The day has finally arrived. There are very few things that can rival the trek to the Cyclone football opener. In this generation of instant gratification and shorter memories, the anticipation for the season to begin is a welcome delay. Seconds can feel like hours. The nervous excitement as palpable as the forthcoming stench of cheap beer.
When winding down the tree-lined pathway to the stadium, it’s as if one can feel the season change from summer to fall. The first glimpse of Jack Trice unleashes a rush of energy, the lack of sleep erased in the blink of an eye. Senses heighten and time slows down.
Endless rows of cardinal and gold patterned tents are lined up in unison. Flags far and wide arch their backs in the fresh wind after a nine month hibernation. The sizzle of well-cooked Iowa pork emanates from thousands of truck beds.
In the student lot, the party is well underway. An aural mix of Eric Church, Kanye, Neil Diamond and the Iowa State fight song collide to set the stage for countless games of flip-cup and beer pong. And like clock-work, the ever present packs of freshman girls holler in unison at their first indulgence of Cyclone tailgating.
The first game of the season signals the dawn of a new beginning. The possibilities are as numerous as the cases of Busch Light. Just think of the life-long memories etched a season ago:
"Jantz scrambling, in trouble, rolling to his right, he throws it downfield to the end-zone, LENZ, MADE THE CATCH, TOUCHDOWN!!!!! AN UNBELIEVABLE PLAY BY STEELE JANTZ!!!"
"Jantz running play right side, pitch to White, to the endzone, TOUCHDOWN, IOWA STATE HAS WON IT! NO FLAGS! AND THE CYCLONES FLOOD THE SIDELINE, LOOKING FOR A TROPHY, LOOKING FOR ANY OLD KIND OF A TROPHY! THEY’VE GOT IT, THE CYCLONES HAVE WON IT!!"
"A 37 yard field goal attempt for Quinn Sharp, game tied with 1:21 to go. Snap is good, so is the hold, kick on the way……and it is….WIDE RIGHT!! WIDE RIGHT!! QUINN SHARP MISSED IT!!"
"Weeden drops to throw it, over the middle, deflected and…. INTERCEPTED.. BY TER’RAN BENTON….NOW IOWA STATE HAS THE FOOTBALL WITH THE OPPORTUNITY!!"
"Hands to Woody, up the middle, TOUCHDOWNNNNN! AND IOWA STATE HAS WON IT!! JEFF WOODYYYYY TOOK IT IN!!! AND THE CYCLONES HAVE UPSET THE NATION’S 2ND RANKED TEAM!! THEY DID IT!!"
These moments prove that college football is not just a game. It is an experience. There are rare times in life where one remembers exactly where they were, how they felt and who they were with. These "I remember when" occasions are either characterized by the shock of grief or elation. It may seem arbitrary to give such significance to a game played by 18-22 year olds, but college football can be a powerful thing. It is a connection that binds strangers, communities and families.
For seven Saturdays in the fall, we all come together. Folks from every corner of Iowa and beyond unite with a common purpose to cheer on the Cardinal and Gold.
As time passes and one grows older, the things that bring simple joy get polluted by the weight of responsibility and lack of time. Yet on the Saturdays in September, October and November, the world slows down just enough to remind us all that happiness can be as easy as friends, family and an ice cold beverage. It brings back memories of James Earl Jones bellowing in the "Field of Dreams,":
"This is college football. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again, but football has marked the time. This field, this game, it’s a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again."
The butterflies in the pit of the stomach are the same as they were as a youngster. As one walks into Jack Trice on Saturday, the sights never grow weary: perfectly manicured grass, intersected by newly-minted white lines. The consistent structure of the field a paradoxical precursor for the unpredictable to come.
The Cyclone sirens blare and "Smoke on the Water" follows. Summer is done, fall is here.
Imagine the possibilities, football is back.