Take a deep breath, we’ve almost made it. After a 280-day hiatus, College Football returns to Ames. For 12 Saturday’s in the Fall, life centers on the Cyclones, like it should. In this instant everything world, it’s a welcome change of pace to pause and wait.
The question hovered over the Cyclones all off-season: Is this the year the bowl drought comes to an end? It may be tough to fathom, but this current five-year drought is the longest bowl-less stretch for Iowa State since the painful 22 year skid came to an end in 2000. Yet, focusing on a singular destination can lose the essence of the journey. I have a feeling we’re in for a fun ride.
There is something special about being a Cyclone and it’s hard for the outside world to understand. Time and time again we are told of what we don’t have, what obstacles are in the way and how much better the competition is. Being doubted is part of being an Iowa Stater. Iowa State has not had a winning record on the football field for eight seasons, yet is poised to have one of the top season ticket totals in school history. That doesn’t make any sense to anyone but Cyclone fans. There are no front-runners in Cyclone Nation, because there has been nothing to front-run about. Loyalty is not just a part of the fight song.
This year’s group of Cyclones is built on the same principles as the fan-base: forgotten about, overlooked, second-guessed and ready to prove the doubters wrong.
Jacob Park was a highly-decorated recruit coming out of high school, but never played a snap at Georgia. He took two years off college competition and was playing church league flag football and largely forgotten about before he got a call from Matt Campbell and Alex Golesh. Now he’s poised and in command of an Iowa State offense that is on paper as solid as any Cyclone attack in over a decade.
Brian Peavy was a two-star recruit coming out of Houston. At 5’9 and 155 pounds, he only had two power-five offers. He wasn’t big enough for the blue-bloods. In two years, he has emerged as perhaps the Big 12’s best cover corner and a leader in the locker-room.
Allen Lazard and Jake Campos are locals who had Iowa State in their DNA. Both had opportunities to pick greener pastures. They chose to be Cyclones and the outside world was miffed. Lazard had the chance to depart for the NFL this past offseason, but chose to stick around to leave the program in a better place. Campos could have hung it up after dealing with numerous injuries, but chose to grind it out for one more shot to prove the doubters wrong.
And perhaps nobody better illustrates the epitome of a Cyclone than Joel Lanning. The quarterback turned middle linebacker is as selfless as it gets. It would have made perfect sense for Lanning to jump ship and play quarterback somewhere else as a grad transfer, but he never gave it a thought. He’s a Cyclone first and foremost and embraced the challenge. Running from adversity is the easy way out.
Look through the entire roster and you’ll find similar stories: overlooked, second guessed, do it the hard way. Rebuilding a program and leaving a legacy isn’t an easy task, but you can’t become a legend without a challenge.
And therein is the theme to being an Iowa Stater. The 61,500 fans in attendance on Saturday and the hundreds of thousands more around the nation know it well.
Be present, don’t quit when adversity hits and celebrate the good.
It hasn’t been easy being a Cyclone Football fan over the last half decade. As the losses pile up and the frustrations grow, doubt can creep in. But it is that undying hope and optimism that sets Cyclone Nation apart. It’s not history, tradition, excessive success or the ridiculously good tailgate setup. It’s the people, the belief, and we’re all in this together. These Cyclones represent us.
And when the celebration does come, the party is unmatched.
This Saturday morning, tens of thousands will make the trek to Ames and drive down University Boulevard once again. Music will blast, Iowa Pork will sizzle and friends will come together again. It’s a Cyclone family reunion.
The sirens sound. Football is back.