Final Score Iowa 31 Iowa State 17; Attendance: 61,500
Weather: Beautiful, 67; Ticket Price: Free! Parking: Free
“Is this Heaven? No, It is Iowa State” by Tree
(with some pro-Cyclone editing by Doug Moore)
Jack Trice Stadium is the home the Iowa State Cyclones in the picturesque town of Ames, Iowa. It is a medium sized stadium – bigger than a MAC stadium but not the size of a Big 10 behemoth like Michigan’s Big House. Surprisingly, Jack Trice is the 2nd largest stadium in the Big 12, owing to the legions of loyal ISU fans who have no pesky pro teams to siphon money from their wallets. The south end zone of the stadium was recently bowled in (2015), although there are still general admission lawn seats. It was filled with families and it was refreshing to see the kids starting impromptu football games of their own. There are seat backs for the lower deck and then bench seating for the upper deck. Two very nice new high definition video boards that not only provide highlights but stats as well. There is also a new video ribbon board that provides other scores on top of the normal promotional fare. It is always nice to be in a stadium where they recognize there are other games going on. An additional bonus was that there were very few overproduced videos. I can’t stand being at a game where they throw up movie trailer after movie trailer on the scoreboard. It’s a football game, not a drive-in. The concessions are mix of standard stadium foodstuffs along with some booths / carts providing more fair-like foods (It is Iowa after all). I got a derivative of a Frito Pie called a Walking Taco that was outstanding. No evaluation on the bathrooms at Jack Trice thanks to the quality of said Walking Taco.
Due to the hospitality of my buddy Doug and some of his friends in the football department, I was the lucky recipient of a sideline pass. It felt just like being back at the ‘Hurst where I spent four years patrolling the sidelines without hope of any significant playing time. Of course, it was a bit different at Iowa State. First: Real grass- ISU has won the B12 turf competition repeatedly for the Jack Trice surface. Their turf department is one of the best in the country, and the field shows it. Second: Everybody was a lot bigger. A. lot. bigger. Third: I didn’t have to dodge sideline reporters and camera men at the Hurst. My back pedal was tested on a pass to the flat during the game and proved to be serviceable. Doug could not say the same as he was nearly trucked by the Iowa receiver.
I can’t vouch for the view from stands but given the size of the stadium, I would guess there isn’t a bad seat in the house. There’s a club section that sells beer in the new bowled in end zone. We visited it the night prior to the game, and it’s really impressive. The band sounded great at halftime and Cy, the Cyclone mascot, is one of the better looking ones in the NCAA.
Despite this being the biggest game of the year against cross-state rival Iowa, I did see scalpers selling tickets. However, there was no question that this was a sellout. Given the on and off again success of the program and the vagaries of harvesting weather (again – we are in Iowa), I would guess that getting an Iowa State ticket is a relatively easy task for run-of-the-mill B12 games. The weather for this game was absolutely perfect – low 70’s on the field with a slight breeze. After sweating through a miserable Houston summer, Ames was an absolute oasis. I didn’t notice many specific traditions at the game. However, they do a “Cyclone severe weather warning” at the beginning of the game. It isn’t exactly Va Tech coming out to “Enter the Sandman”, but it is fairly clever. Apparently over the years it has left visiting fans confused and looking skyward for the funnel clouds. The fans do a cross stadium cheer of “Cyclone” “Power” but that’s just a variation of a cheer I have seen in dozens of stadiums. I heard the crowd sings “Sweet Caroline” if they are leading at the start of the fourth quarter. I did not get to experience that. Apparently, after their 2011 defeat of #2 ranked Okie State, the entire stadium stormed the field and sang “Sweet Caroline” for 3 hours until the coach came out and asked them to go home.
