this commentary, the football program.  The same fabric that is the strength of Iowans that recover from massive floods in 2008, devastating tornadoes in small towns, and most directly, unimaginable floods that invaded the city of Ames just two months ago.  The same type of people that Paul Rhoads was speaking about at his opening press conference as the new head football coach at Iowa State, “It’s time to roll up our sleeves, put on our hard hats and go to work together.”

Leaving Austin on Saturday with a win doesn’t seem likely to be on the docket.  I’m not sure that a win is even what would be needed to get things turned around.  The effort for this team has been obvious all year, the limitations for this team has been obvious all year, just competing successfully for four quarters would likely get this team back on track.

The road map to a bowl game would certainly require beating Kansas at home and Colorado in Boulder.  Do that and we have a puncher’s chance.  Nebraska and Missouri are not wins on paper at this point—or likely any point this season—but I’m not ready to rule them as automatic losses.  Especially the Missouri game, that is the last home game of the season, senior day and one week before Missouri’s border war with Kansas which leaves them somewhat ripe for the picking.  At that time, it is likely that Missouri will still be having a good season but out of the Big 12 North Champion picture.  Factor in some potentially cold weather for a team that heavily relies on the passing attack and a quarterback in Blaine Gabbert that seems to be frequently injured running the show.  Who knows what would happen in that scenario?

To those who are losing hope in the coaches already…don’t.  Just how good are they?  We likely don’t know yet.  I tend to look at the progression like this, though.  Consider ISU doesn’t pull off the upset over Nebraska last year, they finish 5-7, and everyone is a-okay with the three-win improvement from the year before.  Now this year, where the Cyclones will take on seven teams that are ranked in the top 25 at some point or another:  Iowa, Kansas State, Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, and Missouri.  Straight ridiculous.  Five wins with that schedule may be light years more impressive than six regular season wins in 2009.  Building a football program—especially in Ames—is a process.  The mixture of players from three coaching staffs is still prevalent with three different philosophies and even strength and conditioning programs.

Life as a Cyclone fan isn’t easy.  We aren’t Yankees fans, Cowboys fans, Duke fans, or Alabama fans.  We aren’t front runners.  Winning is fun and we do everything we can to accomplish victory but we also know that we’re going to take our lumps.  We know that a national title or conference championship isn’t likely.  But we also know to savor what we do accomplish.  And that we weren’t brought together as group of band wagon fans but a group with a common interest in loyalty for our university.  We know that it isn’t easy to be a Cyclone fan but it’s likely all we know.