I spent most of last week at a technology conference in California discussing sexy topics like instructional design and learning management systems. There are a lot of bright people at this conglomeration, me withstanding; but it is not exactly a collection of sports minds. One evening I was attending a vendor party at a local bowling alley; at these things people mill about and make awkward small talk in order to receive free drink tickets and munch on appetizers. It was very summer camp-esque; humans are very motivated by drink tickets. Occasionally these vendors will also trot out attractive women in order to entice us "nerds" to buy their product, a cagey move indeed.
I was chatting with this nice ‘fella from George Mason University and of course had to congratulate him on his school’s run to the 2006 Final Four. He gave me a cockeyed look as if I had three heads; "Wow, can’t believe you remember that."
"Who is your college team?" he asked. I replied with Iowa State.
"Oh, yeah! Didn’t you guys get screwed by Texas a few weeks ago."
"And you all beat Oklahoma a couple years back, right? That was a good win."
"It was Oklahoma State, but yeah that was a good win."
As the Cowboys visit again this week, that historic win feels decades away.
The world of college football is a vicious beast; any step backwards can send you hurdling down the mountain with little cushion to break the fall. Iowa State is learning this year that there is no pre-ordained destiny in the progression of a football team. A lot can be said about the state of the program in year five of the Rhoads era and whether or not a 64-point thrashing is ever acceptable. Blame for the Baylor fiasco can be thrown in every nook and cranny of the football office. Rhoads himself said it best, "You don’t lose a game like this with players, you lose a game like this as a complete organization."
In order to succeed, 11 men have to do their job better than the other 11 men. And if they are not, the coaches better be doing something unique or profound to narrow the gap. If none of those factors come together and injuries, turnovers and bad execution come into play…71-7 happens in an instant. The Baylor game was a horrific elevator drop that didn’t crash land until time expired.
It is one thing to get humbled by the Nebraska’s and the Texas’ and the Oklahoma’s of years past, but to get destroyed by a fellow non-traditional program like Baylor was especially cruel. It was like going to a high school reunion and seeing your old geeky pal Steve show up in a Maserati with a supermodel on his arm and learning he is the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and vacations in Fiji, while you are stuck in middle management driving a Dodge Stratus to Living History Farms for a one day excursion. We used to get made fun of together, Steve! What happened to you?!
Less than two years after Jack Trice’s most famed night, Oklahoma State visits once more. The circumstances have changed tremendously. Iowa State has just one Big 12 win at home since that fateful November, 2011 evening. That marquee win seems like a faint dream. A football team that seemed on the cusp of breaking through and shocking the BCS world back then is dealing with another kind of trauma.
Yet amongst the disturbance of the last week remains a trust in Paul Rhoads. He is too sharp, too determined to let this season and his program get away. The Cyclone Nation has come too far to regress back to the doldrums of the 90’s; there is pride in that man, his players and in this fan-base. I have great confidence that Rhoads will not let the shambles in Waco hold his program hostage.
The greatest people rise to the occasion when the questions outnumber the answers.
No doubt there are questions abound in Ames this week. To borrow a line from Field of Dreams, Oklahoma State comes to town, "To remind us of all that once was good and that could be again."
Iowa State’s season slogan has never appeared so important: One way. Forward.