Believe it or not, I’m not an ISU football fan.
Yes, covering the team forces me to be objective by nature. But even if I weren’t a beat writer for ISU football, I’m not entirely certain I would cheer for the team or even attend games for purposes other than enjoying college football.
Growing up in Iowa, however, made me well aware of the rivalry between Iowa and Iowa State, as well as the rift said rivalry has created. In school, some teachers would have ISU posters or Hawkeye memorabilia in their classrooms, kids would wear a Cyclone or Hawkeye shirt at least once a week, and the tension between the two teams was evident even miles away from the respective campuses.
“It’s competitive, yet neighbors aren’t doing destructive things to each other based on the outcome of this football game,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads at his team’s weekly dinner last Sunday night.
Despite my neutrality in the feud, getting to witness the civil animosity between the two schools in a state with no professional sports teams was somewhat unreal.
Fresh in my memory is that sunny day a year ago at Jack Trice Stadium, where Steele Jantz wrote a new chapter in Cy-Hawk history with the Cyclone’s 44-41 triple-overtime upset of the favored Iowa.
Comparisons were made between Jantz and Seneca Wallace, who defeated Iowa twice in his time as the ISU quarterback in the early 2000s. His name still resonates fondly among ISU faithful, and the Cyclones owned bragging rights once agains, at least until this fall.
I watched from the press box in an off-green dress shirt and khakis, sitting next to someone who was, for some reason, wearing a Hawkeye jersey. As much of a faux pas it is for someone to wear a jersey in a press box, some would say wearing Hawkeye clothing on the ISU campus is just as much of a gaffe.
“People have their own freedom but if you’re going to wear an Iowa shirt, I say go to Iowa,” said ISU free safety Jacques Washington. “I kind of wonder, are people at Iowa wearing Iowa State gear?”
One would think there would be a couple of rogue Cyclone fans in Iowa City as there are Hawkeye fans in Ames, but similarity in cultures should never be assumed, especially since Iowa leads the all-time series 39-20.
Senior linebacker A.J. Klein has vocally opposed Hawkeye fans on campus and said students should take pride in their school regardless of past fandoms.
“For me, I’m from Wisconsin; I grew up a Wisconsin fan — it doesn’t mean anything,” Klein said. “I don’t like Wisconsin; I’m an Iowa State Cyclone, and I always will be. I think it’s a punch to the jaw if you’re a student here and you don’t support your own team.”
However, linebacker and fellow team captain Jake Knott said there’s been a culture change from three years ago with Rhoads’ success as coach of the team having gone to two bowl games in three years and notched upsets against Nebraska, Texas and then-No. 2 Oklahoma State.
“There’s hardly any of that except for guys that are looking for attention,” Knott said of people wearing Hawkeye clothing on campus. “There’s a lot smarter people on campus, I guess you could say.”
Starting nose tackle Jake McDonough said he was raised to be a Hawkeye fan, but quickly changed his tune when he was being recruited in high school for football.
“Most of my dad’s side of the family [are] Hawk fans; it’s pretty split actually,” McDonough said. “My grandpa graduated from [Iowa State] and my grandma’s a huge Hawk fan, so I hear both sides of it.”
For McDonough, the Cy-Hawk rivalry is family oriented, as it is for many native Iowans.
Being on the outside looking in, even as someone who has lived in this state for most of my life, the bad blood between Cyclone and Hawkeye fans is blatantly evident.
All eyes will be on Kinnick Stadium on Saturday and even though it only holds a little more than 70,000 people, it might as well hold the entire state of Iowa since it will be watching.
As for McDonough, he said his Hawkeye side of the family still cheers for him in the cardinal and gold, but with some stipulations.
“They always say: ‘Lay off the quarterback’ or ‘Don’t hurt anybody,’” McDonough said. “Typical Hawk fans.”