The fortunes of the Iowa State program shifted on a miserable night in the infamous pink locker room in Iowa City in 2016. Iowa State was just humiliated by Iowa and stood at 0-2 to begin the Matt Campbell era. The Cyclones looked hapless, helpless and worse yet, hopeless. It was the definition of rock bottom, there was literally not one redeeming positive from the Hawkeye beat-down that night.
As the legend goes, an infuriated Campbell tore into his team for an extended period of time. If those pink walls could talk, they would have blushed into a new shade. The performance that night was unacceptable. The loser mentality that had permeated in the program would not be tolerated any longer. The message was pretty evident: if you don’t start to show some heart and fight, here’s the door.
Less than two years later and Iowa State enters the 2018 football season with its most expectations in nearly 40 years. The turnaround from that dark night in Iowa City is truly unbelievable.
Last season had moments that nobody could have anticipated. The month of October unfolded like a Disney movie as the rag-tag group of Cyclones burst into the national spotlight. The Cyclones swept the month, grabbing wins against top five foes Oklahoma and TCU, becoming the first team since 2005 to defeat two top five teams before November 1. They did it with a quarterback turned linebacker turned occasional quarterback and another quarterback the majority of Iowa State fans had never heard of. A third win over a ranked Memphis team in the Liberty Bowl capped one of the most memorable seasons in Cyclone lore.
But the beauty and cruelty of sports is, everything resets to zero and starts anew.
Despite winning eight games, defeating both teams in the Big 12 Championship game and returning several key components off of last year’s roster, the Cyclones were picked seventh by the Big 12 coaches and media. It was if everyone saw what Iowa State did a year ago and shrugged, “Bet you can’t do it again.”
See, Iowa State has made splashes in the last 20 years. The 2002 season saw the Cyclones climb all the way into the top 10 with a leading Heisman contender. 2004 and 2005 saw Iowa State get to the altar of the Big 12 Championship game. A win over second-ranked Oklahoma State in 2011 was supposed to be the signature moment of Iowa State’s emergence.
Each and every time the Cyclones couldn’t clear the next hurdle and sputtered out. Success was never sustained. Iowa State has had back-to-back seasons with winning records just twice in 40 years (2000/2001 and 2004/2005).
History wants Iowa State to prove it and the doubters remain. The spotlight that showered the Cyclones last October is nowhere to be found. Winning again must start in the dark.
Iowa Staters are a humble and a cautious group. There aren’t any front-runners because there really hasn’t been anything to front-run about. But this time around feels different. Within the Cyclone Nation, there is a belief that now, more than ever, the Cyclones are for real. We’re about to find out. 2018 is the season of show me.
Final preparations for game-day are being made. Tailgate menus set, beverages on ice and playlists queued. Tens of thousands from all corners of the state and Midwest will soon make their pilgrimage to Ames for a Cyclone reunion. All of the noise and distraction of life’s responsibilities takes a back-seat for 12 Saturdays in the fall.
In this time in the world where everything pulls us away from each other, over 60,000 unite at Jack Trice with tens of thousands more watching around the world with the common bond to cheer on the Cardinal and Gold. These folks that have loyally showed up and supported Iowa State in the worst of times are now primed and ready for the next step.
Imagine the Cyclone fan-base with a consistent winner on the football field? What if Hilton Magic migrated a few steps to the south and each home game felt like the TCU game last October? A time when Iowa State is playing for conference championships and not just bowl eligibility. It’s possible.
After a long nine months since the Liberty Bowl, we’ve almost made it. The initial drive of the season up University Boulevard never gets old. Cyclone fans dotting every nook and cranny of parking space and everyone has a smile on their face. Music blares, pork sizzles and I-State flags fly high. Emerging around the bend is the sight of Jack Trice Stadium for the first time of the season, ready and waiting for what memories surely await.
The sirens sound. It’s the dawn of a new season. Cyclone Football is back.