The past informs the present as ISU faces long odds in Norman

 Chris Pedersen, pictured in a game against Nebraska, rushed for 148 yards and the game-winning touchdown in ISU’s 33-31 win in 1990 at Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Iowa State Athletics Communications.  

His phone may buzz with a scoring update. His DVR will definitely be set.

But the man many consider to be the hero of Iowa State’s last win against Oklahoma won’t be watching Saturday’s 11 a.m. reprise of the lopsided Big 12 matchup live.

Former Cyclone quarterback Chris Pedersen is first and foremost a proud dad — and his son, Bennett, will be competing for Waukee in the Class 4A State Golf Tournament in Marshalltown.

“I’m actually going to have to record the game and watch it after the fact or something because I’ll be following along on the golf course,” said Pedersen, who bristles politely at hero talk centered around his performance in ISU’s 33-31 victory in 1990 at Norman. “I’m probably more of a fold up on the phone and try to follow along a little bit and watch the highlights type of guy, especially as time gets a little more crunched when you’ve got stuff going on.”

Life. Family. Kids’ activities.

Priorities change as responsibilities grow — and Pedersen, a financial advisor for Wells Fargo, has shuffled them accordingly. But the similarities between that fateful day 27 years ago and now aren’t lost on the former dual-threat quarterback who played a pivotal role in the landmark triumph that sent Sooner fans reeling.

“I’d be ecstatic,” Pedersen said when asked if this version of the Cyclones could shock the college football world as his did more than a quarter of a century ago. “I’m really excited about what’s going on up there. I’d be really happy for the team and the coaches. It’s kind of an opportunity to get some reward for all the hard work I know they’ve been putting in up there.”

The Cyclones (2-2, 0-1), then and now, are heavy underdogs. The Sooners (4-0, 1-0) remain gridiron bluebloods. ISU’s won five games in the long-running series — as opposed to 74 losses and two ties.

ISU managed to buck the trend 27 years ago the usual way: with a little luck and a lot of guts.

The Cyclones trailed by 14 points twice in the first half. Star running back Blaise Bryant was knocked out of the game and the Sooners led 28-17 at halftime. Still, ISU would rise. A fake punt converted by Marv Seiler (a hero two years later against Nebraska) led to a seven-yard touchdown run by Sherman Williams, who was in for the injured Bryant.

The Cyclones still trailed 31-26 after a failed two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter and Oklahoma seemed destined to seal the win with 2:50 to go.

Kicker R.D. Lashar (now a middle-aged, middleweight MMA fighter) lined up for a 23-yard field goal and … missed it.

New life, fresh hope. Pedersen — who rushed for 148 yards that day — drove the field and eventually sneaked into the end zone with 35 seconds left.

“It was just a kind of classic just keep fighting kind of deal,” Pedersen said. “A don’t give up kind of deal. It kind of wound up at the end that there we were with a chance to pull it off. Credit the defense a lot for keeping us in the game.”

That defense gave up three points in the second half.

The 2017 Cyclones need a similarly dominant performance on that side of the ball in order to threaten OU’s 18-game win streak in the series.

ISU managed to slow, but not stop the Baker Mayfield-led Sooners in last season’s 34-24 loss at Jack Trice Stadium.

This Saturday, Ray Lima — a man called “an unsung hero” by Cyclone coach Matt Campbell — will be front and center in the trenches. If he and fellow tackle Vernell Trent can continue to routinely occupy two blockers, linebackers such as Joel Lanning, Willie Harvey and Marcel Spears will put pressure on both the run game and Mayfield.

A big “if,” but that’s always the case against OU.

“I can’t thank those guys enough,” said Lanning, the Big 12’s second-leading tackler. “The whole year the D-line’s been killing it for us.”

As for the “unsung hero” himself, he seemed surprised Campbell had applied the term to him.

“Man,” Lima said. “He did? I don’t know. I guess defensively we’re playing pretty good, but we’ve still got a long way to go. I just do what I can. I don’t see myself as much of a hero.”

Just like Pedersen, who nonetheless emerged as one on an otherwise nondescript fall day in 1990.

“The teammates. The locker room. The ride home,” Pedersen said. “I recall a nice welcome when we got back to the stadium and got off the busses. A group of people had shown up for us when we got off the busses, so that was a great gesture by Cyclone fans to do that. Again, just fortunate to have been part of a game like that where we just kind of won that. You’ll always remember. And like I said, I see it brought up probably a few more times than I deserve in terms of something I played in from a while back.”

Multiple heroes emerged that day, whether they marked the stat sheet much or not.  Several still reside in central Iowa. One established a legacy at ISU.

Then-freshman defensive back Kevin Lazard, has shared stories of the Oklahoma win with his record-setting son, Allen.

“Oh yeah, obviously that’s one of his, I’d say his pinnacle or one of his greatest performances here at Iowa State, beating OU — especially at OU in that era when OU was very dominant,” said Allen Lazard, who will play a key role on offense as ISU tries to rebound from an uncharacteristically low-scoring performance against Texas. “So obviously he’s very proud of that and brings it up all the time.”

But …

“I haven’t really spoken to him much about it this week,” Lazard said.

The past is just that, no matter how fondly aspects of it are remembered. Memories fade as new ones materialize. Saturday’s challenge is also an opportunity — if and only if ISU enjoys a little luck and plays with a lot of guts.

“This is a group that’s never been intimidated by who they’re playing, where they’re playing,” Campbell said. “And I think that’s all based on confidence. Confidence in terms of what your process is each week. Now respect is another thing. I think they certainly have,  you watch the film and you’ve got a great deal of respect for your opponent. … Who wouldn’t want to play? That’s why you come to a school like Iowa State, to play in environments and play in big-time games like this. What an opportunity for our football team and our kids to go play a team like Oklahoma at Oklahoma. I know we’ll be really excited. I think our kids are excited just to get back on the field and look forward to the opportunity for sure.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.