As another great battle between Iowa and Iowa State is about to come again, I can’t help but think back to 15 years ago yesterday. The date was Sept. 12, 1998 and scene was Kinnick Stadium. We were 30 point underdogs, but we didn’t believe that and we not only beat Iowa, we dominated them 27-9.
I was a Jr. that year and I was an offensive tackle for the Cyclones. Even though that day seems like a long time ago, there are little snapshots of that game burned into my memory forever.
I remember busing over to Iowa City. I enjoyed riding the bus and especially when it was a short trip like this one. We left the friendly confines in the early afternoon and made our way to enemy territory. During the bus ride I was able to finish my offensive line test. The test was given to each player each Friday before a game. On the test we would have to draw out the blocking schemes of all the offensive lineman for all the main plays we would be running in that game. This allowed the coaches to check to see if we all knew what we were supposed to be doing and if there were things that needed to be reviewed. After I completed the test, I was able to relax a bit and even caught a quick nap. We actually went to Cedar Rapids first because that is where our hotel we were staying at was. Most of the teams that played Iowa, including all the Big 10 teams would stay at this same hotel. I remember there being pictures of some of the different coaches and teams through the years who had come to play Iowa and stayed there. Some ended up winners and others were not so lucky against the Hawks.
I could feel a sense of déjà vu because I had been here before. When we played Iowa at Kinnick in the 1996 season, I was a defensive tackle then. It was only my second game of my career and the first road game I ever played in college football. That stadium is not very nice to visitors. To say that my heart was beating fast would be a big understatement. I played the whole game on defense and to be honest, I had a pretty good game, but it still wasn’t enough and we were beaten pretty solidly by the Hawks on that day. As a reward for all my hard work that day, I was showered with boos from the Iowa fans coming off the field. Iowa fans are a pretty classy bunch.
The next year we played Iowa at home and that was a big disappointment. We made some dumb mistakes and had some crucial turnovers in that game and that allowed Iowa to get up big on us. The thing I will always remember is toward the end of the game when Iowa threw a long pass for a completion and a touchdown. There is nothing wrong with that normally, but when this play was run, we were already beaten and were not a threat to come back. A classy program would normally just run the ball and bleed out the clock. Not Hayden Fry. Not this Iowa team. They went right for our jugular and they embarrassed us on our own field in front of our own fans. What I do know is that this play really pissed off Coach McCarney, the rest of the coaches, and all of us as players. To be honest, I don’t know if I was more angry at Iowa for running that play or us for not stopping it.
I distinctly remember #94 Jared DeVries walking by me and laughing at me like I was some inferior player on an inferior team, that never had a chance to beat his dominant team. He had only known winning. He had never experienced a loss to the Cyclones. None of them had. That loss made it 15 straight games that Iowa had beaten us. The last time ISU had beaten Iowa in football, I was only 5 years old. That was ridiculous. Jared and I had a history. He played at Aplington Parkersburg and I played at Hudson. I only played against Jared once in football and that was in the 1993 state playoffs. They beat us and Coach Ed Thomas and that team went on to win a state title that year. They were an amazing team, but all of us on that Hudson team knew that we could have beat them. Instead we went home losers that day with our season over. I played Jared several times in basketball and of course we guarded each other. Sometimes I got the better of him and sometimes he got the better of me. It didn’t matter because it was just not the same. I had a feeling that Jared felt that he was better than me. When he laughed at me, it was like rubbing salt in the wound. The anger burned inside me and I remember saying to myself, “Wait until next year.”
Well, it was now next year, Friday Sept. 11th, 1998 to be exact and as I scanned the pictures of all those teams from the past in the hall of that hotel, I thought about how this team would be remembered. Would this be the team that would finally end the streak? Less than a day until we found out. I would love to tell you some grand story about how everyone knew how special the next day would be. That we knew we were going to win, but I can’t. The truth is that none of us knew we were going to make history the next day. I felt confident in my abilities. I had trained hard and I knew that I was just as good of an athlete as anyone I would go up against so I was confident that we would do well. Now I just needed to play like it.
I remember supper and thinking that was some of the best food we had ever had in any of the hotels we visited around the country. I wasn’t expecting the best to be in Cedar Rapids, IA.
