MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Iowa State basketball coach Steve Prohm firmly believes in something Matt Campbell’s rising football program can use to its advantage this weekend.
“You only get three chances per year to bring back a trophy,” Prohm often says. “The preseason holiday tournament, the Big 12 Tournament, and the Big Dance. That’s it.”
Bringing home actual championships – regardless of how “major” they might be – is critical to building a winning culture. It’s that whole “learning how to win,” thing.
Iowa State’s football program hasn’t done much of this over the years.
Iowa State first fielded a football team in 1892. Since then, the program has three measly bowl championships to show for it.
Campbell, who was recently rewarded with a new six-year contract, views Saturday’s Liberty Bowl (11:30 a.m. on ABC) vs. Memphis in a similar light to Prohm and his collection of chopped up nets.
Bringing a Liberty Bowl trophy back to some campuses wouldn’t be a big deal. It is widely considered to be a lower to middle tier game in a sport that many believe has way too many bowls. But at Iowa State, a program with a putrid 3-9 bowl record, adding anything to the football trophy case is most certainly a very big deal.
“I think it means a whole heck of a lot to Iowa State,” Campbell said. “There aren’t a lot of those trophies back in Ames, Iowa and for these players to be able to come back sometimes and bring their families around and see a trophy – that’s powerful. Our kids know that. It’s going to be a tough 60 minutes in order to do that but it would be rewarding not just now but for the rest of their lives.”
Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas was the No. 1 song in America during Iowa State’s last bowl win – a Jake Knott and A.J. Klein led 14-13 triumph over Minnesota in the 2009 Insight Bowl. Avatar was notably the No. 1 movie.
Iowa State’s century-long bowl drought was finally conquered in 2000 – a memorable 37-29 victory over Pitt in the Insight.com Bowl.
The team’s week in Memphis has consisted of a lot of work. Joel Lanning called it a “business trip.” The mornings have consisted of three to four hours of film and practice, while afternoons and evenings are more “fun.”
The Cyclones went on a shopping spree at Bass Pro on Tuesday evening. Wednesday afternoon will consist of a memorable trip to the Civil Rights Museum followed by a rodeo at night. On Thursday, the team will spend a good chunk of time at the St. Jude Research Hospital, which is sure to be touching to this group of young men.
Those experiences are a valuable part of the reward that is going to a bowl game, but nothing compares to holding up a trophy at the conclusion of the last game of the season.
“I’ve heard some coaches say that this should be fun,” Campbell said. “I am all about an experience but this is still a football game at the end of it. I think what ends up fun is when you are at the locker room at the end of the game and winning.”
Combine a 7-5 regular season, two wins over top-five opponents and the best recruiting we have ever seen in Ames – there have never been more reasons for fans to be excited about the future of Iowa State football.
A loss to Memphis on Saturday wouldn’t change that, but a win would be another step forward in changing the culture of a program that frankly lacks any substantial football tradition at all. The Cyclones have their eyes on the prize.