Cyclone pride, family traditions come with tailgate bus

Michelle Graeve, senior in biology, paints a shirt on Kyle Muhlbauer, senior in management information systems, during tailgating on Saturday, Nov. 5, before the game against Kansas outside Jack Trace Stadium. 

Leah De Graaf

Through three generations, the Muhlbauer family has left no question as to where their unwavering support lies. Passion for Cyclone football unites three generations of Muhlbauer men from Manilla, Iowa: Louis, Gary and Kyle.

Senior Kyle Muhlbauer, is the third leg of this trio. Four years ago, Kyle and his three high school friends, Zack Wiig, Dustin Christensen and Jesse Sebern, kept the family’s Cyclone football pride alive with the purchase of an old school bus. All four men are or soon will be Iowa State graduates.

The bus, which has transported enthusiastic Cyclone fans to football games for the past four years, has united an entire western Iowa community with a common passion, and created lasting bonds between ISU students. Now painted blue with cardinal and gold accents, Kyle calls the “recreational vehicle” a true symbol of Cyclone pride.

The family’s Cyclone football legacy begins with Louis J. “Louie” Muhlbauer, the grandfather of Kyle Muhlbauer. Louis played football for Iowa State before even Cy took his place at the university, and in 1950 Louis Muhlbauer earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Agriculture.

Gary Muhlbauer was next in line. His ISU football experience began when he walked on to the Cyclone football team as a junior. In 1977, Gary graduated also with a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Agriculture.

Kyle Muhlbauer said his favorite part about the tailgate bus is how it has formed countless lasting relationships over the years.

“It gets people together,” Kyle said, “It’s awesome because a lot of the people that we played sports against in high school … all came to Iowa State, and then those people ended up being friends. That is one of the coolest things.”

The bus has not only created friends out of past high school rivals, but it has left a lasting impact on an entire generation of ISU fans.

“There are lots of connections. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody, and then they end up here,” said Kyle’s mom, Tammy Muhlbauer, who has been tailgating at Iowa State football games since 1976. One thing is clear after leaving a tailgate hosted by this group of western Iowa folk, the commonality of passion for Cyclone football cannot be denied.

It is not only the love of Cyclone football that has been passed down from Kyle’s grandfather but also a family possession, a worn old leather football helmet. His older brother, Cory, also an Iowa State graduate, originally found the helmet in his grandparent’s basement and began the tradition of wearing the helmet to every Iowa State football game.

Kyle continues the tradition and receives plenty of attention even from some of the most elite ISU fans.

“One game, I convinced Geoffroy to put on the helmet and take a picture with us,” Kyle said. “He was so cool about it. That was awesome.”

Other game day rituals include, picking tailgaters up in the school bus before the student lots open, having their own field goal competitions with cans and a PVC pipe field goal post, body-painting up before the start of each game and making sure to get that front row in the student section.

Every game day as Kyle drives the bus around Ames picking up friends, he said, it feels like he is once again in grade school. Opening the bus doors to the smiling, excited faces, yet instead of seeing loaded book bags on the backs of students, in their hands are cases of beer, treats and food to be grilled.

Even the Ames police officers come to enjoy a few lighthearted moments with this tailgate crew. Kicking empty beer cans through their PVC field goal post, playing a quick round of tippy cup with water or teasing Kyle for not wearing his helmet saying, “If your helmet’s not on, I am bringing you to jail.”

Kyle may be graduating next semester, but the traditions will not stop at the end of this year. Kyle plans on selling his Iowa State bus to Bryce Irlbeck, sophomore in agronomy, and hopes it is not only the bus that gets passed down, but the game day spirit and dedication as well.

“Obviously the goal is to keep the tradition going,” Kyle said. “We have a great Iowa State fan who is from Manning, Iowa, nine miles down the road, who we’d love to pass the bus on to … to keep it going after we’re gone.”

Irlbeck, who has been attending Iowa State football games since age 5, hopes to carry on what Kyle and his friends have started and continue to welcome anyone who wants to join the celebrations.

“I feel like the traditions will carry themselves as long as the bus and the people are around,” Irlbeck said.

Kyle’s father, Gary, knows that for him and his children, “The game is always the highlight of the day,” but is glad that along the way his children have had fun tailgating. Gary attended his first ISU football game as an eighth grader, and said he is very proud of his children for attending Iowa State and completing what they started.

Friday’s kickoff is at 7 p.m., and the blue painted Iowa State bus will take its spot along with its body-painted owners once again among the line up of proud Cyclone fans. In Kyle’s words, “Hopefully it is an abnormally warm game.”