After our meal, we got on the buses and headed over to the stadium for our walk thru practice. Walk thru practices were about as easy as they come. We literally would walk out onto the field in our warm up suits and spend about 5 minutes just walking around and looking at the stadium so we could get familiar with it. As I was walking around I noticed the faces of some of the younger guys who had never been in this stadium before. Some of them had never even been a part of the Iowa/Iowa State game before. Kinnick Stadium can be pretty intimidating and these guys were going to find out first hand in the morning.
After walking around, we would gather up and the offense would walk through our key plays on one side of the field, while the defense did the same on the other half of the field. It was pretty basic and was more for mental preparation for the game than anything physical. I always thought it was funny because even if the Iowa coaching staff was standing on the sidelines, they wouldn’t really get much out of the plays we were walking through. Coach Mac always had managers and trainers on the look out for anyone watching what we were doing. I remember on this particular day, some sorry soul was jogging the steps on the upper deck of the stadium and Coach released the hounds on them in the form of 4 managers. That person must have thought we were crazy.
We would walk through plays for about 10 minutes and then we would call it up and that was it. Easy practice. There isn’t really any way you could screw it up or so I thought. On this day we found a way. Coach McCarney was always more amped up the week of the Iowa game. He had played at Iowa in the 70’s and was a coach at Iowa in the 80’s so he took this game very serious. I never understood how you could ever have any form of hatred toward the college you played and coached at, but he found a way. There was no mistaking his loyalties. Since Coach Mac was so up and so vocal during the Iowa week, it meant that all the coaches would be as well. As players, we knew that if we made a mistake, we would get yelled at even more than normal. We knew that during that week, we needed to have a little extra pep in our step.
All week long we had pretty good practices. Everyone had a good sense of being ready for this game. The only thing left to do was to get through our simple 20 minute walk thru and then back to the hotel to rest. Somewhere in that little scenario, the wheels fell off. Throughout the simple walk thru, player after player would mess up their assignment and do the wrong thing. Things like blocking the wrong guy, running the wrong route, not filling the right gap was happening all over. I can honestly tell you that I did not mess up any of my assignments in that practice, but it seemed like I was the only one. It did not matter anyway because we were a team and we swam and sunk together as a team. In addition to the missed assignments, there were several players who seemed rather lethargic. That is hard to understand since we are going at ¼ speed to begin with. It was by far one of the worst practices I have ever been a part of. You could feel it coming on and then finally Coach Mac exploded. He called us up and just yelled for what seemed like 5 minutes straight. He said that he could not believe what was happening considering the importance of the game the next day. I don’t blame him for reacting the way he did. Our practice had been crap and it never should have gone that way. Knowing Coach Mac the way I did, I could tell that he wanted to start over and do the walk thru again and do it right this time. The problem was that we had to get off the field so Iowa could have their walk thru. All we could do was walk off the field and get on the buses and wonder what the hell just happened. Tomorrow was going to be a big day and we seemed like the most unprepared college football team in history. This was going to be interesting.
That evening, we had our team meetings, first with just the offensive line and then as a team. After our position meetings, we had gathered together for the team meeting. There was a little bit of uneasiness among us because we knew that the coaching staff was not real happy with the way our walk thru had gone and most of us were preparing to get yelled at. To our surprise, Coach Mac walked quietly to the front of the room and told us that fullback Joe Parmentier had a letter that he wanted to read to us.
Joe came from the New York area and he was just like what you think of people from there. He was full of fire and had a great accent to boot. He was always trying to rev the players up and if you screwed up, you first had to answer to the coaches on the sidelines and then Joe would fill up your ear. On this night, as he walked to the front, I saw a very different Joe. He was quiet and I could see that he had been crying. He opened a hand-written letter that had been written on stationary from the hotel. He told us that it was a letter that offensive lineman Marc Cortez had written and given to him to read to the team prior to the game.
Here is what he read:
I came across a quote the other day by Michael Jordan. He
said that the people who say it’s just a game, those are the people
he can’t play with.
It isn’t just a game. Just like the tee-shirt says, football is
life. But every life comes to an end. My life ended before I was
It hurts me now when people don’t appreciate what they have.
I realize now that God gave me a gift. The gift of football. You
must cherish that gift, because it can be taken away at anytime.
Enjoy every play, every series, every hit, every touchdown,
because you never know which one will be your last.
I know this. I want nothing more (than) to be out there this
Saturday on the field with you, to fight alongside you.
Just remember this: every snap you take, every time you hit
someone, every yard you gain, every big block you make, I’ll
be there with you. I’ll be in the huddle alongside you, fighting
to bring a victory home!
