Iowa-Iowa State game brings Cyclone, Hawkeye fans together
The Iowa-Iowa State rivalry is meant to divide the state.
But sometimes the bragging rights, trash talk and general unruliness that can accompany a Cy-Hawk football game also bring people together.
Jordan Carstens and Kent Stephenson cheer for different teams. Carstens, who grew up in Bagley and graduated from Panorama High School, played for the Iowa State football team and bleeds red and gold. Stephenson, a native of Anita who lives at Lake Panorama, coached football at the University of Iowa and sports the black and gold colors.
Both men are friends with Dan McCarney, who has spent 45 years coaching football and cheers for both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones.
“I do cheer for both of them,” McCarney told the Guthrie County Vedette in a phone interview last week. “It will tug on my heart pretty good when those two teams play.”
McCarney, who was a player for Stephenson at the University of Iowa and later coached Carstens as head football coach at Iowa State, connected the local pair. Carstens and Stephenson play golf at Lake Panorama National in Panora and enjoy talking about any win over Nebraska.
“Two incredible people,” McCarney said. “It’s funny how this big, huge, expansive athletic world that many of us are a part of seems pretty small sometimes when it comes to relationships. No question, football brings people together.”
Stephenson, 75, grew up in Anita, about 30 miles southwest of Panora. After high school, he attended the University of Northern Iowa, where he competed for the football team. He got his first coaching job at Wayne State College in Nebraska, where he earned his master’s degree.
Later he was assistant coach at North Dakota, Southern Methodist, Iowa, Oklahoma State and Kansas before joining the Seattle Seahawks, where he coached from 1985 to 1991. Stephenson then joined coach Bill Cowher as an offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He retired after 17 years as an NFL assistant in 2000. His offensive lines were known for their excellent run blocking, and the Steelers were one of only three NFL teams to average 2,000 yards rushing per season since 1992 under Stephenson.
It was around 1974 when Stephenson first met Dan McCarney as a player at the University of Iowa.
“He was a great kid,” Stephenson said. “I loved coaching him.”
After playing for the Hawkeyes, McCarney was asked to join the Denver Broncos as a free agent in the NFL, but he wasn’t sure it was for him.
“I got a call from the line coach in Denver and he says, ‘McCarney left camp, but tell him to get back here, he’s going to make the team,’” Stephenson recalls. “Not sure what it was, but he hated it and he wasn’t going back.”
So, Stephenson invited McCarney to be his graduate assistant at Iowa that year. Hayden Fry was the Hawkeye head coach that year.
“I had people offering me jobs not even close to coaching football to get me on my feet, to help me get started, and Kent was one of them who told me I needed to get my butt into coaching,” McCarney said. “He was the one who really directed me and pushed me and guided me. Sometimes people see things in you that you can’t even see in yourself, and that’s exactly what it was with Kent.”
McCarney has spent 45 years coaching, including 41 at the Division I level, 12 of them at Iowa State.
“I’m pretty blessed, and I don’t know if I would have ever gotten into coaching if it weren’t for Kent Stephenson,” McCarney said. “He was an incredible coach, and as I got through all those years of coaching and reflect back on things and (on) who was a great example — boy, that was sure Kent Stephenson for me.”
Jordan Carstens graduated from Panorama high school in 1999 and decided to join the Iowa State football team as a walk-on.
“Jordan was an undersized guy; he had incredible character but was undersized,” McCarney said of Carstens, who played for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers at 6-foot-5, 300 pounds.“I had guys in that (Iowa Shrine) all-star game and they said we needed to get this guy on our team, in our 105.”
McCarney said Division I football programs are allowed to bring 105 players into their two-a-days for camp before the school year starts.
“He was the last guy we brought into the 105,” McCarney said of Carstens.
It didn’t take long for McCarney and Carstens to make history together in Ames.
“He not only earned a scholarship as time wore on and a starting position, he ended up being one of the best players that Iowa State University ever had in a uniform and went on to play in the National Football League,” McCarney said of Carstens. “He’s just an amazing story, and you know why if you have ever spent time with him.”
McCarney said with Carstens on the field, the Cyclones were able to achieve many things they wouldn’t have without him.
“He had that big of an impact on the program,” McCarney said. “You want to go out and find more Jordan Carstens — if there were more guys like Jordan Carstens in the program, we could keep winning. He was a joy to coach and just a tremendous, tremendous football player.”