Getting to Ames is pretty easy, especially if your buddy flies you in his plane. It is only about an hour’s drive from Des Moines so getting a direct flight to there is probably the biggest travel challenge you will face. Ames is your quintessential college town so getting around is simple enough. The stadium is on the edge of campus which adds to the ambiance. We had a parking pass so not sure how much parking costs but I would imagine it is $10 – $20. The tailgating was sublime. There was lots of good natured ribbing between Iowa and Iowa State fans. The folks at the tailgates were generous to a fault, exposing me to hash brown casserole, a delicious, cheesy mess which I enjoyed immensely. There’s not a lot of pretense in Iowa, so Bud tall boys and local micros ruled the day. I did not see anything noteworthy in fan appearance except that there was a little more denim and suspenders than usual. I thought I’d see more of the girls in cowboy boots style but it was pretty muted. Doug and his other friend Chris pointed out that we were in Iowa, not Nebraska. Apparently, Nebraska is the line of cowboy demarcation. Of course, the Iowa State fans were happy to point out how trashy the Iowa fans looked, especially after their painful loss. Like I said, it is a very healthy rivalry. The only drawback was that there probably could have been more porta-johns in the parking lots. Of course, the lines are just part of the cause/effect of drinking rivers of beer.
This was a very good game that went back and forth the entire way. Iowa State struggled to stop Iowa’s running game. Likewise, the Hawkeyes couldn’t seem to stop the Cyclone passing attack. Iowa seemed to get stronger, or luckier, in the second half. A couple of times Iowa State came up with big hits that delivered everything but the ball. In one instance a fumble of an Iowa player bounced right into another Hawkeye’s hands for an easy stroll to the end zone. But halfway through the fourth quarter, a Cyclone tackler brought the hammer down and caused a red zone fumble by the Hawkeyes. I thought this was the spark Iowa State needed as they recovered the ball and killed the would-be Hawkeyes go-ahead drive. Alas, the Cyclone offense could not deliver. Iowa forced a punt and then drove down to score in the final two minutes. Iowa tacked on another touchdown after an interception of a desperate pass, but that final score was just a fait accompli.
I have certainly had some great times attending games all over the country and this trip will definitely be included among them. The weather was fantastic, the folks I spent the weekend with were fun as hell, and I got to do some behind the scenes tours of a major athletic program. For a DIII wanna-be, this was pretty heady stuff. Since I assume most folks won’t get that kind of treatment, I will try to evaluate the Iowa State experience objectively.
The atmosphere at the game was great, but it was their rivalry game. Iowa State takes great pride in pointing out that they were the first land-grant university as well as the current largest of the three Iowa universities. The legendary coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 80’s, Hayden Fry, used the symbol “ANF” (America Needs Farmers) on the helmets to share the plight of Iowa farmers in the Carter years (Remember “Farm Aid”?- that was very, very real in Iowa). The comment by Iowa State fans on Iowa’s current use of the “ANF” logo is that “the closest an Iowa grad has ever come to real farming is that the lawyer who foreclosed on your grandpa in 1985 went to UI Law school”. These folks take agriculture seriously.
The tailgating was very strong, with the only negative impact being all the Republican candidates popping in to make an appearance (again, it is Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation caucuses). I can do without politicians (Trump, Rand, Walker to name a few) who think spending 15 minutes at a tailgate shows they are just like everyone else. All these rubes did was tie up the parking lots for those of us who wanted to enjoy the experience. I’d also like to give a shout out to the Iowa fan with the “Drinko” game board set up at the tailgate. I have never seen that twist on the Price is Right mainstay, and I thought it was sheer genius. Tailgating aside, Jack Trice Stadium is clean and just the right size. The fans are friendly and get into the game. The current product on the field is an exciting one and Iowa State seems to have the ability to generate the occasional upset in the Big 12. So certainly, if your team is playing Iowa State in Ames go by all means. The same could be said for going to the Iowa game. A visit any other time is still likely to be a lot of fun although perhaps not as good as some of the marquee programs. As for me personally, my Iowa State experience was nearly perfect.