It didn't take long before someone asked Kirk Ferentz the question that likely eats at him like head lice every year at this time. The inquirer generally asks why Iowa State cares more about its rivalry with Iowa.
At Tuesday's press conference leading up to the next edition of the Hatfields and McCoys this Saturday, the reporter tackled it this way:
What do you have to say to the cynics that say maybe you don't take this game as serious as some Iowa fans would like?
Ferentz's face turned dead serious and he replied:
"Well, I'd say they're probably misinformed. But everybody is entitled to their opinion. It's a great country. We think every game is pretty important. I thought the last two were important, too."
See, there he goes again, treating this game like every other week. The guy just doesn't understand how important this game is to the state. That's why he's 3-6 against them. His teams aren't as emotionally charged as those guys in Ames.
Not to be brushed off, the reporter comes back and tries another angle.
When you're walking around in public do you get asked if you're going to beat Iowa State this year more so than any other game? Do you feel like there are more questions about Iowa State more so than any other game?
"Not really," Ferentz said calmly. "Not to ruin your story, but no. But it does come up. I'm not going to minimize it. But it does come up, and a few other things come up, too, especially after last year. They had a couple other teams on their list, also."
Man, this guy just will not jump in with both feet and say this is the game of the year, every year. (Sound of feet stomping and hair being pulled – if that makes a sound).
When you lose to a team six out of nine times in a rivalry, people want answers. When they don't hear what they want to hear, they make them up. And a darn easy one is blaming the loser for not being emotionally invested enough.
If you really stop to think about this theory, you realize that it's a load horse manure. How could a guy that is approaching two decades of living in the state not understand the significance of its biggest sporting event (by far)?
"Bear Bryant had a quote that kids have to answer questions when they go and visit the drug store (when they lose the in-state rivalry game)," Ferentz said. "Times have changed. They don't visit the drug store anymore, but that quote says it all. The thing that's changed now is that no matter where kids went to high school, they all live in Iowa at least 10 months a year. If you live here, it's a big thing. That's what makes the thing so good."
The worst thing that could have happened in this series (although Iowa fans would disagree) was the Hawkeyes winning 15 games in a row from 1983-97. It led to the perception that Iowa should win this game, and if it doesn't, it can't be because of football, it has to be because of some other variable, like emotion.
There is no question that emotion plays a role in rivalries. But to think that's the reason Iowa State wins is conceited. It belittles the Cyclones and dismisses the possibility that they might just be the better team.
In fact, Iowa State clearly was the more talented team in 1999-00, the first two years of Ferentz's tenure as Iowa's head coach. The Cyclones won a combined 13 games those years, while Iowa had four.
In 2001, the game was pushed to the end of the regular season due to 911. Iowa State won at home, 17-14, in a game that could have gone either way. If Grant Steen didn't fumble back to Iowa State a late game interception, Iowa could have left Ames with a win.
And in 2002 – ah yes, 2002 – much credit was given to Dan McCarney's halftime speech, pep talk, whatever. We all know Mac had a gift for gab, but last time I checked, his playing career ended in 70s.
No, in 2002, Seneca Wallace happened to the Hawkeyes. He delivered plays in that game with his arm and feet that mere mortals rarely pull off. Maybe Mac's halftime speech inspired him to an extent, but talent allowed him to complete that 3-and-18 pass.
A year later, Iowa returned the favor by beating the Cyclones in front of their fans. The Hawkeyes went on win 10 games, beat Florida in the Outback Bowl and ended up ranked eighth in the country. Iowa State finished 2-10.
Iowa won again in 2004, 17-10, in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes ended that season with nine wins in a row, a victory against LSU in the Outback Bowl and another No. 8 national ranking. Iowa State completed the year at 7-5.
In 2005, the Cyclones ran over Iowa and Drew Tate (literally), 23-3, at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State ended up being 7-5 that year, losing a tough 27-24 decision to TCU in the Houston Bowl. It lost overtime games at Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas.
Iowa won, 27-17, at home in 2006. ISU took last year's game, 15-13, in Ames. During those two seasons, there was only one postseason appearance by the two teams combined. The home team has won the last four meetings.
Here's a little more perspective: When Iowa was reeling off 15 consecutive wins in this series, the Cyclones went to exactly zero bowl games. Since Iowa State snapped the skid against its rivals, it's gone to the postseason five times in 10 years.
"All you have to do is look at the records," Ferentz said. "Hey, we've won 3 of out 5, and we've won 3 out of 9 since I've been here. Dismiss the first two, they were favored and they should have been.
"In the 7 years we've been a competitive team, we're 3-4. We were pretty good in 2002, and came up short in that one. Bottom line, the old clichés are usually true. Throw the record books out. This game, the last 10 years, everyone has an even chance to win the thing."
So, you'll do yourself a favor as a fan to avoid falling into the trap that Iowa is Big Brother and the Cyclones are the little brother. The Hawkeyes should not be expected to win this game every year because they're Iowa.
Iowa is almost a two-touchdown favorite for Saturday's game. You can throw that out, too. That means little in this series over the last 10 years, including 1998 when the Cyclones were 28-point dogs. Vegas' job is to set a line to get even money on both sides of the bet, not to predict the winning point differential.
The Hawkeyes could very well go out and roll their rivals on Saturday. And that will mean very little next year when Iowa goes to Ames.
This is a very good rivalry now, kids. It often comes down to a break here or a mistake there. Sure emotions play into it, but it's not about it meaning more to one side. The talent levels of the teams are close, believe it or not, and they have been for a decade.