Cherish the gift God has given you,
Wow. The moment Joe finished reading that letter, the whole mood in the room changed. You could hear a pin drop.
Marc Cortez was a very liked football player on our team. We were in the same recruiting class, which was Coach Mac’s first recruiting class. He grew up in the Chicago area and we had become great friends. He was just a guy that everyone loved being around. He had the potential to be a great player, but he endured so many injuries. Knee surgeries and shoulder surgeries. It seemed like as soon as he healed, he would have another injury. He left shoulder had gotten so bad that he could pop it in and out of it’s socket. He never had the opportunity to play at 100%. Now, due to his injuries, his football career was over. We all knew it and felt so bad for him.
Upon Hearing that letter really put the game of football into perspective for us. What he said had been said by others through the years, but since we knew him and were so close to him, those words brought special meaning to us. That letter could not have come at a more crucial time for our team. Up until that point, we seemed uninspired, but after hearing those words, we had something to get inspired about and play for. Tezzy would never again contribute to the team on the football field, but through his letter, he gave us a last gift that would propel us to a Cyclone victory that would be remembered for the ages.
Coach Mac then came up and gave us one of the most inspiring addresses he ever gave as a coach. I will leave the contents of that talk to the players and coaches who were in that room that night.
I normally have trouble sleeping the night before football games, I still do to this day, but that night was especially hard. We were ready to take on not only the Hawkeyes, but the whole world. We were not going to be denied in this game. We would be playing for our school, our fans, our coaches, and ourselves, like we always did, but tomorrow we would have the added incentive of playing for a fallen teammate. Marc was a teammate that we held very closely in our hearts.
Finally, game day arrived. We boarded the buses and made our way to the stadium. We went into the old pink locker room that Kinnick was known for. They have since remodeled and moved the visiting locker room at Kinnick Stadium. The new locker room still has pink paint, but it is so much bigger and nicer than that old locker room was. The pink paint was the brainchild of Coach Hayden Fry when he came to the Iowa program in 1979. Coach Fry was a psychology whiz and he had heard that the color pink had a subduing effect on people so he decided to have the locker room painted pink so that visiting teams playing the Hawkeyes would not come out onto the field as fired up as they normally would. On a normal day, it might have had that same effect on us, but not on this day. As I entered the locker room and found my locker I was amazed at how little room we had. I had been to this locker room once before two seasons ago, but it seemed even smaller on this day. If I stood sideways at my locker space and I was still wider than the space provided for me. Being an offensive lineman, it was going to be impossible to get dressed right there so I took my socks, knee braces, and football pants and headed to the shower stalls to get dressed in there. I then went and got my ankles taped as usual in the very small training room provided. I then took my helmet, shoulder pads, jersey, and gloves and headed down the long set of stairs leading to the field. Just off the entrance to the field was a semi-large room where we would gather for last words just prior to the game.
I had some time to kill so I just sat in that room and contemplated that day. In high school at Hudson, our coach would have us do a visualization exercise before each game. He would have us visualize ourselves making big plays in the game. The theory is that if you think it, you can do it. I spent some time imagining myself making crucial blocks and pan caking defensive lineman with black jerseys on. I could feel the crowd in the stands just above my head. I could feel the passion of the stadium atmosphere rising as game time quickly approached. I could feel my own passion to end the streak welling up inside my soul.
Soon the entire team had gathered in that room and Coach Mac was addressing us one more time before we went to battle. He gave another fiery pep talk. He talked about how we were a better team than them and this was our day to shine. He spoke again about Tezzy and how he would give anything to be in battle with us today, but he couldn’t so we had to fight for him. Fight in his honor. By the time Coach was done, we were in a frenzy. We burst out onto the field like a bunch of crazed animals ready to take out anything that stood in our way.
It was an 11 am kickoff and I remember thinking how warm it was already. It was going to be a hot game. We gathered on the sideline on last time and then the epic battle began. If you talk to some Hawkeye fans, they will try to play off the loss by telling you that the Iowa team came out flat that day and we just got lucky. Let me tell you, that was not the case. The Hawkeyes were every bit as good and came out just as fired up as they had in any of the previous games they had played us. The difference was that we were even more fired up and just flat out outplayed them that day. There are many things we did outstanding in that game. Darren Davis ran the ball 37 times for 244 rushing yards. When you can run the ball like that, you really wear a team down. Our defense only allowed the Hawkeyes to gain 42 rushing yards. The special teams played one of their best games.
