Big 12 football: Travel blog to Ames & Waco
I have found something better than a college football game. Two college football games. A Friday night OSU-Iowa State, coupled with a 7 p.m. Saturday kickoff for OU-Baylor, gave me the chance to get to both games.
So on the trip, I was in five states; traveled on two airplanes, three cars and a hotel shuttle; stayed in two hotels; ate in two restaurants and got two takeout/drivethroughs, worked three wireless electronic devices mostly without international incident; wrote about another dark day in OSU history; and covered two massive upsets after which the field was stormed by thousands of fans.
IOWA’S GREATEST ASSET
You know how in Oklahoma, we say people are our greatest asset? Do you suppose every state says that? Surely it’s not true. Surely they don’t say that, for instance, in New Jersey.
I think it’s spot-on about Oklahoma, but I’m a little biased, being an Oklahoman. I also think it’s spot-on about Iowa. And I have no Iowa ties.
I just love going there. I love the sense that I’m in a different place. You know how I love Lubbock, and the sense that I’ve entered the American frontier? That’s how I feel about Iowa. I’ve left the Oklahoma/Baja Oklahoma Southwest. I’ve even left the Kansas/Nebraska heartland and the Missouri hills. When I get to Iowa, I feel like I’m in the Great American North.
And here’s how I know. Driving I-35 the 29 miles from Des Moines to Ames, a mileage sign screams the message, Minneapolis 230.
Minneapolis? I’m in Minneapolis territory? Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air? The Purple People Eaters winning an NFC title at Metropolitan Stadium? Americans with that “Fargo” accent?
Iowa doesn’t feel anything like Kansas or Nebraska or Missouri. Iowa feels different.
And it’s not the cold, even though it is cold a good chunk of the time. It’s not the cornfield topography, though Iowa’s got more cornfields than you count.
It’s the people. Great, great people who seem to have their priorities straight. Friendly, with a little of that throaty accent that’s so charming. Hearty, toughened by the elements in which they live. And fun, as if they’ve found the secret to athletic joy, which for all I know they have.
From the desk clerks at the hotel to the parking lot attendants at Jack Trice Stadium, Iowans seem to proclaim a message different from most hospitable places. Instead of “I’m glad you’re here,” it’s, “I’m glad I’m here.”
Notice the difference? People who make their home – be it a house or a campus or a city or a state – seem like a great place to be don’t really have to sell us outsiders. It’s not a snow job. I like that.
And it’s possible that the best Iowans are Iowa State fans. The Cyclones have great fans. Great, great fans. They averaged 53,000 fans a game this season, virtually a season sellout at Jack Trice, and few programs can match that kind of allegiance, when you factor in historic football success.
Bluntly, Iowa State hasn’t been all that good in football. Ever. We write a lot about long-suffering fan bases, like Oklahoma State’s. But the Cowboys have been national powers over the years, compared to Iowa State.
And yet they wear their red and gold, and tail-gate like madmen, and bundle up for a cold Friday night to cheer on the Cyclones when ESPN was more than willing to beam the game into their living rooms.
Baylor doesn’t have much of a fan base or much of a game-day atmosphere at Floyd Casey Stadium. But Baylor’s got some stadium tradition I think is totally cool.
Baylor’s students and band enters the stadium, oh, probably 8-10 minutes before kickoff, by sprinting out of the ramp and onto the field. They eventually line up for the squad to run through upon leaving the locker room, then the students sprint to the grandstand to secure the choice seats in their section.
It’s great. Really adds to what could otherwise be a dour atmosphere. Baylor’s students do a nice job.
And the Baylor band was impressive. Most private schools have a hard time producing a solid band, just because of a lack of students. But Baylor’s band is strong in number. When the Baylor band formed the start of Texas – which is not easy – it was quite impressive. And the band put on a good halftime show, complete with dancing that included help from the OU pep band. Dancing has come a long way in Waco.
WHERE’S CLINT EASTWOOD?
When you drive I-35 south of Des Moines, you go through Madison County. Yes, that Madison County. The Clint Eastwood/Meryl Streep Madison County.
I’d noticed that before, but I’d never noticed the signs pointing you to tours of the bridges of Madison County. I’ve got to check it out sometime.
Madison County is home of John Wayne’s birthplace (Winterset) and also home to the hamlets of Earlham, Bevington, Patterson, Macksburg, St. Charles, East Peru and Truro.
I’m a sucker for covered bridges. Covered bridges and lighthouses. Can’t find the latter in Middle America, so covered bridges will have to do. Someone remind me; go tour Madison County the next time I’m at an Iowa State game.
Both ISU’s Jack Trice Stadium and Baylor’s Floyd Casey Stadium sit in the middle of big parking lots. Which is bad for campus atmosphere but great for tail-gating.
Not great surprise, but Iowa State has much the better tailgating. With five minutes left before kickoff, I swear, Jack Trice was barely half of capacity. An Iowa writer said, they’ll all come in. And danged if they didn’t. By kickoff, the stadium was virtually full. The Cyclone throng was all in the parking lots, tailgating, eating brats and drinking brewskies and enjoying a cold Iowa night.
Jack Trice is a solid stadium, built on the south end of campus. Jack Trice was the first black athlete in Iowa State history. He died after playing in a 1923 game at Minnesota, in which he suffered a couple of injuries but continued to play. He eventually was sent to a Minneapolis hospital, was cleared to travel home and died two days later of a hemorrhaged lung and internal bleeding. Iowa State accused Minnesota of brutal play and discontinued the series for the next 66 years.
Who was Floyd Casey? I got that question answered on this trip. Baylor Stadium was built in 1950. It was renovated and renamed in 1989 after Carl Casey donated $5 million for the $8 million project and asked that his father’s name be placed on the stadium.
1989 wasn’t that long ago, but $5 million won’t get your name on a stadium these days.
The Floyd Casey name could be not long for the world. Baylor has begun studies for an on-campus stadium, which is much-needed. Floyd Casey sits probably a mile from campus, on the west side of I-35. On-campus stadiums always are better. Good luck to Baylor; a new stadium would be a quality addition to the Big 12.
I’ll forever remember this Ames/Waco trip as the time I heard about the second OSU plane crash. I got a text about 7:30 a.m. from a friend in Stillwater, telling me about it, but I didn’t see it. Then my boss called about 8 a.m. to say he had heard something about a Kurt Budke plane crash, then OSU made the announcement moments later.
Stunning. Just stunning. We spent the rest of the morning trying to help out with crash coverage, then we headed out for Ames.
John Helsley and Gina Mizell were staying in Des Moines on Friday night – I was driving back to KC with videographer Tim Money – so went by there hotel, which turns out was the OSU team hotel.
When we got there, the Cowboys were about 30 minutes from loading the buses, but many of them were assembling in the lobby. And it was a somber crowd. Coaches, players, support personnel. Everyone was down.
I’m not saying that’s why OSU lost. The Cowboys got up 24-7 on Iowa State. The tragedy didn’t cause Quinn Sharp to miss that field goal, or OSU to not well cover that kickoff after going up 17. But the Cowboys just weren’t themselves.
Temperatures at kickoff Friday night in Ames: 40s. Temperatures at kickoff Saturday night in Waco: 81. What a conference.
It was crazy. It was humid in Waco, like a night in May or something. I was sweating. The night before, I had on my overcoat to shoot the post-game video, because the 1 a.m. temp was somewhere in the 30s.
It gets cold in Ames. I can remember basketball games at Iowa State where the temperature hovered around zero. On late-night drives back to Kansas City, when I feel a little drowsy, I just open the car window and I wake right back up, I promise you.
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