Monday, September 26, 2005

Forget the Past Embarrassment--This Is a Game Iowa State Can Win

For Dan McCarney, being beaten like a drum by Nebraska in the huge pool of blood disguised as 73,918-seat Memorial Stadium at Lincoln is bad enough.

But it’s the embarrassment that really hurts.

Lincoln has been “one of the great places to play college football,” McCarney said today. “[They have] one of the all-time great groups of fans over there. But the stadium hasn’t been kind to Iowa State, and it hasn’t been kind to me in the time I’ve been at Iowa State.

“It’s been beyond losing. It’s been almost embarrassing going over there.”

But McCarney has no choice this week. He’ll risk losing and he’ll risk further embarrassment when he takes his Cyclones to Lincoln for a 2:36 p.m. ABC-TV regional football game Saturday against Nebraska.

Despite the things McCarney says, this is a game Iowa State can win. Fans with their faces painted red, who are dressed in red underwear, red pants and red shoes don’t decide games. Players do—especially the kind of players the Cyclones have. This year, those players are better than Nebraska’s.

I say Iowa State can win with apologies--well, slim apologies anyway--to Polly, Tom, Connie, Tiffy, Lindsey, Matt, Robert Culver's dog, Alive in Clive, the guy who wheels the shopping cart past Kevin's house so he can collect bottles and cans every couple of days, plus one or two others who proudly wear their "N".

Evidently, the oddsmakers don't think the Cyclones will win. They've installed Nebraska as a 4-point favorite. To illustrate that they have nothing against our state, they've made Iowa a 17 1/2-point favorite to beat hapless Illinois.

ABC has assigned an interesting broadcast crew to the game, but—for a change--I promise not to poke fun at anyone.....even play-by-play announcer Dr. Jerry Punch. I don’t know for sure what Punch is a doctor of, but I’m going to play this straight.

[Attention. This just in. I have just learned that The Doctor is, or was, a trauma specialist. Further research tells me that broadcasting auto racing has been one of his specialties. Obviously, both of those talents will make him highly qualified to call the Iowa State-Nebraska Big 12 Conference opener].

I also know The Doctor used to be a football sideline reporter. And I do know commentator Terry Bowden was fired as Auburn’s coach and is Bobby Bowden’s son. He used to work in the network studios on Saturday afternoons before taking his act to the press box.

And I know nothing about sideline reporter Trenni Kusnierek. But I’m predicting she’ll do an outstanding job, as long as she doesn’t say to McCarney, “Don, do you mind giving our viewers the game plan?” just before the opening kickoff.

McCarney has never won in a red-bathed stadium that will have an NCAA-record 272nd consecutive sellout. But, hell, no other Iowa State coach has won a game there either since Earle Bruce’s Cyclones somehow left town with a 24-21 victory in 1977.

McCarney’s Cyclones lost, 28-0, two years ago in Lincoln—and he’s had to experience even uglier games than that over there. McCarney’s 1995 team was blitzed, 73-14; his 1997 squad was shellshocked, 77-14; his 1999 team lost, 49-14, and his 2001 team was beaten, 48-14.

“We’ve beaten Nebraska in two of the last three years, and both games have been in Ames obviously,” McCarney said. We’ll have our hands full again this week. With an extra week of preparation [because of the Cornhuskers’ bye week], coach Bill Callahan and his staff will be ready for us.”

Both teams are 3-0, and Iowa State is ranked 23rd in the Associated Press poll. After going on TV and beating Pittsburgh, 7-6, only because Dave Wannstedt’s Panthers screwed up a last-second field goal attempt not just once, but twice, being ranked is only a dream in Licnoln these days.

Asked if he’s beyond referring to a trip to Lincoln as “Mission Impossible,” McCarney said, “We’re sure not going to approach it [as ‘Mission Impossible’.] I hope none of our players believe that. But it’s easier said than done.”

McCarney said Nebraska is showing steady improvement because “Callahan is getting more and more of his players. He’s had another year to develop these young men. Their Black Shirt defense is relentless. They’re in the top 10 nationally three categories, and their 5.3-point defensive average is amazing.”

Callahan [pictured at the top of this column], whose team lost at Iowa State, 34-27, last season, is still skating on thin ice in his second season at Nebraska. He came to Lincoln after coaching the Oakland Raiders of the NFL, and there are plenty of people who think he’s in over his head in a college environment where Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne toiled.

They’ve already named a basketball arena at Lincoln after Devaney and they’ve named the football field there after Osborne.

Husker fans had lots of names for Callahan when his “west coast offense” went south last season while producing a 5-6 record. Nebraskans are accustomed to going to bowl games during the holidays, and people from Grand Island and Papillion weren’t fond about staying home last season.

Callahan still gets a bit pissed when asked about making the transition from the pro game to the college game.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” he said today. “They’ve beaten that up since I’ve been here. It’s just football. It’s that simple. You’ve got to adjust no matter what level you’re at. When you change teams in the NFL or college, you’ve got to adjust. We’ve focused on what we need to do better. It’s not a big deal.

People make a bigger deal out of that than you’d expect. You just gotta be able to adapt. I think Steve Spurrier [the South Carolina coach who went from college to the pros back to college] would say the same thing.”

Vol. 4, No. 384
Sept. 26, 2005