Same old, tired narrative always seems to resurface in days leading up to the Iowa-Iowa State football game

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Iowa players celebrate their 44-41 overtime win in Ames last season. Photo courtesy of Iowa Sports Information Department

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Born and raised in Des Moines, I’m now being told that I grew up in Cyclone territory.

Of course, those loyal or affiliated with the Cyclones are the ones saying it by using enrollment and alumni figures to help push their narrative.

The fact that Iowa State currently has a larger enrollment than Iowa and more alumni in the state, except for in eastern Iowa, apparently is proof that we’re witnessing a shift from a Hawkeye state to a Cyclone state.

Iowa State, according to its fans and some in the media, is no longer Iowa’s little brother and those loyal to the Cyclones apparently feel a need to keep saying it, or to keep writing about it when they don’t have to go there.

I always thought the little brother stuff was silly, especially after the Iowa-Iowa State football rivalry became competitive 20 years ago.

The annual showdown in football, which will be played on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, often causes the little brother narrative to resurface, and this year is no exception.

Somebody shared with me an article that was published on Cyclone Fanatic this week in which the author used a bunch of statistics, including enrollment figures, to show how the circumstances have changed with regard to Iowa and Iowa State.

The gist of the article, or at least how I interpreted it, was that Iowa State is gaining ground on Iowa as a school, as a fan base and as a football program.

The author deserves praise for doing thorough research and for using that research to support his narrative.

But why did he even bother?

So often it seems that part of the narrative coming out of Ames in the days leading up to this game is centered on the belief that Iowa State has narrowed the gap with Iowa in terms of in-state relevancy and influence.

That narrative gains more momentum when Iowa State is on an upswing in football, which certainly appears to be the case now under third-year head coach Matt Campbell.

But if Iowa State truly has shed the little brother perception, why keep bringing it up because all that does is convince Iowa fans that it hasn’t changed?

You know how it works, especially with rival fan bases. The more you insist and keep bringing up that something has changed, the more resistance and ridicule you’ll get from the opposition.

The more you keep saying that you’re not the little brother anymore, the more you look like the little brother.

Former Iowa coach Hayden Fry helped to fuel the little brother perception by defeating the Cyclones in 15 consecutive games from 1983 to 1997, with many of the games hardly even competitive.

Iowa State was Iowa's little brother in football back then, but the 1980s and 1990s were a long time ago. So why keep digging up the past to make the present seem better when you don't have to?

One sign of an inferiority complex is when you keep trying to crush a perception that doesn't need crushed anymore.

Both fan bases have reason to be proud of their school, both in regard to athletics and academics.

There are parts of the Iowa campus that are beautiful and parts of the Iowa State campus that are beautiful.

There isn’t a Tasty Taco’s in Ames, nor is there a Tasty Taco’s in Iowa City.

Both football teams are members of a power five conference and are supported by loyal and dedicated fan bases.

Saturday’s game has a chance to be a classic with both teams coming off eight-win seasons and with both teams returning a significant amount of key players.

I’m even picking Iowa State to win for the second year in a row because I try to make my predictions without bias and because the Cyclones are a talented and well-coached team.

I don’t care about which school has more students or which counties in Iowa have more alumni.

The only place where Iowa State has to prove anything to me is on the football field.

Iowa fans will forever consider our state to be the Hawkeye state, and they dig their heels even deeper when Cyclone fans say otherwise.

The only gap that interests me is in football where the playing field is now level, but tradition still leans heavily to Iowa’s side, and deservedly so.

Iowa State’s problem has been the inability to sustain success in football.

Iowa has combined to win 282 games, five Big Ten titles and 13 bowl games since 1980 under two head coaches, while Iowa State has won 164 games, zero conference titles and just four bowl games during that same time under seven head coaches.

I didn’t have to research that, although, I double checked the numbers, because an Iowa fan gladly shared the information with me on Twitter. And the only reason he shared the information was in response to the tired narrative coming out of Ames.

Campbell is being promoted as the coach who finally will lift Iowa State to national prominence, and there are signs that it could happen.

But it hasn’t happened yet, and similar things were said about Paul Rhoads, Gene Chizik and Dan McCarney during their time at Iowa State.

The backlash from calling out this narrative was swift and highly defensive as one Iowa State fan even referred to my response as fake news when I was simply reacting to an article that was already published.

I was actually sort of defending Iowa State by saying it should be above this narrative, at least that was my intention, and yet, it still struck a nerve with Cyclone fans.

So I’m confused.

Iowa State fans resent the little brother narrative, but not enough to let it go, apparently.