By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - To this day, I still remember where I was when Iowa and Iowa State renewed their football rivalry on Sept. 17,1977 after an extended 43-year hiatus.
I was in eighth grade and playing football in the Catholic Youth League in Des Moines, and some members of our team had gathered at a teammate’s house in Beaverdale to watch the game that everybody had been talking about.
I was born and raised as an Iowa fan by a mother who despised Iowa State for reasons that I’m not sure of still to this day, and by a father who attended Notre Dame on a football scholarship in the mid-1940s, and who liked Iowa mostly because it made life with my mother more enjoyable.
So I was cheering for Iowa on that monumental day 42 years ago because that’s how I was raised, but it wasn’t the popular thing to do back then.
Iowa State had a better program than Iowa in 1977, and it was just 30 miles up the road from Des Moines.
The Cyclones also had just recently signed two star players from Dowling in safety Mike Schwartz in 1976 and offensive lineman Brian Neal in 1977.
Most of the players on my eighth-grade team also planned to attend Dowling for high school, so the recruiting pipeline to Iowa State made the Cyclones more popular at the time.
I was born in 1963, so by the time I could walk and form sentences, Iowa was in the early stages of what would turn into almost two decades of misery.
There was no little brother narrative that Iowa fans now use to put Iowa State fans in their place because the Iowa program was in shambles when the series with Iowa State was renewed in 1977.
The days of Iowa being a Big Ten power under Forest Evashevski in the 1950s were long gone. None of the players on my eighth grade team were even born when Evashevski had last coached the Hawkeyes.
So by the fall of 1977, facing Iowa State was just like rubbing salt into a festering wound, or so I thought.
The thing I remember most about the game in 1977, besides Iowa winning 12-10 at Kinnick Stadium, were the words “Beat Iowa” that were printed prominently in all caps and just above the number on the front of the Iowa State jerseys.
The Cyclones waited right before kickoff to unveil the jerseys, and I remember saying to myself that Iowa State must really want to win this game to do something like that.
I didn’t give much thought about how it might motivate the Iowa players, because frankly, I didn’t give Iowa much chance of winning in 1977.
And the last thing I wanted to do was brag and make bold statements about a team that hadn’t had a winning season in 16 years.
I remember the game being boring and intense at the same time if that’s even possible.
All the scoring came during a 7 ½ minute span in the middle of the first half.
Iowa State sophomore Tom Buck returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown, and then Iowa answered with a 77-yard touchdown run by Dennis Mosley, but missed the point-after kick.
Iowa fullback and Tama native Jon Lazar, who was the focus of an intense recruiting battle between the two schools, scored on a 10-yard run early in the second quarter, and then Iowa tried to make up for missing the point-after kick after the first touchdown by going for two, only to fail again.
I remember the room at my friend’s house growing quiet as the game progressed because it was obvious by late in the second quarter that Iowa State was in trouble.
Iowa State made a field goal late in the second quarter that trimmed the deficit to 12-10, and that was it for points.
The second half turned into a defensive struggle in which I kept saying to myself, “just hang on, just hang on, you can do it.”
And the Hawkeyes did it against an Iowa State team that would go on to finish 8-4 under Earle Bruce, while Iowa finished 5-6 in what proved to be Bob Commings’ next to last season as head coach.
Iowa would go on to lose four of the next five games against Iowa State, but on that one historic day in 1977, and with me surrounded by Cyclone fans, Iowa had risen to the challenge.
My family’s allegiance to the Hawkeye would grow even stronger after my older brother signed a letter of intent with Iowa in 1978. He was part of Commings’ final recruiting class that also included a defensive back from Ohio named Bob Stoops.
Sadley, my brother never appeared in a game for Iowa due to having a staph infection in his knee that ended his football career. But he was thrilled for his teammates for helping to lead the long-awaited resurgence under Hayden Fry.
Saturday’s game will mark the 67th meeting in the series that began with a 16-8 Iowa State win in 1894.
The 43-year layoff in the series started in 1935, which means that Nile Kinnick never played against Iowa State, while Evashevski never coached against Iowa State.
And that’s a shame because these two teams should face each other on an annual basis.
Iowans should be proud to live in a low population state that has two Power 5 football programs from different conferences that now combine to draw close to 120,000 fans for home games.
“It's my 30th year in the rivalry now,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “There are a couple of things that are always certainties in this ball game over the years. First of all, it's going to be a really tense, competitive football game, always a challenge. And the other thing, it's always going to be in an excellent environment.
“I think it's true whether that's here or there. That's always been the case. So that we can count on.”
The series has had several shifts in momentum, including Iowa’s 15-game winning streak from 1983 to 1997 in which about half of the games weren’t even close.
Iowa State won five games in a row from 1998 to 2002 with former Hawkeye Dan McCarney coaching the Cyclones, and Iowa has won 11 of the past 16 games in the series.
McCarney switching sides in the rivalry certainly added some spice to the gumbo, and that he led Iowa State’s breakthrough against Iowa still doesn’t sit well with some Hawkeye fans.
The fact that ESPN GameDay is coming to Ames this weekend is a tribute to both teams because it took both teams being respected to make it happen.
“It’s absolutely a big game, it’s a trophy game,” said Iowa senior tight end Nate Wieting. “We only have four on the schedule right now and this is the first one that we have an opportunity to get.”
Iowa and Iowa State now play for the Cy-Hawk Trophy, but mostly, they play for state bragging rights.
It was the same back in 1977, and I still remember leaving my friend’s house after the game with a huge smile on my face and coming home and seeing my mother with a huge smile on her face because this game has that kind of effect.