The Cyclones and Hawkeyes are putting together solid college football seasons. Neither of them are anticipating playoff appearances, but both are sitting inside the Top-25 – in every poll – and have program altering wins.
Iowa has shown that ability in previous high-caliber matchups, but Iowa State has not been better than 3-9 since 2012 and I’m sure most fans weren’t expecting one win against a top-5 opponent, let alone two coming into this season.
The atmosphere at both stadiums has been nothing short of astounding. Fans turn out in droves to see either team take on any opponent and this year, they are doing it for good reasons.
That is quite unlike the two major college football programs I grew up near.
The two big-time programs I spent the first 18 years of my life closest to were the Stanford Cardinal and the UC Berkeley or Cal Golden Bears.
(Side note, it stuns me how many people I’ve run into who think UC Berkeley and Cal are two different schools – if this is you, here is your easy way out.)
Both programs had teams ranked in the top-5 multiple times during my youth and both programs fans struggled to support either school.
The Golden Bears reached their highest mark of this century in 2007 when they were one play away from being No. 1 in the nation. But, attendance at games was never enough to cause any major stirs – an even bigger concern given the stadium sits on a fault line.
Cal reached the top-10 five times between 2004 to 2009. Stanford, just across the bay, posted a similar feat, sitting inside the top-10 every year from 2010-2013.
But, a majority of the programs “fans” failed to truly show support of their school unlike what I’ve seen from the Cyclone and Hawkeye faithful.
Sports talk radio and other media outlets in the Bay Area thrived on professional sports around the area. Attendance was decent, but never a staple of either program.
Keep in mind, both programs were littered with Heisman talents, professional prospects and golf-cart whippin’ personalities.
Stanford built a new stadium in 2005 and shrunk its capacity from 85,500 to just a sliver over 50,000.
UC Berkeley, even as a consistent 9 to 10 win program in the mid-to-late 2000’s was only sneaking into the top-30 in attendance. And after its fall from grace, the attendance marks are nothing to be proud of.
Meanwhile, Iowa State set an attendance record in 2015 – a year in which they went 3-9 – while averaging over 53,000 attendees per home contest.
I began noticing how poor the fan affiliation was while I was at college in Ohio, but Ohio bleeds for one school, which I will not name. The Bay Area just can’t counter.
It’s spectacular to see Iowa show as much life as they do for two programs.
I’ll be attending my second Iowa State game this weekend and while I haven’t had the chance to visit Kinnick, I can tell from what I’ve seen on TV and around Creston, just what the fans are like.
Even walking through the office or driving around town, it’s clear where allegiances lie.
All this is to say that I’m amazed at how much Iowans care for their collegiate sports teams. Even though it’s the kind of fandom I’ve seen from certain individuals, it’s never something I expected from almost an entire state.
While I will always love where I grew up, the alliance to the collegiate programs was never there, even if the program was experiencing a surge in athletics.
I can’t wait to see how each fan base turns out for the rest of the year, even if neither team participates in a conference championship game.
I have a feeling it will still carry more than either program I grew up close to.