Carstens totaled 306 tackles, 10 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in his career as a Cyclone. He was a three-time all-Big 12 performer and a three-time Academic All-American.
Carstens and Stephenson first crossed paths during a football camp they both worked in Panora with Panorama head coach Lyle Alumbaugh several years ago.
“It was a lineman camp,” Stephenson said. “I met Jordan and was real fond of him.”
Stephenson attended games at Jack Trice Stadium and remembers watching Carstens and the Cyclones beat Nebraska in Ames.
“When you cross-faced with them all day long, it was awesome,” Stephenson said as both he and Carstens remembered the game.
“That was a last-minute thing we decided to do, and they didn’t have a counter to it,” Carstens added.
Carstens, who along with his father, James, grew up a Hawkeye fan. His mom, Joni and brother Ben always cheered for the Cyclones. Today, the entire Carstens family wears the cardinal red and gold.
Jordan Carstens said that as a student at Iowa State, the Cy-Hawk rivalry is felt all across campus.
“You just know what it is,” he said. “You weren’t a fan of both; you were either Iowa or Iowa State. I had friends who would talk to somebody out around town and they would undress those people who cheered for both.”
Carstens said he played with guys who didn’t grow up in Iowa, but they learned quickly how important the Cy-Hawk rivalry is.
“They explain it to us as student-athletes — we are the only show in town,” he said. “Most states have a pro team or two pro teams, but Iowa and Iowa State football, and basketball, that’s what it is.”
Carstens remembers very clearly the Cyclones’ 36-31 comeback win in 2002 at Kinnick Stadium.
“We were down 24-3 at halftime and went into the locker room — yes, the pink one — and McCarney started throwing things and knocked over a table,” he said. “For whatever reason, we weren’t ready to play in the first half, but after halftime we went out and ended up winning the game.”
Carstens was part of Cyclone teams that won twice in Iowa City. He lost at home to the Hawkeyes his senior season, a tough departure from past successes. He said games against Iowa were some of his most memorable games in a Cyclone uniform.
CLOSE TO HOME
As Panora prepares to host WHO-TV Channel 13’s RVTV, which celebrates the Cy-Hawk rivalry, at Lake Panorama on Monday, Sept. 4, both Carstens and Stephenson say they look forward to a healthy rivalry among many of their friends.
“Iowa people are great, and the people are what make it,” Stephenson said.
RVTV is a week-long tour of tailgating stops in various towns around the state leading up to the annual Cy-Hawk football game featuring Iowa State and Iowa. The RVTV tour kicks off this year with the stop in Panora.
Chris Arganbright, a member of Panora’s RVTV committee, made up of Panora Chamber members sponsoring the event, said the community is ready to host RVTV.
“It’s neat to see the excitement building for RVTV coming to Panora,” Arganbright said. “What a great opportunity to showcase our community.”
Committee members are planning activities for adults and children in a family-friendly event, including sand volleyball, tug of war, human foosball, a dunk tank, bags and temporary tattoos. Fans are encouraged to make signs to show their support. The RVTV crew will judge the signs, with a prize going to the winner.
Tori’s Angels and Deardorff Highland Cattle will be selling food throughout the day.
Festivities kick off at 2 p.m. with live broadcasts from the beach at 4, 5, 6 and 10 p.m.
Both Carstens and Stephenson are looking forward to the event and plan to wear their team colors.
“We’re a lot closer to Ames, so I assume they’ll be more Cyclones,” Stephenson said of the fans he expects to see in Guthrie County.
Carstens added, “I think it’s close to half. Statewide is 75 to 25, so we’re half or two-thirds Cyclones, I’d say.”
McCarney said fans of both the Cyclones and Hawkeyes should be proud of their teams.
“I go to the national coaches convention every year, and there’s over 10,000 football coaches there, and I can only imagine how many of them would have liked to coach at either Iowa or Iowa State in their careers,” McCarney said. “I have over 30 years. I love both universities, I really do. I stay in touch with both Kirk (Ferentz) and Matt Campbell, and both (schools) are lucky to have those guys leading their football programs.”
McCarney said the Cy-Hawk battle is a good, healthy rivalry where both teams feel like they have a shot to win the game.
“There is no rivalry if you always win,” he said. “And the people of Iowa are the best part of it.”