Success in Cy-Hawk pushes Cyclones to brink of “adulthood”


Freshman wide receiver Allen Lazard set career highs in receptions — five — and yards — 53 — during the Cy-Hawk Series game against Iowa on Sept. 13 in Iowa City.

Max Dible, On Twitter

“Little Brother is growing up.”

ISU athletic director Jamie Pollard uttered these words with a smile while standing on the second floor of his monument to ISU football — the Sukup South End Zone Club — only days before the 2015 season began.

Little Brother, the term co-opted by some Hawkeye fans that is lent a pejorative connotation by its most commonly applied inflections, has become a clichéd insult.

An insult hurled obnoxiously between drunken patrons inside Iowa City, Des Moines and even Ames bars and littered throughout combative tweets and Facebook posts of the Hawkeye football faithful, who also favor referencing the Cy-Hawk matchup as “Iowa State’s Super Bowl.”

In the week leading up to the annual showdown on the gridiron between Iowa State and Iowa, the negative characterization of the Cyclones as a collective unit gets even more play.

Now personally, I love my little brothers. But in this rivalry there is no love lost, and at least one Cyclone is taking exception.

“It makes me laugh, literally, because how does the little brother beat the big brother three out of four times?” said running back Tyler Brown. “We should get more respect in our state, but respect is earned, so we’re going to go out and earn it.”

But haven’t the Cyclones earned it already?

Long gone are the days of perennial Hawkeye dominance on the football field. From 1983-97, Iowa won 15 consecutive matchups against its in-state rival, but since then the series has belonged to the Cyclones.

“I was a part of that era. I came in on the tail end of it, but I was a part of it,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads, who served as an assistant with the Cyclones beginning in the mid-’90s. “[Then-coach Dan McCarney] made this game a priority to this football program and this athletic department when he got here.

“That 1998 victory changed the course of not only the series but I believe the fortunes of this program to an extent.”

That change has persisted. As Brown — the redshirt sophomore who will take his first handoff in the Cy-Hawk series Saturday — stated clearly, the Cyclones have won three of the last four contests between the teams.

And since the win in 1998, Iowa State has captured 10-of-17 games in the series.

“That was a time in the state where you drove across the state, [and] the tire covers were Hawkeye tire covers. The bumper stickers were Hawkeye bumper stickers. The backboards were Hawkeye backboards,” Rhoads said. “And that’s what we were battling, not only on the field, but that’s what we were battling in the recruiting as well.

“You were talking about the kids that we were recruiting had never seen Iowa State beat Iowa. They couldn’t recall a victory.”

While not as lopsided as it once was, Iowa still routinely out-recruits Iowa State, both inside of the state and in general terms. The Hawkeyes have also consistently won more regular-season games than the Cyclones throughout the Rhoads era and for several years previous.

Despite a smaller venue, less recruiting prowess and less overall success, Rhoads has held his own at 3-3 in the series during his tenure at the helm of ISU football.

And isn’t that what this rivalry is actually about? The head-to-head aspect?

In that regard, over the last four seasons, the Cyclones haven’t stood second to the black and gold. They haven’t been the Little Brother.

Iowa State’s enrollment exceeds the enrollment in Iowa City by nearly 4,000 students. According to Pollard, there are more than 100,000 Iowa State alumni living inside Iowa’s borders and only about 86,000 former Hawkeyes.

Pollard also said that of the 99 counties in the state, the majority of high school students in roughly 80 of them now indicate their affinity for Iowa State as a scholastic option above Iowa and Northern Iowa.

Throw on top of that three wins in the last four meetings between the football teams, and the pejorative language spouted by some Hawkeye supporters appears to have gone the way of phrases like “Talk to the hand!” and “Oh no he didn’t!”

They’re out of date. And when you say them, you sound weird and old. Then dismayed, disgusted people slowly back away from you, eyes wide and hands raised, to avoid ridicule by association.

Iowa’s nickname is the Hawkeye State, but sound the weather sirens because all signs over the past half decade point to this being Cyclone country — and I’m not just talking about Ames.

If the Hawkeyes can’t figure out a way to correct their recent struggles against the Cyclones at 3:45 p.m. Saturday inside Jack Trice Stadium, Little Brother will officially assume the mantle of top dog in Iowa.

And Brown, excited to step onto the field and contribute for the first time in this rivalry, couldn’t be happier about that.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Brown said.

One more win, and the Cyclones graduate to some new, more accurate and worthier moniker yet to be popularized and circulated.

One more win, and Little Brother really will be all grown up.