Monday, September 05, 2005

For Iowa State-Iowa Football Emotion, Start With Dan McCarney

When the One Great Author and the One Great Film-Maker decide to write a book and do a documentary on the Iowa State-Iowa football rivalry, the man to approach first as a source of information is Dan McCarney.

No one knows more about Saturdays with the Cyclones and Hawkeyes than the fast-talking, hard-charging, emotionally-driven man they call Mac.

McCarney has seen the Iowa State-Iowa rivalry from both sides.

He knows how it felt to win when he was on Bob Commings’ and Hayden Fry’s staff at Iowa. He knows how it feels to win as Iowa State’s head coach.

“I spent 36 years in Iowa City—19 at Iowa [as a player and assistant coach],” McCarney told reporters on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference today. “I’m in my 11th season at Iowa State, so this is my 24th Iowa State-Iowa game.

“I know the meaning of it. It speaks very well to the talent we have in this state.”

McCarney said he recalls when people used to say that both Iowa State and Iowa couldn’t be successful at the same time.

Dumb thinking.

“We heard it for a long time,” he said. “Yes, we can both be successful. It goes right back to the programs that are in place, and the people in the state of Iowa should be proud of both teams.”

Iowa, which opened its season with a 56-0 victory over Ball State, is a 7-point favorite to beat Iowa State in a game that starts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and will be televised regionally by ABC.

Mike Tirico is the play-by-play announcer assigned to the game, which probably means that all the good announcers had other things to do, like covering a car race or Australian rules football. Hopefully, Tirico won’t say something that will tamper with the richness of this rivalry. Tim Brant will be the commentator. As far as I know, Lee Corso isn’t asking for working credentials, and that’s good news. Suzy Shuster will be designated female-behind-the-microphone, loosely referred to as the sideline reporter.

Oh, well, just turn down the sound and listen to John Walters or Gary Dolphin—or both—on the radio.

McCarney has a 5-5 coaching record against Iowa, the Hawkeyes’ Kirk Ferentz is 2-4 against Iowa State. A sellout crowd of more than 53,000 will be jammed into 45,814-seat Jack Trice Stadium to see if Iowa is as good as it was against Ball State and if Iowa State is as bad as it was in a 32-21 victory over Division I-AA Northern Illinois.


An Omaha reporter gave Bret Meyer, Iowa State’s sophomore quarterback, every opportunity to blurt out some bulletin board material when he appeared on the teleconference after all the coaches had finished.

Oh, well, maybe the reporter was testing Meyer’s maturity.

Whatever, Meyer handled the question gracefully.

“Have you learned to hate Iowa by now or is that an aquired taste?” the reporter asked Meyer.

Meyer, who is from Atlantic, said, “I don’t know if I hate any team I play. I just want to win every game.”


A Kansas City reporter seemed to be gushing more about this game than most of the residents of our state.

“Do you get a sense that not even the state’s borders can contain the interest in this state?” the reporter asked McCarney.

“There are 28 bowl champions from last season, and two of them are from right here in the state of Iowa,” McCarney said. “Iowa has brought great national exposure to their program, their team, Coach Ferentz and the job he’s done.

“When we’re home as an underdog, that makes it real exciting. Iowa played much better in their opener than we did. I think it’s turned into a great college rivalry, and more of the country is starting to figure that out.”


All right, here’s my take on Saturday’s game. It’s big, yes. But it’s certainly not the biggest since the Iowa-Iowa State rivalry was renewed in 1977 after a 43-year lapse. Far from it. Don’t believe any articles or headlines that say it is.

Nothing can compare with the electricity running through this state prior to that dramatic ’77 game, which saw Bob Commings Jr., quarterback his dad’s Iowa team to a 12-10 victory over Earle Bruce’s Iowa State squad.

I spent the week before the game in Iowa City, interviewing students in bookstores and bars, coaches on the field and in their offices, athletic department personnel and Joe Six-Pack types who were soaking in the atmosphere. Buck Turnbull did the same thing at Ames.

Stuff like that isn’t done anymore. And it’s too bad it isn’t.


McCarney seems thoroughly impressed with Iowa.

“We have a long ways to go,” he said. “We’d better improve immensely in a short period of time, with a tremendous Iowa team coming in here this weekend.

“They’re one of the best teams in America. They’ve been that the past three seasons, when they’ve finished in the top 10 [actually No. 8] in the country.

“But we’re looking forward to the game. Anytime Iowa State and Iowa match up on the football field, it’s an exciting game for all of us in the state.”


Jim Walden, who was never able to beat Iowa when he coached at Iowa State, always campaigned to have the Cyclones-Hawkeyes game played at the end of the season.

He never got anyone to agree with him. The 2001 game was played Nov. 24 [after Walden was long-gone and was peddling his act on talk-radio], but only because it had been postponed because of the 9-11 tragedy.

Meyer likes playing the game in September, too.

“This is a big game for everybody, and I like playing it early,” he said.


McCarney rarely lets anything get in the way of voicing his true feelings about something.

He was outspoken after Saturday’s game about how poorly the Cyclones played against Illinois State, and hasn’t changed his mind yet.

“Some things that happened were uncharacteristic about this team and our program,” he said. “We’ve been coaching this group since March. We were first-and-goal on the 3-yard line and fumbled. We fumbled another ball and Illinois State runs it back 6 9 yards for a touchdown. We’ve had fewer fumbles by our running backs than all teams in the country in my 10 years here.

“We had another touchdown called back because of a holding call. We had a field goal blocked. Those things were very frustrating and disappointing. We hurt ourselves and took points off the board. We have to correct those things in a hurry because here come the Hawkeyes.”

Tony Yelk, who missed all of last year, is in his sixth season at Iowa State and may be seeking Social Security benefits any day now, will be the placekicker this week after booting a 25-yard field goal, three extra points and being named the special teams MVP Saturday.

Walk-on Edgar Arceo failed on a field goal try and had an extra point blocked, so he may be watching the Iowa game on TV in his dorm room. At least that’s where he should be.


The Big Ten Conference’s instant replay procedure, which then was experimental, wasn’t used in the 2004 Iowa-Iowa State game at Iowa City.

But instant replay will be in effect Saturday.

“We’re all in agreement that anything we can do to make sure we get the calls right and give players the opportunity to win games, we’re all for it,” said McCarney.

Winning the Iowa State-Iowa game doesn’t necessarily mean one school or the other is going to dominate in-state recruiting.

But it might help.

“When we won the 1998 game after Iowa had dominated Iowa State for 15 years in a row, there’s no question it helped us recruit,” McCarney said. “But I don’t sense that there are kids waiting to hear the final score before making a decision on whether they’re going to Iowa State or Iowa.

“Kids are kids. They all want to be successful, and they all want to get some rewards for hard work and go somewhere to be successful. Both programs provide that now.”


Meyer’s second start last season was against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

The Hawkeyes won, 17-10, in a game that was much closer than all of us expected.

“It was pretty crazy over there,” the Cyclones’ quarterback said today. “It was my first road game, and we were playing a team that hadn’t lost in 15 or 16 [home] games. It was a good experience for me.”

Actually, the Hawkeyes’ victory over Iowa State was their 14th straight at home.

Meyer was asked how much more comfortable he is playing in Ames.

“Obviously, we’d rather play at home,” he said.


Vol. 4, No. 371
Sept. 5, 2005