Here we go again. The opening of college football signals the dawn of a new season. The hint of a fall breeze masked by the heat of summer and the sizzle of Iowa pork. Tailgaters line up grill to grill with flags and hopes soaring. Everybody is undefeated. Competing stereos blast Iggy Azaela, Eric Church and Bruce Springsteen; a mix that Pandora could never re-create. The fresh-faced college kids soak in their first Jack Trice experience, sending snapchat after snapchat while the veteran tailgaters set up their annual spreads perfected with years of trial and error and meticulous planning.
The burden of failure has yet to strike and nervous energy dominates.
The months leading up to college football can be a jumbled mess. The talk is monopolized by schedules, legal problems, lawsuits, TV contracts and money. Lots of money.
Everybody has an opinion and someone else feels disrespected in 140 characters or less.
The national perception of Iowa State is less than stellar. ESPN’s Big 12 bloggers picked the Cyclones to go winless in the conference. Some oddsmakers overseas feel North Dakota State should beat Iowa State on their home field. So be it. Come Saturday, the chatter means nothing.
See, here is the thing about football; money, lawsuits and expectation mean very little once 22 men are locked in that 100 yard rectangle. Respect is earned, not Instagram’d. The raw, physical nature of football answers any questions about superiority. The rules are largely the same as they were 40 years ago. It is nearly impossible to get lucky for 60 minutes and 200 snaps. If the Cyclones want to climb up the Big 12 mountain, it starts by winning the first snap against North Dakota State. And that won’t be easy. The Bison surely mean business.
Iowa Staters are a resilient bunch. Few fan-bases in the win now world would sell out the first two games of the season coming off a three win campaign the year before. There is a deeply-rooted belief and faith that years of dedication will be rewarded. The surprise party is always the most glorious.
It is fitting in a way that Iowa State and Paul Rhoads open with North Dakota State. Just five years ago, the same Bison came to town in Rhoads’ debut on the sideline. Few had any clue what to expect then, they just showed up like Cyclones do. This 2014 season has similar questions and equal anticipation. Iowa State hit the reset button on their coaching staff in hopes that will rejuvenate the momentum. The Iowa State program has come a long ways since the Chizik years, yet this opener feels just as vital as Rhoads’ initial contest back in 2009.
This Cyclone team craves a good start, something positive to get some mojo in their favor. These players, coaches and fans want to believe. But nobody knows for certain until the the first snap.
In Ames on Saturday, almost 60 thousand people will share a singular voice in support of their Cyclones. For three hours, smart-phones become secondary to the I-State on the helmet. Strangers become neighbors, the young and old unite and the band plays on. There is no better place in the world to lose yourself.
No more waiting, the outside chatter calms, the sirens blare and car keys rattle. The ball is snapped.
Football is back.