I am not going to go through a recap of the whole game. If you want to watch the game, I would recommend going on the cyclones.com website and ordering a copy of the game on DVD. If you were not at the game, it will be a treat to watch. If you were there that day, it will be a great memory.
What I do want to do is tell you a couple of memories I have from that game that really stand out in my mind.
The first was right at the end of the game. We had beaten the Hawks soundly in all aspects of the game. We had the ball on offense and we were driving down the field trying to milk out the last minutes of the game. Jared Devries, who was the starting defensive tackle, was in tears by this point. He knew that he and his teammates had been soundly beaten and there was nothing they could do about it. He was playing his last game ever against the Cyclones and he was going to go out on the losing end and there was nothing he could do about it at this point. He loved his team and the Hawkeyes. That intense love resulted in the tears he was shedding, knowing that they did not get it done this time. Part of me was filled with joy. This was payback for him laughing at me in the previous year’s game. After all these years of being beaten by Jared, my time had finally come. I had beaten him and our team had beaten his team. All those other times, I was the one left to tears and defeat, but today it was him. Even better was the fact that it was the last time we would ever face each other, so there would never be an opportunity for a rematch. Then a part of me felt sorry for him. I knew and could relate to where his heart was at that moment because I had been there before on more than one occasion. Anyone who plays college football puts their heart and soul into it and when you come up short, it tears your heart out and a part of your soul empties. It is not something I wished upon anyone, even my long-time rival. With that said, this was my moment and I did enjoy it.
We had made our way down the field on this long drive and we were on about what I remember being the 40 yard line and we were faced with a 4th and 1. There was only a couple of minutes left in the game and Coach Mac had called a time out. It was decision time. If we went for it and did not get the first down, Iowa would get the ball back and have a chance to score. By that point in the game, it is not like they would have a chance to win, but it would have taken some of the sweetness out of the beating we had given the Hawks up to that point. We could try a long field goal, but then the Hawkeyes would get the ball back if missed or even if we made it. We could punt the ball and pin them deep by their own goaline, but even that seemed like it would be a let down. There was only one option as we saw it, especially considering the momentum we had at that point and the fact that we could end the game without the Hawkeyes ever getting the ball back. We were going to go for it. Coach Mac called up the offense and was very serious when he told us that we needed to get the first down and that if we didn’t we would need to figure out what position we were going to play on defense because he would not send the defense out onto the field. Coach Mac and this team were going to make a statement. A statement that we were here to stay. A statement that we were no longer a team to be walked over by the Hawkeyes. We put all our frustration from all those years of defeat into one play. We put the humiliation felt last year in our own stadium when the Hawkeyes took it to us on that long pass, which showed so little class. This was for everyone who ever told me I was a fool for going to Iowa State when I could have gone and played for the Hawkeyes. This was the high water mark in the long journey. We lined up and fired off the ball with everything we had. We were not going to be denied. We got the yardage we needed for the first down and then we let the clock run out and the Hawkeyes never did get the ball back. We beat them 27-9.
I remember how quiet the stadium was. A good portion of Iowa fans had left the stadium in the middle of the 4th quarter and those who remained were in stunned silence, a silence of disbelief. What had seemed like an impossible scenario just three hours ago had now become a grim reality for them. The only noise I heard was the small group of Iowa State fans clustered in the south end zone going crazy. Some of them were even rushing the field and to my amazement, the cops were allowing them to. I guess they figured that after 15 years, they deserved it, even if it was not their home field. I can remember Todd Bandhauer, our quarterback, yelling “This is a Cyclone State!” over and over again. After Coach Mac shook hands with Hayden Fry, I gave Hayden a hug and thanked him for believing in me and giving me an opportunity to play for him. Then I went and gave Coach Mac a huge hug. A big offensive lineman hug where you pick them up off the ground. It is a moment that was very special because we had waited so long for it.
The rest was a blur. We walked off the field as slow as possible so we could savor the moment. Upon returning to our cramped locker room, we sang the fight song and then the party began. Singing and dancing, smiles and hugs. It was something to remember forever. I showered and then approached the media for the standard post-game interviews. This time was different because we had done the impossible.
On the bus ride back to Ames, we continued with the celebration. We sang. I lead the offensive bus in singing the song “American Pie,” which I was known to do on special occasions back then. As cars filled with Cyclone fans would pass us, they would honk their horns and cheer.
