Dec 5, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State defensive back Greg Eisworth II (12) celebrates a stop for the ISU defense during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday. Iowa State takes a 21-0 lead over West Virginia into halftime. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports
I was disturbingly somber following Iowa State’s 42-6 beatdown of West Virginia on Saturday night, a win that capped off the Cyclones’ 8-1 record in the Big 12’s regular season.
It still seems like a dream.
I didn’t believe a regular season Big 12 title (I realize this isn’t officially a thing, but it is still an incredible achievement for this program that we all should acknowledge) was possible. I had no reason to doubt the Campbell staff at the time, but I doubted the situation.
My opinion was that when the Big 12 went to 10 teams and a round-robin schedule, the northern schools would greatly suffer. An already Texas-centric league would now completely dominate the league’s geographic footprint. Most northern recruits prefer Big Ten ball and many want to head south.
But then Campbell started talking about that “Big 12 option” stuff for Midwestern prospects.
I’ll be damned. It worked! Campbell’s recruiting vision played out flawlessly and set up Saturday’s opportunity to do what’s never been done at Iowa State.
But the truth is, when I woke up on Saturday morning, I wasn’t even planning to go to the game. I had a press credential, but part of me has really enjoyed staying at home on Saturdays this fall. For the last 16 years, when friends and family were tailgating, I’ve been working.
This isn’t a complaint. I am blessed to be able to do what I do. Chronicling Iowa State athletics for you all for the last 16 years has been the honor of my professional life.
But part of me is just really tired. In a very real way, with two daughters under the age of five, being at home on Saturdays has been a great blessing for my family this year.
I am also a diehard college football fan. I enjoy all of the leagues. Waking up at seven on a Saturday morning, drinking a ton of coffee, betting on 20 games and locking in from 11 a.m. until midnight is heaven for me.
I have really enjoyed all of that this year.
While I am opening up, I’ll come out and say that I am an anxious fella. Empty football stadiums – for some reason – have been a major trigger for me. I hate them. I have no clue why this is a thing for me, but it is very real. I physically cannot watch my Minnesota Vikings play a home game with no fans. I’ve tried this twice this season. I get physically uncomfortable (jittery) and no, it isn’t from the poor play of the team. (If there is a shrink out there reading this and you can tell me why I am having these awful reactions to empty stadiums, please let me know.)
The only reason I got through the Kansas State game a few weeks ago was because of my Cyclone Radio Network colleagues in my ear, coaching me as I filled in as a sideline reporter (and let’s not pretend that beating up on the pesky Wildcats didn’t play a part).
But I couldn’t miss Saturday’s game.
Over the last 16 years, there have been so many times when I thought Iowa State football was about to turn the corner.
— The first one that comes to mind was in 2004 and the infamous Missouri game over Thanksgiving weekend.
— The entire 2005 season seemed like one giant missed opportunity. That is perhaps the second best Iowa State team I have ever covered (behind this one).
— In 2010, the failed 2-point conversion (fake PAT in overtime) vs. Nebraska still haunts me. It kept Paul Rhoads from leading Iowa State to bowl games in each of his first four seasons, which would have been quite the feat.
— The 2011 Oklahoma State game felt much bigger at the time than it actually turned out to be (for Iowa State, although I can make an argument that without this upset, the College Football Playoff isn’t a thing right now), although that is still one of the most memorable nights of my life, and probably yours too.
— The 2012 team should have been 8-4, but really faded down the stretch, signaling the beginning of the end for CPR.
— The Texas road trip in 2018 deserves a spot on this list as does last season’s bowl game against Notre Dame.
At about 10 o’clock on Saturday morning, something clicked and I changed my mind. I wanted to be there when the Cyclones ended the regular season alone in first place for the first time in program history.
I watched the first half of the game in the Cyclone Radio Network booth with my brothers from another mother. I sat in the stands with former Cyclone wide receiver and my Cyclone Reaction co-host Jack Whitver for the second half, because I wanted to be with you guys, the Fanatics.
I am glad I was there. Like so many other experiences this year, though, the happiness of the moment was nearly drowned out by the strangeness of the circumstances, but then perspective hit.
For example, over the last couple of weeks, I have really tried hard not to live in my own little Clone pity party.
Because let’s be honest, it is really easy to think, “Of course the year Iowa State does takes that step in football is during a worldwide pandemic where the most loyal fans in the country can’t fully enjoy the triumphs with the team.”
I have recently been dealing with a family situation that is greatly weighing on my heart. Specifics are not important and don’t worry, everybody is fine. But I found myself in tears driving home from southwest Iowa last Monday when an odd sense of perspective hit me like a hurricane (or should I say, Derecho?).
“Think of all the shitty things going on in the world right now. People are dying. Businesses have been shattered. Iowa State football has been such a bright spot during the darkest of times. How awesome is that?”
We, a community of Iowa State fans, do have a lot to be thankful for in 2020. There is just so much ugly everywhere.
This recent election cycle was as toxic as any in my lifetime. Neighbors and family members turned on each other for a couple of men who will never know their names.
The pandemic has hurt (and killed) many of us physically. It has definitely affected us mentally too.
There are other stressors. Financial issues, kids being home from school and daycares being closed.
Constant isolation is taking its toll.
But our Cyclones have been here to provide so much joy and such an amazing distraction.
I honestly don’t know where I would be mentally right now had this football season been canceled. I don’t want to go there, as it is a very dark thought.
So here is a big “thank you” to everyone at Iowa State, from the top down. Thank you for your sacrifices and discipline. Thank you.
Back to Saturday night. Iowa State was kicking West Virginia’s ass up and down the field (the Cyclones have outscored West Virginia a combined 110-34 over the last three years). It should have been a euphoric moment in my career.
My mood was simply melancholy though.
Those damn empty seats really got to me. Even with 15,000 of you in attendance (which looks and feels much better than I ever would have guessed before actually experiencing it), the whole thing still didn’t feel like I thought it would 15 years ago when I could only dream about this moment.
Still feeling more “blah” than anything, I sang “Sweet Caroline,” walked to my truck, got my gear and went back to the press box for work.
It was about two hours later when another shot of perspective slapped me across the face.
A 53-year season ticket holder named Larry called into Cyclone Reaction. Unfortunately, Larry didn’t make it to the game. He couldn’t.
“I’m not sure I’m going to make it back next season as I’m fighting cancer,” Larry said after giving us all a much-needed history lesson on Iowa State football.
Larry has sat through more bad football as an Iowa Stater than a guy my age can comprehend. Larry basically told us that he was dying, and this football team would be the lasting memory of one of his life’s great passions – the Cyclones.
That’s a guy who has a lot to be sad about during this holiday season. Larry deserved to be in that stadium as much as anybody.
But away from it all, wondering how many days he has left on this planet, Larry was SO STINKING HAPPY.
Larry was living in the moment and loving every minute of it.
We all can learn a lot from Larry. I know I can.
God bless you all, stay safe, stay humble and go Cyclones.