Iowa Hawkeyes

An Iowa fan and his hundreds of Hawkeye Top 20 lists

Ely's Ryan McCullough reads, researches and roots for Iowa devotedly

Ryan McCullough with his vast array of Hawkeyes football and men’s basketball Top 20 lists (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
Ryan McCullough with his vast array of Hawkeyes football and men’s basketball Top 20 lists (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)

If I ever compile a list of the 20 Most Devoted Iowa Hawkeyes Fans, I’ll put Ryan McCullough of Ely at No. 1.

But in fairness, I should defer to McCullough when it comes to creating such a list. Because he’s authored about every other Top 20 you can make when it comes to Hawkeyes football and men’s basketball.

Iowa’s 20 Best Football Players. Iowa’s 20 Best Plays to Start the Second Half. The 20 Best Homecomings That Iowa Spoiled.

“I love all things Hawkeye,” McCullough said. “I wanted to put my stamp on Hawkeye history.”

He has two binders stuffed with a combined 3,000 pages, containing hundreds of his Hawkeye Top 20s from the most-obvious categories to the more-obscure. It’s for his own enjoyment, not mass-consumption. The lists don’t cover all Iowa games, mind you. Just the ones the Hawkeyes won.

Nate Kaeding, you rank No. 1 on McCullough’s list of Iowa’s 20 Best Honorary Captains. That’s because Kaeding was the honorary captain for Iowa’s rout of Ohio State last year, on Nov. 4. On that same date in 2000, Kaeding kicked a field goal for the deciding score in Iowa’s 26-23 double-overtime win at Penn State.

Do you think anyone else knew about the Nov. 4 connection when Kaeding was chosen to captain that game, including Kaeding himself?

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Because of McCullough’s reasoning, my favorite on that particular list was No. 12, with longtime team trainer Ed Crowley given the honors for the 2004 Purdue game.

“It was fitting because it was a patched-up ballclub that fashioned yet another win,” McCullough said.

I spent an hour with McCullough this week, and probably could have made it a week. His lists are memory-joggers, filled with details that get forgotten and so much more you never knew. This man has read and researched.

He is a 43-year-old who works as an indexer at Transamerica. He’s an Iowa graduate and was a film student there. He calls the 1985 Michigan-Iowa football game his “Citizen Kane,” which is his No. 1 movie.

“I took a filmmaker/documentary approach to these lists with the way they’re edited and arranged,” he said. “I want to use my imagination so I don’t lose it.”

He began creating the lists in 2004, inspired by an ESPN series that debuted that year called “Who’s #1?” The show had countdowns of sports lists, some obvious and some offbeat, from Best Teams and Best Coaches to Best Sports Commercials and Best Blunders.

“I got my imagination rolling,” said McCullough. “I did it for laughs at first, but also to educate myself about the Hawkeyes.”

Iowa’s 20 Best Free Throws. Iowa’s 20 Best Wins Without a Rushing Touchdown. Iowa’s 20 Best Dives/Slides.

McCullough is, he said, a high-functioning autistic.

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“Some things I can control, some things are beyond my control. That kind of goes with the territory when you have a disability. Not everybody understands that.

“One of the biggest problems l have as an autistic if I don’t pick up social cues. Social interactions are difficult as well.

“It’s something I’ve also been judged on quite a few times as a result. I think maybe a person listening or talking to me may think I’m being offensive. I’m not trying to be. If he or she is trying to give me a social cue, I just can’t pick up on it. Then sometimes I’m just left wondering what exactly I said or did to offend that person.”

This is an extremely intelligent and articulate fellow. I’m generally not one for lists, yet found myself enjoying his because of how creative they are and the details he notes to accompany them.

Iowa’s 20 Best Pick-Sixes. Iowa’s 20 Best Charges Taken. Iowa’s 20 Best Celebrations.

You want to know if this is more than just a data and trivia guy? Does his pulse race and stomach churn on game days?

“Sometimes I have to try to let myself have fun and try not to take the game too seriously,” McCullough said. “Unfortunately, I take it more seriously than I ought to.

“I love seeing Iowa win,” McCullough said. “I hate seeing Iowa lose.”

Maybe the Hawkeyes will do something list-worthy Saturday against Maryland. But first they must win. A rule is a rule. No victory, no lists.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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