When we arrived back at the stadium in Ames, we were greeted by about 5,000 Cyclone fans. It was like a giant tailgate. As we got off the bus, everyone gathered around us and Coach Mac fired off a little victory cannon that was near one of the buses. I have no idea where it cam from, but it was there. After firing the cannon, Coach Mac said something about it being a Cyclone State. I remember looking at the north end of the Jacobsen Building as we were walking into it and there was a large decal that said “It’s a Cyclone State.” I remember wondering how in the world they would have ever gotten that together and up so quickly. I guess they had known this day would come and they wanted to be ready. The rest is kind of a blur. I can safely say that it was one heck of a party in Ames that night. I can also safely say that it was one of the greatest days of my life.
Fate has a funny way of working sometimes. Yesterday morning, 15 years to the day after this historic day, I found myself in the stockyards of Fort Worth, Texas. I had a meeting at a plant in the morning for work and after the meeting, I had a couple of hours to kill until my flight back to Iowa. What is remarkable is that trip was not something that was planned in advance on that particular date. It just worked out that way. I decided to make the short trip up I-35 and soon found myself at the football offices of the North Texas Mean Green. After a short wait, my old coach, Dan McCarney greeted me with a big hug. He did not know I was coming because I did not even know I was coming. He took me back in his office and we talked about how life was going. I reminded him that it was 15 years ago this very day that we got that big win to end the streak. A huge smile came across his face as the memories came back of that special day. He explained to me that it was ironic because we broke a 15 year losing streak on that day. He had promised his kids at that time if we beat Iowa, he would get them a puppy. Shortly after the historic win, he introduced “Boomer” to his kids. Coach explained to me that the dog lived with the family for 15 wonderful years and had just passed away a couple of months ago.
We laughed as we talked about life. North Texas has a big game against Ball State this weekend and the coaches were busy with preparations for that game. Coach took me around and let me talk to his assistant coaches, particularly the ones who were at Iowa State and on the field that day. Coach Skledany, Coach Q, Coach Grant, and Coach Mike Nelson. It was like the years had melted away and we were back in Ames again all those years ago.
Soon it was time for to get back on the road and back to the airport to head back to Iowa. Coach had to do a phone interview with Larry Cotlar over the noon hour about that game 15 years ago. It is funny how people still remember all these years later. It was sad to go because I wanted to stay and talk longer, but as is usually the case, time and life must move on. Coach has new challenges ahead of him with North Texas, which is his world now. I have new challenges as well, only mine are battled out on the field of life now.
I am so excited to watch the game tomorrow. I love this game. I love the power this game has over the people of Iowa. It is the only thing that can divide so many families, even if it is only just for one day a year. I love watching the team play now. Coach Rhoads does an excellent job of coaching the Cyclones now. They play the game the way it should be played. The players that will take the field tomorrow were in elementary school when I played in that game 15 years ago. How time flys by so quickly.
That game in Iowa City 15 years ago was the biggest win in my Cyclone career. It was the day that things started to slowly turn in our mission of rebuilding the football program at Iowa State. My senior year, we would beat the Hawks again 17-10 in Jack Trice Stadium under the lights. Two wins in a row over the Hawks was huge. I would never experience a winning season as a Cyclone. I just missed. The following year, the Cyclones went 9-3 and went to the Insight.com Bowl. They defeated the Pittsburg Panthers, which Coach Rhoads was ironically a coach for at that time, for the first bowl victory in school history. Even though I was not on the field that day, I was there in the stands and felt as much a part of that win as any of the players did. The win over Iowa in 1998 started a streak of 5 straight wins over the Hawks, which is remarkable when you consider that it had been since 1982 that Iowa State had beaten the Hawks.
That day will always be a special day in Cyclone history. It was the day that Iowa State stopped being the “little brother” school in the state of Iowa. It was the beginning of us showing that we could not only compete with the Hawks, but we could beat them. We no longer had to be second to anyone. It will be a day that will forever be a part of me and my memories. In many ways, that game helps define who I have become as a person. While we do not always come out winners in everything we do in life, if we work hard enough, if we believe enough, if we refuse to quit and give up, our day in the sun will eventually come. I know it did for that team on that sunny day in Kinnick Stadium. It was a day for the ages. It was the day that little brother grew up.
Once a Cyclone, Always a Cyclone!
William J. Marsau
Iowa State Football 1995-1999