Team traditions: a brief history of Iowa-Iowa State rivalry

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Drive from Ames, Iowa to Iowa City, and the chances are you’ll see some corn. The “Corn Belt” gets its name for a reason: Iowa produces more of the crop than any state in America. So it makes sense that when the state’s two biggest football teams clash, they play for corn.

Officially, the matchup is known as the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series, contested by the Iowa State Cyclones from Ames, and the Iowa Hawkeyes from Iowa City. The teams first met on the gridiron back in 1894, which makes this rivalry one of the oldest in college football. However, Iowa and Iowa State have only played each other in football on an annual basis since 1977. The two schools took a break from 1935 until 1977, and will square off until at least 2021 thanks to a new scheduling deal the schools signed last year.

Resuming the rivalry wasn’t easy. It took pressure from the state legislature to get the two teams back on the field, after Iowans clamored for their two biggest public universities to face off after such a long layoff. It took a secret handshake deal between the school’s athletic directors to get the game restarted, and even then it took an independent arbitrator to get the schools to honor that contract.

Despite their physical proximity, the Cyclones and Hawkeyes don’t play in the same conference. Iowa has been a member of the Big Ten since 1900 and has several longstanding rivalries with other schools. The Hawkeyes battle Minnesota for the Floyd of Rosedale and take on Nebraska for the Heroes Trophy. Both of those rivalries started in 1891, a few years before the Cy-Hawk Series first kicked off.

Iowa State spent decades in the old Big Eight conference, which became the Big 12 in 1996. Recent conference realignment robbed the Cyclones of one of their biggest rivalry games: an annual feud with  Missouri, which ended when the Tigers moved to the SEC in 2011. The Cyclones still meet Kansas State every season in a game that is occasionally referred to as “Farmageddon.”

But there’s nothing quite like the in-state hate between Iowa and Iowa State, which has grown like the ubiquitous corn stalks. In fact, the Cy-Hawk Trophy was redesigned back in 2011 to feature a bust of a corn farmer handing off a bushel to a thankful family. The reaction was less than positive. Thankfully, the rivalry got a brand-new trophy the next season, which features Herky the Hawk and Cy the Cardinal poised to square off in -- what else? -- a cornfield.

The Cy-Hawk Trophy games differ from other in-state rivalries like the Iron Bowl (Auburn-Alabama) or the Palmetto Bowl (South Carolina-Clemson) in that the Cyclones and Hawkeyes tend to square off early in the season. Both teams always get up for the Cy-Hawk, and the series has produced some barn burners.

In 2011, the two schools needed triple overtime to decide the game. This was the first-ever overtime game in Cy-Hawk history, and the extra periods were necessary thanks to the heroics of former Cyclones QB Steele Jantz, who led the team on a 13-play, 59-yard touchdown drive to tie the game with just 1:17 left in the fourth.

After both teams traded touchdowns in OTs one and two, ISU running back James White plunged in for a four-yard touchdown to seal a 44-41 Cyclones win. The Cyclones could use a few more wins like this. Although Iowa State won the first three meetings way back in the 1890s, Iowa has since dominated the rivalry, leading the series 40-21.