Tailgate Northern Iowa 2021

Iowa State fans gather around a grill during a tailgate ahead of the Cyclones' season opener on Sept. 4 vs Northern Iowa.

The smell of burgers and brats. Footballs being tossed around. Waiting in line to park. It all returned Saturday.

The tailgate scene in Ames returned a bit to “normalcy” for the first time in nearly two years as the Cyclones played host to the University of Northern Iowa Panthers to open the 2021 football season. Cyclone fans were happy to be back together to celebrate.

Ahead of the season opener, fans were able to rejoice and enjoy their usual pregame traditions. The lots were filled with the usual RVs, tents and loud speakers, as people gathered to celebrate the opening weekend of the college football season.

“It just feels good to be back,” Iowa State junior Matt Scharingson said.

After the COVID-19 pandemic swept through college athletics a year ago, many questioned if fan interaction and involvement on game-days would ever be the same again. But the pregame buzz in Ames seemed like fans were back in their comfort zone just like that — a welcome-back party so to speak after two years apart.

Everyone seemingly has their own pregame routines and rituals. Some cook the same food every weekend or perhaps they may play a certain song as they head to Ames. Scharingson mentioned playing the fight song the moment he’s able to see Jack Trice Stadium, something his father’s done since he can remember.

“For diehard Cyclone fans like my family, Saturday was an incredible atmosphere being able to be back and tailgating in Ames," Scharingson said.

It's been 650 days, but fans itching to get back to a game day environment got that chance in full effect Saturday. It had been that long since Iowa State took the field at home in front of a normal full-capacity crowd. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect either, as the sun came out around kick off at the tune of mid-70 degree temperature.

“I couldn’t help but have tears in my eyes as I crossed into Ames and saw Jack Trice [Stadium],” attendee Erin Lee said at a tailgate.

For Iowa State Senior Marcquaun Smith, it was his first tailgating experience in Ames. And it was one he won't forget. He enjoyed seeing the players running out of the tunnel to blaring Kanye West music and smoke — a tradition he wants to make sure he sees at each game he attends. The day fulfilled his expectations.

“It was exciting being apart of this type of environment again, especially for my senior year," Smith said. "After the pandemic, I kind of lost hope on having a fun-filled senior year like this."

The Cyclones ended up winning the opener 16-10 over the Panthers in the newly-renovated Jack Trice Stadium, with a brand-new concourse outside the Jacobson Athletic Building. While the game itself didn’t exactly live up to the pregame expectations, the pregame tailgating experience certainly did for the fans who experienced it.

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