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IOWA CITY — Football is built on the backs of good, healthy rivalries. These are the games you always see coming — players, fans and everyone. These are the games that you let yourself hold a little longer when you win and immediately expunge from the record after you lose.
Iowa wide receiver Jerminic Smith played for South Garland (Texas) High School. He said the big rival was Garland. He couldn’t remember many details.
“That’s probably good that you forget about it,” said Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell, who remembered Decorah mostly beating rivals West Delaware and Waukon when he played for the Vikings. “Just leave it in the past.”
Iowa State wide receiver Allen Lazard went to Urbandale. The J-Hawks’ big rivals were Johnston and West Des Moines Dowling. Urbandale and Johnston faced off a ton with regular-season and playoff matchups, so Lazard didn’t have an exact count on how that one went. On Dowling ...
“We beat them for the first time in school history my junior year,” Lazard said. “That was something special I remember.”
Someone is going to put something in the memory banks Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium. No. 10 Iowa (1-0) and Iowa State (0-1) face off in the annual Cy-Hawk game. This might be the biggest stage for these players as far as scope of rivalry, but they’ve felt the triumph, celebration and the red-hot heat from the opponents.
For Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, it was his Upper St. Clair (Pa.) High School team against Mount Lebanon. There was a bad one his junior year and, you bet, he remembered it.
“My junior year we had them like 24 to whatever it was, 7,” Ferentz said. “... They ended up beating us, and boy, that was really disappointing. That was a hard one. We were trying to catch them. They were the elite school, if you will, or the power in Western PA and all that stuff.”
First-year Iowa State coach Matt Campbell came to ISU after a 35-15 four-year run at Toledo, whose archrival is fellow Ohio college and Mid-American Conference roommate Bowling Green. It had to have been a little weird for Campbell, him being a former grad assistant and assistant coach at Bowling Green before jumping to Toledo.
“These are what makes football really special,” Campbell said. “For the last 10 years, I was a part of a rivalry where they were 20-some miles away. Being on both sides of that rivalry in the state of Ohio, it’s a great rivalry game in its own right.
“I think the key is you do have to stay within yourself.”
That doesn’t always work out, of course. If football is built on rivalries, emotion is the protein that puts muscle on it.
Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson came to Iowa City from Lombard, Ill., where he lived only a year after moving in from New York City. His roots weren’t deep enough in Illinois to feel rivalries at Montini Catholic. When he arrived at Iowa, he remembered the schooling he got on the Cy-Hawk.
“When I set foot here, that’s one of the first things I learned about, Iowa and Iowa State,” Johnson said. “It’s one of the biggest games of the season. Iowa State has a really huge hatred for us. I think it’s mostly the fans and I think they hate us more than the players do.”
The history lesson came from Ferentz. It involved the coin toss.
“He told us a story, I think it was 1981, and our captains went out for the coin toss and their captains spit at our guys,” Johnson said. “That’s how deep this hatred is. Since then, I was like, ‘This is a huge rivalry.’”
That door certainly swings both ways. Here’s where we balance things by mentioning that time former Iowa defensive lineman Bret Bielema gave former Iowa State coach Jim Walden a verbal chop block after the 1992 game.
Rivalries have heat. They just do. That comes out and sometimes it comes out in ways you might not be able to control.
Iowa State center Brian Bobek’s dad, Jeff, played football at Iowa, lettering for the Hawkeyes in 1980. Brian Bobek has been on a team that faced the Hawkeyes, just not an Iowa State team. He was on the squad for three seasons at Minnesota, including 2014, when the Gophers ran away from Iowa 51-14.
Bobek probably joined in on the “We hate Iowa” chant that day in 2014. He certainly has a unique perspective having now been in on two rivalries against Iowa.
“The main difference is here everyone is intertwined, everyone Iowa State and Iowa lives here,” Bobek said. “It’s not the case there, it’s really a border war. Here, everyone lives in the same border, so I feel like there’s a little more hatred here between the fans.”
Do the players feel that “hate”? Not really, according to a few who were polled.
“Both teams just want to win the game,” Bobek said. “That’s very similar to what it was at Minnesota.”
Iowa State quarterback Joel Lanning, a prep star at Ankeny, also has picked up on the vitriol between the fan bases.
“I think the rivalry is worse between the fans than it is the two teams,” he said. “The fan bases just don’t get along at all. It’s fun to be a part of. It’s an awesome atmosphere.”
Iowa guard Boone Myers is from Webster City, which is just north of Ames. He grew up an Iowa fan before he walked on and earned a scholarship going into last season. His theory on why fans might hold on to this a little longer than maybe they should is the nature of a football player keeping a football schedule.
“When you’re playing football, it’s one game to the next,” Myers said. “Whatever happens Saturday, we’re on to the next game. You have to keep moving on, so I’d say the fans probably dwell on it a little more, but, don’t get me wrong, it still hurts if we lose and still feels good if we win.”
Rivalries are rivalries because two large groups of people care deeply about the competition. Fans are not simply along for the ride in this. In some ways, they’re driving the bus.
“I think fans take it more personally,” Lazard said. “The players are just happy to play Division I football and have the amazing support that we have from our fans. Both stadiums are great venues and great places for college football.”
Iowa defensive end Matt Nelson played his prep football at Cedar Rapids Xavier, whose rival is Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
“Me, as a varsity player, I think we shut them out for two years in a row,” he said.
Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin is from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and played at Calvary Christian Academy. The big rival was Westminster Academy.
“We beat them every time,” Mabin said with a laugh. “Of course I remember it, you don’t forget things like that.”
Iowa strong safety Miles Taylor is from Silver Spring, Md., and played prep football at Gonzaga College High School, which has rivalries with Georgetown Prep and St. John’s.
“We won most of them,” Taylor said with a smile. “You always have to remember those. They’re the rivalry games. You remember everything.”
Iowa State safety Kamari Cotton-Moya is from Bakersfield, Calif. He played at Ridgeview High School. Their rival was Independence. Cotton-Moya is a junior and has been through a couple of Cy-Hawks. The high school rivalries were one thing, this game between Big Ten and Big 12 schools obviously is another level.
“There’s nothing like this Iowa-Iowa State rivalry,” he said. “When I came here and they started telling me about the rivalry, I got it. Then, when we went there my second year, I was like ‘Wow.’ And it’s still like ‘Wow.’”
Iowa running back Akrum Wadley is from Newark, N.J., and attended Weequahic High School. The big rival was Malcolm X Shabazz High School, which happens now to be where Akrum’s mom, Sharonda, coaches girls basketball.
“I did really good against them,” he said with a laugh.
Wadley made the trip to Ames for Iowa’s 31-17 victory. Walking into Jack Trice Stadium, he immediately got it.
“Last year, seeing how crazy it gets during this game, a light went off in my head,” Wadley said. “I knew what this really meant. This is a big game for us. This is what we work for, this is why we put in the hours during the offseason. It couldn’t get any better than this.”
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