OU-Iowa State: Goodbye for Sooners, good riddance for Cyclones

OU-Iowa State: Goodbye for Sooners, good riddance for Cyclones

Berry Tramel: This is the first of two farewells for the Sooners. OU plays at Kansas on Oct. 28, an even more ancient rival than Iowa State. And yes, Nov. 4 brings the last scheduled Bedlam game, but surely that rivalry will be resumed when college football finds its lost sanity.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Sep 30, 2023, 8:54am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Sep 30, 2023, 8:54am CDT

NORMAN — Nov. 3, 1928, dawned cold and windy in Ames, Iowa. That’s probably redundant. Most November days in Ames dawn cold and windy.

But 20,664 days ago, the Sooners shared a football field with the Iowa State Cyclones for the first time. Paul Trauger, a 154-pound Cyclone halfback, threw for a touchdown and ran for another, and ISU beat OU 13-0 on State Field, which had seating for 5,000.

Saturday, the Sooners and Cyclones play for what possibly could be the final time.

The OU-Iowa State game is set for 6 p.m. on Owen Field, the players will be surrounded by 83,000 fans and this is the first of two farewells for the Sooners. OU plays at Kansas on Oct. 28, an even more ancient rival than Iowa State. And yes, Nov. 4 brings the last scheduled Bedlam game, but surely that rivalry will be resumed when college football finds its lost sanity.

OU-Kansas? OU-Iowa State? Probably not. Particularly the Cyclones, who already have an ironclad non-conference opponent in Iowa and won’t be in a hurry to ever see the Sooners again.

OU and Texas are headed for the Southeastern Conference next summer, and strange as it seems, Sooner athletic director Joe Castiglione, who helped orchestrate the exodus, seems more wistful than his I-State counterpart, Jamie Pollard.

“I can remember countless trips to Ames, Iowa, for football or basketball,” said Castiglione, who was employed by Missouri, then also a Big Eight/Big 12 member, for 17 years before coming to OU in 1998. So that’s 42 years of competing against Iowa State.

“I remember so many wonderful people I met over time,” Joe C. said. “When we play Iowa State, I’ll think about the football-related friends we’ve met. As well as basketball. I’ll think about that later in the year. Maybe reminisce again.”

Heck, Castiglione even remembered when Iowa State fielded a baseball team and recalled the venue. Cap Timm Field.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard is a little less melancholy about the end of the Sooners-Cyclones series.

“Would I rather have Oklahoma and Texas still in our league? Who wouldn’t?” asked Pollard. “But it’s not that way, so move on.”

Don’t blame Pollard’s jaundiced view, for two reasons.

First, he’s the Big 12’s second-longest-tenured AD, trailing only Castiglione. So Pollard was around for the first wave of Big 12 defections, when Nebraska went to the Big Ten, Colorado to the Pac-12, and Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. Some thought OU, OSU, Texas and Texas Tech were Pac-12 bound, which would have crippled the remaining Big 12 members.

And when OU and Texas announced in 2021 their eventual exit, same thing. A potential Pac-12 pilfering, which again would not have included Iowa State.

“I’ve seen the obituary written for the Big 12 more times than anybody,” Pollard said. “And every time, we’ve survived it.”

The Big 12 rallied by adding Central Florida, Brigham Young, Cincinnati and Houston. Then the Big 12 fortified even more earlier this year with Pac-12 schools Arizona State, Utah, Colorado and Arizona pledging to come aboard next summer.

“I think the landscape of the Big 12 has never been better or healthier, and anybody who could have predicted that is pulling your leg,” Pollard said. “From that perspective, it’s really exciting. It’s a little amazing to think about the position we’re in.”

But there’s another for the Cyclones to trend more good-riddance than goodbye. That 1928 game, so long ago? In the 95 years since, Iowa State has beaten the Sooners only six times.

OU leads the series 79-7-2, ranking with Alabama-Kentucky (Bama 38-2-1) as the most lopsided in major-college football.

The Sooners didn’t start out so dominant. They joined the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1920 (Woodrow Wilson, born in 1856, was president). The Cyclones had been a member since 1908. OU and Iowa State didn’t begin playing until that 1928 game. 

OU won in 1929 and 1930, but the ‘31 Cyclones came back to win 13-12 in Norman. Then Iowa State won just twice (1960, 1961) over the next 68 seasons, despite playing annually.

In recent years, Iowa State has stiffened. Since Matt Campbell became coach in 2016, the Cyclones have played the Sooners tough every year and won in 2017 and 2020.

Still, you can understand why Iowa State is fine with the OU’s departure. 

But you also can understand why Castiglione, a 42-year Big Eight/Big 12 man, is just a tad melancholy.

“I’ve had a long association with the original Big Eight members,” Castiglione said.

Joe C. began reeling off memories. More dinners at Hickory Park than he can number. Driving with staff members to Ames for the 1981 Missouri-ISU game, which the Cyclones won with a big game from bruising tailback Dwayne Crutchfield. Basketball games when iconic coach Johnny Orr would walk onto the court with the pep band playing “The Tonight Show” music and the Hilton Coliseum crowd yelling, “Heeeeeere’s, Johnny!”

“It’s a great school,” Castiglione said. “Fantastic fans. There’ll be a few of those memories as we go through this season. And germane to the particular schools, I guess that’s what happens when someone stays in a conference as long as I have. There’s stories about every school.”

The story of OU-Iowa State, conference partners for 103 years, is that the Sooners say goodbye while the Cyclones say good riddance. And neither side is wrong.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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