Hlas column: Rhoads' Cyclones brave rain at Rhodes

Things could be worse here. Much worse.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When you looked out the window first thing Friday morning, the term “bowl site” didn’t immediately flutter through your mind.

There wasn’t a palm tree or cactus or warm sea breeze to be found. Upon stepping outside my hotel, I immediately saw a worm on the pavement. It didn’t have to sweat about encountering a hot sun. A steady, chilly rain made it a day more fit for worms than bowl-eligible football teams.

But when you’ve got a Liberty Bowl game to play here Monday afternoon with expected temperatures in the low 40s and a 30 percent chance of rain, you practice in 40-degree weather in the rain.

“It rained for the first hour of practice and was just above freezing,” Iowa State running back Jeff Woody said. “It was that perfect mixture of freezing and wet.”

The Cyclones’ practice home in Memphis is Rhodes College. Rhodes, like the Liberty Bowl, has a football field made of FieldTurf, artificial grass that drains well. So it isn’t as if the team was slopping it up Friday. The field handled the rain with the ease Iowa State handled Kansas in clinching bowl-eligibility on Nov. 17.

“A lot of rain,” said Cyclones Coach Paul Rhoads. “I don’t know when it actually stopped, but it felt like it never stopped while we were out there.

“You know it going in, and they know it going in. We’ll try to establish the right mindset. We’re going to have a lot of good preparation.”

A Christmas Day snowstorm either blanketed or blasted this region, depending on the location. Memphis got an inch of snow that day, which was cleared from the Rhodes field by brooms and other objects before ISU had a light practice here Wednesday. Small piles of snow still sat on the sidelines Friday.

But Hoxie, Ark., just 92 miles northwest of Memphis, reported 14 inches of snow Tuesday. Oh, what a Liberty Bowl-week an accumulation like that would have provided.

Things were dry here Thursday. “Beautiful,” Woody said.

Friday? Not so lovely. Which was of no consequence to Iowa State offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham.

“That’s football,” he said. “You don’t play inside. You play outside in the elements. That’s what we pretty much told our players. You don’t know what you’re going to get come gameday, so we’ll go out and be in the elements and make the best of it.”

Messingham always keeps his skill-position players ready for rain.

“All season long,” said ISU running back James White. “He puts footballs in a wet bucket. The quarterbacks pick them up and throw them to us, and you have to catch multiple passes before we begin practice.

“You never know what Mother Nature gives us.”

Things could be worse than they will be here, even if it does rain. Much worse. Last Dec. 30, Iowa State played in New York’s Pinstripe Bowl. It was cold, but it at least it was dry.

Thursday, West Virginia held its Pinstripe Bowl practice in a ballroom of its Brooklyn hotel because inclement weather made practicing at Fordham University a lost cause.

Kansas State did likewise when it was in the Pinstripe two years ago. Sixteen inches of snow hit New York City four days before that game. The snow was piled as high as eight feet next to the outfield falls and behind the end zone.

The forecast for Saturday’s West Virginia-Syracuse game in Yankee Stadium is a high temperature of 34, with a likelihood of snow, possibly three inches.

I love New York. But give me blue suede shoes in a Memphis rain over snow boots in the south Bronx. There’s a worm in town that would agree.


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