Iowa Football

Iowa-Iowa State rivalry creates extra energy: 'You feel that right when you get off the bus'

Hawkeyes go for 4 straight in Cy-Hawk series at sold-out Kinnick

The Iowa Hawkeyes hoist the Cy-Hawk Trophy after their 44-41 overtime win against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Iowa Hawkeyes hoist the Cy-Hawk Trophy after their 44-41 overtime win against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — If we could just harness the energy a bus load of college football players draws when it lurches through fans toward its gameday parking spot.

You might be standing there. Maybe you’re eating a hamburger. Maybe you’re drinking a beer. And then, your first glimpse of the enemy.

Or your team. Everyone rides the bus into the stadium chaos.

It takes a second to snap out of it. There they are! OK, what was I saying again?

The Cyclones will truck through Hawkins and Melrose. The Hawkeyes find their way down from the Kirkwood Hotel in southwest Cedar Rapids.

They’ll bring their energy. They will feel your energy.

“I would compare it to when teams have to come here,” Iowa State wide receiver Carson Epps said. “Their fans, like ours, are very involved. They love their football team. They’re going to let you hear it. It’s one of the loudest places to play, sort of like Jack Trice.

“You feel that energy right when you get off the bus and that’s what makes the game so exciting.”

That’s what rivalries do. Hawkeye fans, Iowa State has your attention. It’s had it for 20 years now, since Dan McCarney and a band of Bandhauers (the Cyclones QB that day was Todd Bandhauer) blew right through the fact they were a 28-point underdog and owned the Hawkeyes, 27-9, in the 1998 game, snapping a 15-year Iowa winning streak in the series.

And, Iowa, sorry, but you’re the Death Star in this one. It’s just the perception, and all of that sweet, sweet Big Ten cash.

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It’s weird when you’re the Imperial Army and not the Rebel Alliance, isn’t it, Iowa?

Iowa has an app for that. Or wait, Iowa has a counter to that.

“Playing at home, we feel is an edge for us,” Iowa safety Jake Gervase said. “At the same time, we’ve got to protect home. If our fans bring energy, they create a good atmosphere for us. We still have to do our job. We still have to play our game.”

Cyclones kicker Connor Assalley is a sophomore from Naperville, Ill. He’s heard of the Hawkeyes. He’s really heard of Kinnick.

“Crazy fans that’ll be screaming at you the whole game,” Assalley said. “As you would do in any other stadium, you have to block out the noise and focus on your team.”

The last time Iowa State (0-0) won this thing was 2014, when kicker Cole Netten drilled a 42-yard field goal with two seconds left. That was at Kinnick. The Cyclones were a 12-point underdog.

Maybe Connor Assalley is the Rebel Alliance this Saturday.

“It’s kind of been the dream ever since I was a kid,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

When players reach this level, the rivalry noise tends to take care of itself. There are plenty of people willing to take up arms for their teams, be it on social media or wherever on the internet.

The Cy-Hawk series has sponsors. It’s all pageant until it’s not.

At this point, the players let their experiences take over. At this level of football, these guys have triumphed and failed in plenty of rivalry games.

It all has to go into the file cabinet in the brain.

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Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette was a star at Weequahic High School in Newark, N.J. He learned about rivalries butting heads with Shabazz High School.

“Sophomore year, we won. Junior year, we lost and that was tough. Senior year, we won,” Smith-Marsette said, and you could tell he probably could recite the scores.

“Going into those games, it’s not easy, a rivalry game is always going to be tough,” he said. “There’s a lot of trash talk. It’s nice to actually get out there and get your head down and just go to work on your opponent, it’s just attack everything that steps in front of you.

“It was always a dog mentality.”

Gervase is a Davenport Assumption grad. Their rival was Bettendorf (the Bulldogs are everyone’s rival in the Quad Cities).

“Beat them three years in a row,” Gervase said.

Any memories flash on what the scene was like?

“The student sections were a little more filled up,” he said. “They were louder and a little more edgy. There was trash talk on the field. It was a lot of fun to play in, and it’s kind of the same thing here. In-state game, big rivalry, trophy involved, so anytime there’s an added bonus, it brings something more to the table.”

Epps is from Jenks, Okla. Hmm, think they have rivalry games in Oklahoma? Maybe the better question is do they have anything but rivalry games?

The details just fly out of Epps.

“Our rival was the Union Redskins out of Tulsa, Oklahoma,” he said. “It’s part of the Backyard Bowl — a big storied rivalry in Oklahoma and kind of all of high school football.”

Chapman Stadium sells out. Epps said 25,000 to 30,000 attend.

“Playing in a game of that magnitude, every play matters and it’s a great feeling when you get to hold that trophy up at the end,” Epps said.

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Something with that kind of heat does give you an idea of what the Cy-Hawk cauldron might be like.

“It compares in the sense that it’s almost a national holiday in the state,” Epps said. “We have people, not just from both schools, but the whole state and out-of-state who come just to watch the game just to be part of that atmosphere. That’s one of the similarities between the two games.”

For Iowa center and Indianola native Keegan Render, it took some thought, but he quickly arrived at Ankeny for biggest prep rival. Render finished 1-1, only getting two cracks because of divisions in the Central Iowa Metro League.

This is where the Iowan thing shows up.

“There’s a little more pride in the seniors from Iowa, because it just means a lot more,” he said. “Just being from here, that’s the biggest difference. It’s the whole state and not just two communities.”

And, FYI, Indianola is the kind of town where Karen and Terry Render can fly their Iowa flag and not worry that it will be set on fire. Central Iowa is not that Hawkeye hostile. At least not yet.

“Everybody I see back home and in the Des Moines area is respectful,” Render said. “They’re not just going to trash talk you. It’s a healthy rivalry, but at the same time, they’re just not going to disrespect you.”

For Cyclones who are new to this Kinnick thing ... yes, the fans are always that close. Yes, it will get personal. The Kinnick people do their research.

“That’s one thing,” Epps said. “A lot of teams don’t feel that at our stadium because we have the stands so far back. Being right there with the fans, it adds to that feeling and effect.

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“It’s loud in there and those fans are going to let you hear it because they’re passionate about their team, just like our fans are. It’s loud.”

If Iowa wins, it’ll be four straight in the series. If the Cyclones win, Matt Campbell will have his first victory over the Hawkeyes and it will have come in front of a sold out Kinnick Stadium.

If the Hawkeyes win, the trophy will get trotted for a victory lap. If the Cyclones win, they’ll run all over Kinnick trying to find and claim their prize. (Who knows where they’ll put it anymore.)

If your team wins, it gets to run the “trophy drill.” That’s what everyone wants. One good, clean trophy drill.

“Trophy games are kind of the epitome of playing football,” Iowa senior defensive end Parker Hesse said. “You train year around. You practice all week for that one moment after the game of saying, ‘We did it.’

“All that time, all of those days, all of those weeks add up to this moment.

“In trophy games, you get to express that, going over there and hoisting that trophy. I think that’s what makes them really special.”

It’s always a moment that’s earned, bought and paid for. It should be a moment for the victor to revel in.

So, don’t be butt hurt if your team loses. This isn’t going away. There will always be next year with the Cy-Hawk.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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