Putting Lipstick on a Pig

I'm going to go off format this week. Instead of trying to make witty observations about our gameday performance and detailing my pre and post-game food & drink choices, I'm going to take this opportunity to say thank you to a very good man.

Dan McCarney came to Iowa State University during a dark time in our history.  We'd just gone 0-10-1 (thank God for the Oklahoma State University tie keeping us from having a perfect record) and ISU could be found in the dictionary under "doormat".  Coach Mac came to town and immediately started to cultivate pride in the fan base.  Because of the unique situation where he inherited a Heisman candidate at running back, he had the opportunity to boost attendance while leading a team that had records in the 3-8 or 2-9 range.  The Troy Davis Circus was fun while it lasted, but then reality hit and we had to fill the stands by winning instead of selling a freak of nature. 


After a few years of stagnation, we began competing in games, then progressed to actually WINNING some of them, and all of a sudden WHAM!  We're 8-3 and headed to Phoenix for the Insight.com bowl.  All that with a QB named "Sage" from that hotbed of football talent - Maquoketa, Iowa.  The years following that breakthrough have produced highs and lows, but one thing we've never had to deal with since that time is BOREDOM.  We've gotten the Iowa State program to a point where Iowa coaches, players and fans now lavish entirely too much attention to our in-state game and ruin their chances of making a title run in the Big 10 (take that, featherbutts), and Iowa State has gone from a great place to get a degree to a great place to get a degree where you have a chance to play winning football.


I'll admit it:  I've been one of the "Mac Kool-Aid" guys.  He's a salesman, and I appreciate his intensity and obvious love for Iowa State and the fan base.  That has made it SO hard to admit to myself that we're at a point where this team either has to take a step upward or decide to fold up their tents and join the MAC or Conference USA.  Other, smarter people than me have already said the Mac has been a victim of his own expectations here, and I'd agree, if I thought of him as a "victim".  


I started at ISU in the fall of '86, so I've seen some damn bad football in my time.  The Drake loss was before my time, but I did manage to see BOTH of the losses to UNI under Walden.  I saw more than my share of 70+ point drubbings by the likes of Nebraska and Oklahoma, and I saw darn near every one of the losses to Iowa from '86 onward.  I was at the Oklahoma game in '87 when Bosworth and the rest of their stars had a reserve go up into the stands to get hotdogs and sodas.  When Criner was sacked and Walden was hired to replace him, I was one of the students who carried liquor into the games openly because the administration realized that drunken students at games were better for the football program than drunken students in their dorm rooms (the only rule for those few years that I can remember – no glass bottles.  Other than that, it was a libertarian's paradise).  Mac's arrival changed that attitude.  Even if we were outclassed on the field, we were expected to behave as if our team had a chance to win.  I always liked that state of mind – you can't win until you think that you can win. 


I never played for ISU, so I'll leave the personal testimonials to those like Luke and Jack who know the coach well.  I've met Coach Mac a few times in passing, just a handshake with me saying "Keep up the good work, coach", and Mac replying "That's my job.  Thanks for coming out to support the program." 


Next week, I'll be back to describe our tailgating festivities.  If Coach Mac is reading this, I'd just like to say thanks for all the hard work he's put in on behalf of Iowa State University, and that there will always be a cold beer and a warm brat/burger/bowl of chili at our tailgate with his name on it.  Who knows, maybe we'll take a page from Jewish tradition and set a place for "Coach Mac" at every tailgating table for him from now on.  I know he's still got coaching in his blood, and I hope his next stop produces more wins than he achieved at ISU.  Whether it's at a large institution like Stanford or at a Division III school, I'm sure he'll keep pumping out good citizens who would run through hell carrying buckets full of gasoline for him.


Godspeed, Dan McCarney, and I'll see the rest of you out in the lots next week.  Go Cyclones.

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