The lower parts of Sections 19 and 20 withstood an emotional ride that started with an early lead, then started to fall into a troubled silence as the Wildcats kept running the ball at the Cyclones and built and 23-9 lead early in the fourth quarter. Mumbling and grumbling, there were some sad sacks that fell into the same routine of "this happens to us every time." However, after the fourth-down stop in KSU territory in the first quarter, you sensed that this wasn't your older brother's Wildcat team. It wasn't.
Kansas State had the ball midway through the fourth quarter, but there was no excitement in the stadium. The Cyclones had scored earlier in the quarter to make it 23-16. It was strange that there was very little noise in the stadium except from our little corner. It seemed like there was a pall cast over the stadium. After holding the Wildcats on third down, Iowa State received the ball after a punt went into the end zone. Bret Meyer led his band of brothers down the field 80 yards that ended in a slant pass to Todd Miller in the end zone a la John Elway's The Drive in Cleveland. High fives and hugs were found everywhere. For a brief moment, all elation stopped as the faithful watched Bret Culbertson line up for the all-important extra point. Once the kick went through the uprights across the field, to quote a line from Monty Python, "and there was much celebration."
The pall had morphed into shock as Kansas State soon lost the ball on a crucial fumble on their own 35-yard line. Two runs later, Stevie Hicks found himself in the open field as he crossed the goal line for a Cyclone lead that would not be relinquished. The high fives and hugs graduated up to a delirious pandemonium. Fans were falling over each other as they searched for an outlet for their emotions. We picked each other and then started the entire process again.
But did Iowa State score too quickly? A decent kickoff return for Kansas State kept a hint of doubt in the back of our minds. Raucous chants of "Defense" rose from our little corner of the Little Apple. The first play was a pass to the left sideline. DeAndre Jackson had a beat on the ball, but it hit him in the chest and went straight up in the air. A chance to seal the game had been missed…but wait, the ball finally came down into the hands of LaMarcus Hicks. He started his mad dash to the end zone and picked up a crucial block along the way to paydirt. If Dandy Don Meredith had been there, he would have belted out his famous rendition of "Turn Out the Lights."
It was so surreal to look up at the far scoreboard and see Iowa State with a 37-23 lead after the position that they were in earlier in the quarter. The purple clad fans of KSU started a mass exodus to the parking lots while the little red patch in the corner bristled with energy.
As time expired, the teams began their march to midfield for the traditional hand slaps. But some of the players made a sharp left turn and made a mad dash to our little corner and began an emotion-filled celebration. Then someone said, "It's Hobbs." Here comes Ellis Hobbs up the steps looking for his family to share in the moment. "We did it, we did it!" were the cries of Hobbs as he hugged his family. Whoever was around this scene (yours truly included) started with the head slaps and shoulder pops soon after.
The sea of white started to roll in from midfield and washed up in our little corner. A rousing rendition of the Iowa State fight song soon began, "and there was much celebration." It may be hard to find another scenario anywhere or anytime where there have been a small number of fans (300-400) that created so much energy and passion. It won't be forgotten by the players or the fans anytime soon. It was definitely worth the nine-hour drive up to Kansas City, and the drive back to Dallas was a walk in the park on Sunday.
It may be overblown a little, but…what the hell…an epic milestone is within reach of a team and coach that found its fans throwing dirt on them less than a month ago while they were looking up from their 0-3 conference hole. A young, inexperienced team that hadn't won a conference game in 13 chances had to learn to win. They found that victory on the road in Waco, Texas, and they haven't looked back since. The opportunity to win five consecutive conference games for the first time…the first time ever…awaits the Cyclones as they prepare for the Missouri Tigers.
If they can take care of business on Saturday, Iowa State will have acquired their first championship prize in 92 years. But wait, do you want to keep this prize, or do you want to trade it in for what's behind Door #2? Monty Hall has set up 60 minutes with the Oklahoma Sooners in Arrowhead Stadium for you, and there's no mule in a dress behind this door. To the victor goes the spoils…one of the highest points in the collegiate game…January football, a Bowl Championship Series payday and nationwide exposure.
One final thought for the Cyclone Nation: fill the Jack! There should be fans hanging off the lights to see this game. The only green that should be visible is between the goal posts. All four corners should be covered in cardinal and gold, and the ABC cameras should be violently shaking from the crowd's excitement. Open the dorms and let the students back in early. Students, here is your chance to witness history. Give the ABC audience a taste of what they may experience the next Saturday in what should become Jack Trice South. If you thought that the Nebraska game two years ago was special, be there to cheer on your Cyclones this Saturday. You will never forget it…ever. Here's to looking forward to another nine-hour drive.