There’s something special about this year’s Iowa State football team. And it’s not that baby-faced quarterback Brock Purdy reminds me of my 4-year-old grandson, which he does.

People, like me, who grew up in Ames do not expect Cyclone football teams to dominate the gridiron the way residents of Lincoln, Neb., do, or did until recent years. 

Cyclone fans my age learned a long time ago to dial down expectations. We’ve had our hearts broken too many times by opponents who could emerge victorious, even after being down multiple scores in the fourth quarter. 

We come by our athletic ambivalence honestly, although it hasn’t always been that way. 

The first year intercollegiate games were sanctioned in Ames was 1894. A football team managed by 21-year-old player-coach Bert German won six of seven games that year, including a 16-8 victory over the University of Iowa. 

German went on to become a successful Des Moines real estate broker. But before he did, he shared coaching duties for four more years with 24-year-old Glenn “Pop” Warner. The pair collaborated through 1898, posting an 18-8 record that included a signature 36-0 win in 1895 against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., prompting the Chicago Tribune headline: “Struck by a Cyclone.” 

The nickname stuck, although the legendary Warner did not. After dividing his time between Ames, the University of Georgia and Cornell University, Warner left in 1899 to take a full-time job at Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School before returning to Cornell, his alma mater. 

Iowa State’s winning tradition continued under four coaches who posted a combined record of 98 wins, 42 loses and five ties between 1902 and 1919. One was Clyde Williams (1907-1912), who had a record of 33-14-2. His 1911 and 1912 teams shared two Missouri Valley Conference championships with Nebraska, marking the only years before 2020 that Iowa State won a football conference championship. 

Williams moved up to athletic director and in 1915 oversaw construction of Clyde Williams Field. (Here’s a fact that few Ames residents know or care to know: Williams played quarterback at the University of Iowa, where teams were 23-0-3 between 1898 and 1901 in games when he started.) 

Between 1920 and 1973, Iowa State had 13 football coaches with a combined record of 191 wins, 264 losses and 29 ties; none had a record better than .500. 

Clay Stapleton (1958-67) was coach during my growing-up years in Ames and had 42 career victories, the most of any ISU coach at that point. Of course, he also had 53 losses. 

Johnny Majors (1968-72) coached while I was at ISU, but he had only one winning season before leaving for Pittsburgh and ultimately Tennessee. 

Ohio native Earle Bruce took over from Majors and coached for six seasons to become the first ISU coach with more career wins (36) than losses (32) since 1946.

But Bruce left when Ohio State asked him to replace legendary Coach Woody Hayes, after Hayes was fired for punching a Clemson player who had intercepted a pass in the 1978 Gator Bowl.  

Bruce was in Columbus, Ohio, for nine years, winning 81 games against 26 losses, but was fired at the end of the 1987 season for failing to win enough “big” games against opponents like Michigan.  

Between Bruce and current coach Matt Campbell, ISU had seven head football coaches, none with winning records, although one, Iowa City native and Iowa alum Dan McCarney, beat Clyde Williams’ record with 56 wins over 12 seasons. Of course, McCarney also had the most losses ever, 85.

What Campbell, who also grew up in Ohio, has accomplished in Ames is nothing short of a miracle to fans like me who desperately need the diversion during this COVID year. 

I’d like to wish them continued success. But after growing up in Ames, I don’t want to jinx them.